National Pork Board President Tim Bierman has sent the following letter to the editor of Time magazine in response their article referring to modern pork production.
A recent Time magazine article titled “America's Food Crisis and How to Fix It,” makes many false statements and draws indefensible conclusions about modern pork production. To set the record straight based on facts, I offer a few comments and corrections on behalf of America's pork producers, who continue to work diligently to provide safe, affordable and high-quality food every day.
First of all, what food crisis? The drought in sub-Saharan Africa is a food crisis. Americans have access to abundant, safe and affordable food that is the envy of the rest of the world. It is produced by caring farmers using methods that are supported by science and backed by experience.
Unfortunately for your readers, the food plate of the article's author, Bryan Walsh, is half empty. He blames modern pork production for much of what he considers to be today's environmental concerns. He says pigs eat too much corn-based feed, which in turn, relies on too much commercial fertiliser. Walsh fails to credit pork production for its contribution to a recyclable and completely organic system that provides animal nutrients for crops. He also fails to mention no-till cropping methods, greenways and the land set aside for erosion control and wildlife areas—all of which occur regularly on America's farms and go a long way in preventing soil erosion and nutrient runoff.
Walsh's harangue drowns the many positive steps American farmers have taken over the past decades to become better stewards of all resources entering and leaving America's pork operations. Had he taken the time to call to me or the professional staff at the National Pork Board, he quickly would have learned how pork producers – through their own programs as well as through governmental regulation – have made environmental stewardship a way of life.
It baffles me how Walsh could write: “Our food is not only bad for us, but even dangerous.” This clearly is not only false, but reckless. The author surely must know the importance that American farmers place on food safety. Their families, after all, eat the same food. I wish I would have had the opportunity to tell Walsh how pork industry programs such as We Care, Pork Quality Assurance Plus® (PQA Plus®), Transport Quality Assurance® and others help producers engage daily in the quest to ensure safe, abundant and high-quality pork. Instead of talking about any of those positive efforts, Walsh relied on the negative and tired agenda-driven talking points offered by predictable opponents of modern food production.
Walsh is no kinder to pork producers' animal husbandry, using loaded terms such as “prison-like conditions” and inferring that modern livestock production is directly responsible for antibiotic resistance. Again, where to start? Walsh is just plain wrong. Today's pork producers, together with their veterinarians are managing herd health through time-tested best-management practices. They use medications strategically and judiciously—all under the careful eye of the US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates all antibiotic use in agriculture. The pork industry's We Care initiative, adopted last year, reiterates what producers have always done by focusing on superior animal care, herd health and technology to produce safe food. This is quantified by the more than 38,000 producers who have already been certified in the PQA Plus program.
Finally, the author urges us to “Eat more greens, less meat.” Perhaps this is the real crux of the story. He concedes that meat can be produced sustainably, but in his opinion not in conventional farming's quantities. Therefore, he advises, “We should cut back on meat in favour of greens and fruits—which are better for us and the planet.” Perhaps this parting thought from Walsh uncovers his true intent—to get Americans to stop eating all meat.
Time magazine gave Walsh its cover and eight pages inside to deliver his message and to denigrate America's farmers, including pork producers. Where was the other side of the story, the balance? Unfortunately, we can't change that. Instead, we must continue to let the public know that we are working hard to produce safe, affordable, high-quality food in the most responsible way possible.
• National Pork Board
• Time Magazine