Cyndi's Two Cents

Where are college students learning about agriculture?


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.

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  • There is a group of college students at Texas A&M who are working on this. The group called Farmers Fight is a breath of fresh air. They realize that a big part of the future of Ag is to educate the consumers and overcome the problems you have just written about. Here is a link to their blog…

    We do have our hands full teaching the public about agriculture. If we don’t then not only do we not get to be efficient in our farming, we will not be able to feed the 9 Billion people that we will share this planet with in 2050.

  • Cindy – Thanks for reminding us that we always need to be out there with our story – even on these beautiful spring days when we’re feeling ‘all is right with the world.’

  • I received the following response in an email. I asked the writer permission to share. She said yes, but preferred I did not use her name. I will respect her wishes and share, because I think it is valuable for us to hear from all sides/views on issues:

    I have been a farmer all my life. Dairy, hogs, grain, alfalfa and lots of gardening. I worked in our hog confinement setup for over 20 years and my lungs were showing it. The gases from the pits and lagoon made us sick. When a CA millionaire said he wanted to build a 10,000 cow mega dairy a few miles from my farm I knew what the air and water quality and roads would turn into. Over 40 acres of manure ponds 20 feet deep was beyond unbelievable!

    A grassroots group fought it for 5 years but could not stop them in court. Our local control was taken away from us years ago allowing these industrial farms to walk right in. Supporters (what’s in it for me people) were convinced it was a great thing. Most were against it but afraid of the consequences if they spoke up. Threats and intimidation by Bos lawyers scared many into keeping quiet. (For fear of losing their farms).

    I never saw so much social injustice brought in from this mega dairy! Division among friends and family was abundant and still is. We were warned by those that had it happen in their communities. It has changed my life forever.

    More and more grassroot groups are forming wherever these industrial farms come in. These large CAFOs are NOT farms! They certainly are not sustainable independent family farms.

    Proud family farmwife and mother who loves her home on the farm and works fulltime on it.

  • Dear Cyndi,

    Symposia like the one you described in your column last week are occurring everywhere and more are planned! Farm Bureau and other like minded organizations are ingraining their perception of agriculture with Ag in the Classroom Series and more. The industry is now “talking to moms” and giving tours of select farms. There is a battery of expensive PR attempts to erase the dirtied image of intensive livestock production and more. Years ago when the Museum of Science and Industry introduced their “farm exhibit” we visited and there was no indication of animals growing in confinements. There was a sow with her litter on straw in a very large pen, no photos of confinement barns or waste handling facilities and techniques, which come with the territory of “modern production livestock agriculture”. It is a shame that the thousands and thousands of children who visit the exhibit do not have a balanced sense of what changes have really occurred behind closed doors in livestock production agriculture. There are so many pro industry Land Grant University professors and researchers funded by corporations interacting with our children and future farmers that our “children’ are christened with a pro-industry slanted view from grade school right on through college. However, symposia like the one you attended with Dr. John Ikerd as a keynote is the public’s way of tipping the balance the other direction- away from a “me first” attitude of livestock corporations who bully their way into rural communities and diminish public health, property values and more. I am not talking about people who “move from the city” who don’t understand agriculture.” I am talking about farm families who live on century-farms who are forced to live next to intensive animal confinements and are prisoners on their own property because they just cannot pack up and move their farm. You seem to repeat the same dialogue each week with a very defensive attitude that many feel adds to the public relations problems of agriculture today. Food safety issues, public health, water, air, neighbor relations and yes, good animal husbandry practices – all need to be considered when discussing this issue in a rational manner. I communicate with people across the Unites States on many aspects of this issue and many have polluted wells, properties, broken friendships, and health problems after intensive animal confinements locate near their homes. We have collected so much “sound science” on the negative impacts that the public doesn’t even hear the industry ask for it anymore! Others I talk to have other problems, like contract producers with issues, and even professors and/or researchers who are threatened if their AG research does not follow a certain agenda. Everyone needs to keep the dialogue with one another-in a respectful, not intimidating manner. There is always strife before real change can occur. I am a meat eater and I believe that the worst day an animal should have should be it’s last and Cyndi, there are many more out there with the same philosophy! I don’t have all the answers, but current production models are causing more problems than the industry will admit. Change for the better is on our horizon. I have faith in our farmers and want meat production in America to continue in a way that is socially responsible for us and for our future generations. I thank you for allowing people to share thoughts and ideas in response to your writings.
    Karen Hudson P.S. I also live and work on a 5th generation farm in Illinois.

  • That symposium was very fortunate to have Dr. John Ikerd speak. He is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he taught agricultural economics for years. Dr. Ikerd is sought out all over the world for his expertise in how agriculture shifted from traditional, independent operations to the corporate industrial model we see today and all the harms it can impose on communities. I can go on about his qualifications, accomplishments, renown, but you get the idea.

    I work with many communities in Iowa who each day experience the impacts of industrial “farms” that have replaced the traditional model. These impacts are not pretty. CAFOs are not farms, although they are promoted as such. They are industrial operations that escape the regulations to protect communities that other industries must abide by. These factory farms can spew noxious odors into the communities which can make people sick or take shelter inside their homes because the air is too foul to breathe. I was just at such a home this week and I couldn’t wait to get from my car to the front door. I was only there for a visit. Those poor neighbors live in that day in and day out.

    There is no reason why we can’t feed our growing population with sustainable, pasture-based agricultural practices. Three quarters of the world does it, according to a UN report. The meat industry would like all of us to believe that the industrial model is the only way to provide enough food. But truthfully, between the toxic odors, water pollution and growing antibiotic resistance issues, significant byproducts of industrial livestock production, they ultimately are not sustainable and need to be replaced with responsible farming methods.

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