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Example of an American grocery store aisle.

Before it can appear here, much of our food and fiber found on grocery store shelves first starts on American farms and ranches. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An incredible editorial in the Modesto Bee makes me believe that some in the mainstream media actually do get it, and in more ways than one.

The Bee believes that a lawsuit filed against the California Milk Advisory Board and the California Department of Agriculture by the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is indeed “silly” and “misdirected.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In short, PETA contends that the Happy Cow ads that became popular more than 10 years ago are grossly false and misleading because they depict talking cows standing on lush, green pastures, and that because most dairy cows do not live in such conditions, they must not be very happy. Then again, they’re not too concerned over the false notion that cows can talk, just that dairy cows must not be very happy because of PETA’s false premises, which the Bee articulates well in its editorial.

I wonder if the brain-trust at PETA is likewise concerned that beer companies are equally as reprehensible as dairy farmers because they portray their products as elixirs that cause people to be smarter and more attractive. You’d think that someone would have noticed that the product dairy farmers produce doesn’t cause people to drive drunk and kill other human beings… just a thought.

The Bee is well placed within California’s agriculturally-rich Central Valley to indeed “get it.” It’s as the paper’s editorial board should, given their placement in one of California’s five top agriculturally prolific counties in the United States. But this isn’t so much about the Bee or its editorial position on the latest PETA lawsuit.

Call for better education of agricultural practices

While the Bee’s point was to apparently illustrate just how ridiculous PETA’s lawsuit is, the editorial touches on a much more important issue (I believe) facing agriculture today: the abject ignorance of consumers about the products farmers and ranchers produce — namely “what goes into caring responsibly for livestock,” the Bee writes.

Of all the various trade organizations that farmers and ranchers willingly, and in some cases, not-so-willingly, send their money to, you’d think that at least one of them would take it upon themselves to focus intently on educating the public about the food and fiber that their farmer and rancher members produce, rather than treating it as an afterthought.

In California’s case, the California Farm Bureau Federation’s media department is heads and shoulders above its other state counterparts in terms of the vast amount of information produced for public consumption, particularly across the entire agricultural spectrum. The California Milk Advisory Board, since that’s one of the defendants in this report, merely represents dairy farmers, although it’s funding comes not from voluntary contributions, but through involuntary confiscatory measures employed by the dairy industry itself.

As is the case with Farm Bureau, one would argue that much of the information produced is aimed at its farmer and rancher members, and not the general public, who simply assume that the grocery stores they patronize are amply stocked with a wide variety of safe and tasty items produced on America’s farms and ranches.

Look at the light switch as a metaphor of public indifference and ignorance. We all take for granted that the electricity powering the lights in our homes will be there at our command when we flip the switch. We truly don’t know and in most cases don’t care how the power gets to our home, just that it’s there when we want it. It’s much the same for the grocery store: we all take for granted that the dairy case will be adequately stocked with cold, fresh milk until we discover that the delivery truck hasn’t arrived and the dairy case is empty. I’ve actually experienced that in my local grocery store.

I fully understand organizations such as the California Farm Bureau Federation, and others, have board-approved mission statements, goals and objectives. I fully understand that it’s the dollars that come in from voluntary membership in these organizations that funds the multimedia campaigns of these organizations, along with the various other programs that membership in these organizations provides.

What I am suggesting is that these media campaigns are misdirected to a certain degree, and need to be aimed not so much at convincing members to remain as active, dues-paying members (that’s obviously vital to the existence of any voluntary organization), but that these campaigns need to be amped up to better educate their consumers, who are constantly bombarded with absolute lies and false premises about the production of the products they buy at the grocery store (just look at the latest “pink slime” issue involving American beef as yet another example). It’s these false premises and lies that cause farmers and ranchers to lose money and, in some cases, rightfully wonder if their membership dollars are truly having the impact they desire.

As a consumer with a good bit of knowledge on agriculture and how it operates (I did not grow up on a farm, nor am I the offspring of a farmer), I’d like to see a more direct effort (offense versus defense) employed by American agriculture to educate my peers about just how well farmers treat the Earth and how much effort they put into keeping their livestock healthy and comfortable before the commodities they produce become food on our tables.

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