Recently, I was interviewing a young woman who was seeking employment with Hoosier Ag Today. When I asked why she was interested in coming to work for us, she told me about her passion for agriculture and her desire to tell the truth about our industry to the public. I responded by saying there were members of the public that did not want to know the truth about agriculture. She agreed and cited some personal examples of people who, when shown the facts about food production, continued to hold on to their misconceptions.
This is an experience that most of us have had. When shown the facts about biotechnology, animal care, ethanol, antibiotics, climate change, and a host of other issues, people refuse to change their minds and continue to hold on to their views — despite facts that contradict or negate their concerns. It is an unfortunate reality in our world today that facts to not trump ideology. (No political pun intended.)
For example, if you talk with someone about climate change for more than about 5 minutes, the subject of livestock flatulence will come up. It is commonly believed by many in the environmental community that livestock emissions are a factor in climate change. They will claim with a straight face and often a snigger, that methane emissions from cattle are a cause for the warming of the earth. Yet study after study does not support this assertion.
This past week the University of California at Davis released a yet another study that proves livestock are not agents of climate change. Professor Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., in his white paper, “Livestock’s Contributions to Climate Change: Facts and Fiction” said the livestock industry is not a driving force in climate change. “Efficiencies in U.S. livestock agriculture have lowered this industry’s combined greenhouse gas emissions to a historic low of about four percent of the nation’s total,” said Mitloehner. “Furthering recent advances will be paramount to satisfy a growing global demand for animal protein without depleting natural resources.” According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the livestock industry accounts for 4.2 percent of the U.S. GHG emissions. Energy production and transportation are the largest contributors, together equaling more than half of the total U.S. GHG emissions.
These facts, however, are not likely to stop people from thinking cow farts are hurting the environment or from advocating for meatless Mondays to save the planet. If Americans actually practiced “Meatless Mondays,” there would only be a 0.6 percent decrease in U.S. GHG emissions. However, replacing incandescent lightbulbs with Energy Star bulbs would be twice as effective, 1.2 percent. But don’t let these facts get in the way of your opposition to the livestock industry.
In any discussion of US farm policy, the subject of farm subsidies will come up. It is likely that someone will complain about all the tax dollars going to rich farmers not to grow food or to billionaires who don’t even farm. Even though most of these loopholes in the federal farm safety net have been closed, the claims persist. A newly formed farm coalition is challenging a recent report issued by the Environmental Working Group. The EWG report titled “The Rich Get Richer” claims 50 billionaires are getting federal farm subsidies. The 2008 Farm Bill closed those loopholes, and billionaires no longer get farm program subsidies. Yet. this fact does not stop groups like EWG from issuing false and outdated reports.
Even food companies don’t let the facts get in the way of their marketing plans. There is no evidence that the use of biotechnology in food production is not sustainable; in fact, there are arguments that suggest that the use of biotechnology makes agriculture more sustainable. Yet, last week, Dannon, the nation’s leading yogurt maker, announced a pledge to its farmers, retail customers, and consumers to further improve sustainable agriculture practices for its milk supply by implementing plans to bring all products from its three flagship brands – Dannon, Oikos and Danimals – towards the use of fewer and more natural ingredients that are not synthetic and not genetically modified organisms (GMOs). That’s right, Dannon, just ignore the science. This is not anything new for Dannon; remember when they claimed eating yogurt would make you live longer?
While this should not keep us from sharing the facts about agriculture with the public, it should make us aware that simply telling the truth is not going to change people’s minds or win them over.
By Gary Truitt