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Addressing misconceptions about farming

By KIM HARLESS, February 26, 2007, Farmers Advance (OHIO)

The public has many misconceptions about the modern food system. Many of those misconceptions have been developed by authors with fine intentions, but a serious lack of understanding.

Unfortunately, once a so-called “fact” is in print, it is often repeated endlessly and used to build other “facts.”

Take, for example, the statement Frances Moore Lappe made in “Diet for a Small Planet” published in the early 1970s that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef. This “fact” occurs in other books critical of beef production, many textbooks, environmental education curricula and is used as the basis for other authors to create their own “facts.”

Figures written about how much water or oil it takes to produce beef are based on the 16 to 1 ratio. These “facts” are then used by authors, animal rights groups and environmental educators to convince teens to become vegetarians and “feed a starving world.” Their favorite phrase taken from Lappe is that the world can support more vegetarians than meat eaters.

Research conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation for Agriculture has identified how the author arrived at that figure and why it’s wrong. The research shows the actual figure is 2.6 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef in the United States. The world’s average is three-tenths of a pound of grain to a pound of beef.

Other misconceptions have been created and fostered by groups with an anti-agriculture or anti-animal agriculture agenda. In medical terms, while people today would never consider reverting back to the practice of blood letting instead of using modern medicines to cure a disease, they would like our food production system to resemble the idyllic, romanticized rural lifestyle of the 19th century.

At the same time, people want to spend less for food, have it ready-to-eat and fresh year-round and not involve any chemicals. That is an impossible order to fill, but the public is so disconnected from their food source they do not realize it would be impossible to produce today’s quality and quantity of food using 19th century methods.

Many agriculturists know many of the derogatory claims made against modern agricultural practices are not sound, but they don’t know how to respond. Many would like to challenge the misconceptions, but have no time to conduct their own research. To assist in setting the record straight, the AFB Foundation for Agriculture has done the research and developed a new program addressing many misconceptions about agriculture.

Information developed for this initiative identifies key issues and provides sound, science-based, factual information to help clear up some of the burning misconceptions about agriculture. In all, the kit’s 35 issues cover topics from DDT to global food issues, ethanol to environmental issues, and nutrition to animal production.

This new “Addressing Misconceptions about Agriculture” tool kit will help deliver complex information in a format everyone can understand. Information to address the most complex and controversial issues has been honed by repeated testing in front of environmental audiences. To support the counterclaims, the kit also provides comprehensive references and peer- reviewed science.

For more information about challenging the misconceptions about agriculture or for more information about the tool kit, visit www.ageducate.org.

(Harless is director of the National Farm Bureau.)


Posted by FFC on July 19th, 2009 :: Filed under Beef cattle,Education and public awareness,Vegetarian
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One Response to “Addressing misconceptions about farming”

  1. Cyndie Sirekis
    August 2nd, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this information. One correction — Kim Harless is the organization director for Jackson County Farm Bureau in Ohio…she doesn’t work for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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