US food production systems take a beating in Time

Aug 25, 2009

This week's Time magazine cover feature doubles as an opinionated rant about what ails the US food system. Perhaps some of it should be taken with a grain of salt; but there are plenty of ideas that make sense, even if they aren't scientifically proven.

I confess it is something of a stretch to include it in the ANR news blog, which covers news of ANR activities and experts. (It wasn't until the final page that I found information sourced from the University of California, perhaps from this ANR news release about the health benefits of grass-fed beef.) But the whole concept is so closely tied to what ANR does, I think it has a place here.

The story fills five pages on the Web and includes numerous photo essays and side bars. Since there is so much information, I thought it would be most interesting to present a few of writer Bryan Walsh's incriminations:

  • The U.S. agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably cheap prices. But it does so at a high cost to the environment, animals and humans.

  • A food system — from seed to 7-Eleven — that generates cheap, filling food at the literal expense of healthier produce is also a principal cause of America's obesity epidemic.

  • Unless Americans radically rethink the way they grow and consume food, they face a future of eroded farmland, hollowed-out countryside, scarier germs, higher health costs — and bland taste.

  • In CAFOS (concentrated-animal feeding operations), large numbers of animals — 1,000 or more in the case of cattle and tens of thousands for chicken and pigs — are kept in close, concentrated conditions and fattened up for slaughter as fast as possible. . . . But animals aren't widgets with legs. They're living creatures, and there are consequences to packing them in prison-like conditions.

  • Work in a CAFO is monotonous and soul-killing . . .

Walsh does have a kind word for farmers and opens the door for the service provided by UC Cooperative Extension. He writes that, "Farmers aren't the enemy — and they deserve real help."

Said organic Bay Area farmer Hahn Niman, featured extensively in the article, "We need to make farming real employment, because if you do it right, it's enjoyable work."

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist

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