A few weeks ago I received a media advisory about an upcoming event to be held in Columbia, Mo. “Local Farmers Gather to Discuss Sustainable Practices” drew my attention. The three day symposium was touted as having expert speakers highlighting health, environmental and animal welfare problems stemming from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
I knew when I sent a reporter to cover the first in the series of symposia that the program would not shine a positive light on CAFOs. I believe that as responsible journalists, it is our duty to cover those events and stories relevant to our listeners. If you are involved in animal agriculture it is in your best interest, whether you agree or not, to know what is being said about production practices
The media advisory stated, “Family farmers, environmentalists and health professionals concerned with Missouri wetlands and livestock will hold a series of symposiums showcasing sustainability efforts and encouraging coalition building in order to bring about positive change for animals and the environment.”
The speakers included a couple of university professors (one retired); the co-Founder and president of Farm Sanctuary and vice president of outreach and engagement for the Humane Society of the United States; a former state representative and senator who is back running his family farm; the founder of a group whose mission it is to influence the transition to a sustainable society (the current campaign is “The Tragedy of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and what you can do about it”). There were a couple of others, but you get the picture. The speaker line-up wasn’t rife with family farmers and health professionals.
Keynoting the first panel discussion, University of Missouri emeritus agriculture economist John Ikerd said CAFOs are harmful to public health, environment and society.
“We are destroying our rural communities with the industrialization of agriculture, socially, physically, ethically,” Ikerd told the reporter from Brownfield Ag News. “We are destroying our rural communities in the process of industrializing agriculture; and CAFOs are the epitome of industrial agriculture.”
Farm Sanctuary President Gene Baur pointed out that he’s personally vegan, but concedes that others need to make their own choices about what they eat. He said confined animals are raised like commodities and without respect.
“The way animals are being treated on farms today is not aligned with what most consumers expect,” said Baur.
Did I mention that the audience was largely made up of university students?
It was apparently made part of classroom work for some. The auditorium was full. If this is these students’ only exposure to agriculture I’d be surprised if any of them would buy anything from a grocery store meat counter ever. Some of the comments from the audience made comments from the speakers seem almost “middle of the road.”
The organizer concluded the first session by stating “All of this can be avoided if your hamburgers are from now on made from vegetables.”
During the Q&A portion of the program, she approached the Brownfield reporter and said, “It looks like this is someone from the other side. Would you like to say something?” He of course declined.
Events like this happen on and near universities around the world every day. Who doesn’t want a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and healthier earth? If the only place these young people are learning about animal agriculture is in symposia such as these, we are in big trouble.