"You'll never look at dinner the same way again." -- Food, Inc
Since the 2008 film Food, Inc. pulled back the curtain on industrial food production, corporate agribusiness has been scrambling, doing damage control. A food system that destroyed family farming and left rural main streets with little more than dollar stores and good-will charities, while making people sick and poisoning the environment, has suddenly been revealed on the big screen to large audiences of unsuspecting eaters.
The big food conglomerate has set up a facade organization deceptively named the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). "When did agriculture become a dirty word?" they ask. In an affront to the real farmers and ranchers that currently produce good food, practice humane treatment of animals and care for the environment, USFRA intends to hide the repulsive truth about industrial agriculture behind the trusted image earned over decades by small-scale family farmers and ranchers. The $30 million dollar campaign is as phony as their food.
Before Food, Inc. and a number of other popular books and films sharply critiqued the modern food system gone haywire, most eaters didn't realize how what they chose to eat impacted the well-being of their community, the natural world and their own health. Most people thought the government was looking out for them.
Unhealthy food from massive industrial operations has made it to our plates because government agencies created to protect us have been captured by big agribusiness. Their executives enjoy first-class travel from the corporate boardroom to high positions in government bureaucracy and back again. Government agencies now serve corporate interests instead of our common good.
An example is the recent Environmental Protection Agency order issued against my cattle operation (see story on page 15). Without communicating with the state Department of Health and Environment, and without discussion or questions, EPA sent out a national news release and compliance order that blindsided me with four dubious violations. While ignoring the massive pollution of factory farming operations, over-use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide on large farms, spraying of insecticides that harm honey bees, and contamination of water aquifers by hydraulic gas fracturing, EPA -- without due process -- cited my tidy, sustainably managed cattle operation, threatening fines of $37,500 per day per violation.
We quickly acknowledged some errors in record keeping and promised corrections would be made immediately. EPA ordered that runoff from the area where our hay and other feed commodities are stored should be "contained," even though the state agency approved our current design more than 25 years ago, seeing no problem. EPA also cited one water retention structure (pond) as lacking sufficient storage capacity. A design change was on file at the state agency converting the structure to a settling basin allowing overflow into a larger over-sized structure. The EPA didn't ask. The state agency worked with us in locating a new composting area for our mobile slaughter waste, which the EPA faulted for being outside the "controlled area."
But, here's the most important part: EPA demands that we do frequent nutrient analysis -- including soil, manure and water -- and record it all. Then, we need their permission to apply our own natural fertilizer on our own land. As owner-managed, civic-minded businesses, we are focused on growing things and caring for our land and livestock. Large profit-driven, politically connected companies can hire experts to take care of regulatory paperwork, file reports to shareholders, deal with their bad food recalls and manage their image in the media.
Is it any wonder small businesses like mine struggle to keep the doors open, while big corporations continue to get bigger?
In the last 30 years, 90 percent of our pork producers, more than 80 percent of our dairymen, and more than 40 percent of our ranchers have been driven out of business. Is this what we want?
The food-producing communities across rural America that provide good food every day and provide stewardship for our land and animals are being crushed under the boot of global agribusiness and rogue government agencies.
Family farmers and ranchers want to feed your family. Remember, what you support -- prospers; what you feed -- grows.
(Callicrate runs a cattle ranch in St. Francis, Kan., and owns Ranch Foods Direct in Colorado Springs. When in Colorado Springs, he attends St. Mary Cathedral).
Permission for reprint is granted with the acknowledgement that the article first appeared on the Blog in The Colorado Catholic Herald.
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