Myths about meat

The Dec. 4 column “Pythagoras on rye, hold the meat please,” was one more version of the continuously repeated urban myth about meat, food animal production and environmentalism. Journalists have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care that their facts are accurate, even if the logic of conclusions drawn from those facts might not be apparent. This also holds if, as in this case, the published column simply copies a report from another source (Wayne State’s student newspaper).

The issues of food animal production and the health impact of meat consumption are complex and deserve a well-informed presentation. Without attempting to rebut each point in the article, a few examples might serve. It is not true that “chickens, pigs, turkeys and cows are loaded with antibiotics to keep them alive and pumped with growth hormones to fatten them.”

Current commercial production systems reduce feed consumption per pound of meat produced, reduce crop land needed to grow animal feed and do a far better job of managing manure nutrients than ever before, all resulting in a net gain for the environment. For example, on an equal production basis, today’s Minnesota dairy cow produces nearly 40 percent less manure than her predecessor cow did in 1950.

Careful attributions and using well-considered sources are also a journalist’s responsibility.

Pythagoras left us with some very useful mathematical fundamentals, but are we better informed in today’s world by his opinion about vegetarianism than say, his opinions on women’s rights or universal suffrage? I am virtually certain that neither the American Dietetic Association nor the surgeon general (which one?) said that “going vegetarian is at least not bad and possibly even good,” as the writer of the column asserts.

These sorts of lies, half stories and twisting of information is common today, particularly among those with an agenda to scare the consumer about the food they eat. The truth is more complex, multi-faceted and frankly, often contradictory. Neither the education of the reader nor good journalism were advanced by the sort of column printed Wednesday.

John Fetrow, professor of dairy medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine