This post is one I have been rolling around in my head for weeks. It is important for me to write it, and do a good job, because it is the main reason I decided to get involved as an advocate for agriculture and start my own blog. It is a post that talks about the issue of COMMUNICATION. This is a weighty subject and I think I might have to do a follow up in the future because I have already edited about 5 times for length!
Our population has been growing at an increasing rate every year. Years ago those employed in agriculture and the agriculture industry (think; farmers, scientists, companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, John Deere, Case IH, etc.) saw what was coming and where agriculture needed to be to meet the needs of a growing global populace. They put their heads down and worked feverishly at improving the system. Together they have done a great job; “A Canadian farmer could only feed 10 people a century ago, but can now feed over 120 today. Farming productivity has jumped by 300 per cent since the 1950s – and at the same time, we’re using fewer resources, less land and newer, better technologies to produce more food.” http://www.farmfoodcare.org/news/2-farm-food-care/37-dirt-on-farming
What we have all failed miserably at is communicating to the rest of the world what we are doing and why. In a world where every generation is becoming further and further removed from the farm life, we mistakenly assumed people would understand why these things had to be done, and that changes were being made in a safe and sustainable way.
A world in 1950 where around 2 billion people woke up every morning was vastly different from today where the population is over 7 billion, and 2050 when the population is expected to hit 9.5 billion (requiring an increase in global food production of around 70%) source: UN, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013). World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.
About 21,000 people die every day from starvation or hunger related causes, without the agricultural advances of the last 50 to 60 years that number would be a lot larger. I have been told, more than once, that agriculture needs to go back to the way it was 50 years ago. This is clearly a mindset that comes from not understanding our global situation.
Because of the lack of communication between the Ag world and the rest of the population, misinterpretations are found in almost every discussion about our food production. Over the course of the last few years I have encountered many comments from people that simply do not understand what is happening ‘on the farm’ and have a poor comprehension of farming practices. It is these conversations that have brought me to the opinion that the farmers need to do a better job at explaining what is going on in our day to day lives! I have compiled a list of some of the more memorable comments made to me, my farming friends, and others that I interact with on social media. (My apologies for not giving credit on each comment, I didn’t have sources for each one so decided not to source any – feel free to contact me if you would like credit for a comment that you provided). I have debunked some of the simpler myths but not all of them in efforts to keep this blog at a reasonable length. If you have questions about why some of these statements are incorrect read on and I will tell you how to find the answers!
- “Someone once told me there is blood in chocolate milk so they only drink white.” (NOTE: there is not blood in either and if there was, white milk would also have blood because dairy farms do not separate their milk. See here)
- “Someone once asked me if we shelled all our field peas by hand”
- “That pasteurization destroys the nutrition and changes color of milk and that it’s 30% ground up calcite to make it look white.”
- “That farmers instead of using herbicides should hand pick their weeds, use boiling water or salt to control the weeds”
- “A lady I had a conversation with said that GMO blueberries, apples, strawberries made her sick.“ (NOTE: there are no GMO blueberries, apples or strawberries on the market anywhere in the world)
- “Factory Farms” put “vents” in the stomachs of cattle so they can be fed corn.”
- “Somewhere somebody wrote that you had to force feed GMO feed to cows through holes in their sides.”
- “Had a woman ask if it was true a farmer has to spray glyphosate just to get the corn to grow”
- “A lady claimed that GMO tomatoes made her instantly sick and the resulting diarrhea was awful.” (NOTE: there are no GMO tomatoes on the market anywhere in the world, although the technology has been developed, it has been shelved)
- “I’m allergic to GMO wheat but not organic wheat.” (NOTE: there is no GMO wheat on the market anywhere in the world, the technology has been developed but it too has been shelved and never marketed)
- ‘There was no hunger in India prior to the Green Revolution’
- “I could eat bread and pasta (wheat) in Italy but not Canada”. (NOTE: Italy is one of the largest importers of Canadian durum wheat – for pasta)
- “I had a lady tell me over and over that Pioneer sprayed their fields with toxic chemicals EVERY DAY (this was in Hawaii). I tried to rationally explain to her that this could not be the case….for instance, ‘no farmer would be spraying when it had poured rain for days’, etc. She ended up getting quite angry, and then wished death and sterility upon myself and family!!” (NOTE: I promise you that no rational farmer could afford to spray any type of chemical on their crop every day of the growing season, even if there was any reason to do so – which there is not)
- “Someone said to me that GMOs would not be sustainable and help feed the world. I, of course, told her that she indeed had that turned around and it is organic farming that is the least sustainable and many in the world would starve to death given our ever-growing population, if organic farming was the rule rather than the exception. Her rebuttal? The world is too overpopulated as it is anyway! When I asked her if it then would be okay for her, or anyone of her family members, to starve to death? She said, of course not! I’m talking about the rest of the world! “
- “An acquaintance told me her perspective of me has changed since she found out we are GMO farmers and that farmers shouldn’t be able to put preservatives into food (implying that GMOs are the same as preservatives – NOTE: genetic modification is a process that happens before the farmer purchases the seed, it is not an ingredient).”
- “Organic farmers don’t use any pesticides” or similarly “I eat organic to avoid chemicals”
- Farmers douse their fields in toxic chemicals over and over again (NOTE: this is not true see here)
- “Poor countries don’t need biotechnology, they just need to start planting fruits and vegetables in gardens”
- “the safety of GMOs has not been tested or proven”
This list is not meant to make fun of or shame anyone. It is simply meant to point out the large divide between what is actually happening on our farms, and what people THINK is happening. This raises the issue of what should people do when they have a question about our food production? Well my friends, this is the reason for my post today! I am so excited that a great group of people have gotten together for a project called ‘Ask The Farmers’ http://www.askthefarmers.com/ .
The group and website are fairly self-explanatory; a bunch of advocating farmers from all types of farms and other industry people joining together in one place to hopefully answer any and all questions that you can think of! They have created a kind and helpful environment where no question is trivial or to difficult. I know some of these people through social media and highly respect what they are doing for the perception of agriculture. I commend them for their hard work and am looking forward to helping with this project in any way I can. If you haven’t already liked the page on Facebook or followed it on twitter what are you waiting for?
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
I will leave you with a line I used in a grade 4 class presentation I did for Ag Literacy Week last year; if you have a question about your health you should ask a doctor, your car a mechanic, your plumbing a plumber, the law a lawyer, if you have a question about your food, Ask a Farmer!
Be sure to visit some of the great farm agvocates involved in this project!