How is food produced and at what price

We must not trust food corporations to act in our best interests.

In the United States we are presented with a great abundance of food, but how often do we ask how our food is produced and at what price? I have spent the better part of my life working in agriculture. I grew up on a family farm in Michigan where we produced beef cattle and later worked in the dairy industry. Over these years, I have observed a vast disconnect between the public’s perception of food and the realities of its production.

This shouldn’t come as a great surprise, considering that prior to 1950 almost 70 percent of the nation’s population farmed and had more of a direct contact with their food choices. Today it is about 2 percent, leaving today’s urban consumer with little to no experience with agriculture. For many, food simply appears in supermarkets and restaurants. Learning about the process and politics behind our food is too much trouble for most, allowing ad campaigns to determine the public’s knowledge. When we rely on TV commercials and the back of milk cartons to learn about the origins and health benefits for the given food, the true implications are kept in the dark – and when it comes to the production of meat, dairy and eggs, most Americans would be shocked to learn about where their food really comes from.

Since World War II, we have seen an ever increasing consolidation of farming. In my opinion, many of these farms cannot be called farms in the truest sense, and today are termed “vertically integrated agriculture” or “factory farms.” “Factory farm” is not a popular term in agriculture, and so when it applies to animals they are called Confined Animal Feeding Operations. As the name implies, these are farms that have adopted the industrialized model of manufacturing and applied it to animals.

These “farms” house thousands of animals in large sheds where the animal often has room only to stand and lie down. In poultry, veal and pig production this is the rule, not the exception. These poor animals eventually breakdown psychologically and develop chronic illnesses due to the lack of exercise and foul air they breath.

The cost of industrialized farming is high in my view. Not only does it intentionally disassociate us from farming, but it is also a major contributor to environmental damage and the disappearance of family farms. I have seen firsthand the damage caused by leaking or broken waste lagoons. I have witnessed how people who live next door to these factory farms have paid a high price with their health and homes.

We need to pay attention to what is going on in agriculture before we lose control over our food. The power of a few transnational agribusinesses is determining how we grow food, process food, market food, and consume food.

While the industry constantly reminds us that Americans have the highest quality food at the cheapest cost, we must remember that although our food is indeed cheap compared to other industrialized countries, we pay for it three times – once at the register, again through our tax dollars through subsidies for the unsustainable farming practices, and lastly with our health.

All of us eat food. But we often pay little attention to what we put in our mouths. Most people are better informed about the purchase of their new car or computer than what they eat.

We must not give away our power to food corporations and trust them to always operate in our best interest. For the sake of our health, the planet and the animals, we must take responsibility for the food we eat.

Harold Brown is one of the farmers featured in the film “Peaceable Kingdom.” Please send comments to [email protected]