Ever wonder if pig farmers are good environmental stewards? Here is a short video to help you answer that question.
Recently, there have been a number of lawsuits filed in the state of North Carolina against Smithfield Foods. In fact, there are over 20 nuisance lawsuits against pig farms, waiting in the coffers. Three have already been through the court system and Smithfield has lost all three cases. The lawsuits are nuisance lawsuits filed by neighbors led by an out-of-state (Texas) lawyer. Too much noise, too much smell. It’s important to note that all the farms followed all rules/regulations. There have been no violations, but they still were sued. Their only offense? They were farming.
The last lawsuit awarded 6 neighbors over $470 million dollars, although the judge reduced it to 96 million. How generous. Trial lawyers typically receive about 1/3 of the award, and each of the neighbors will receive the remainder 60+ million. The bottom line you must ask, “Who do you want to raise your bacon?” Do you want farmers in the U.S. to raise the pigs or do you want to close farms down so we can buy our pork elsewhere? Because these lawsuits have real consequences – they shut farms down, which means no food is produced.
Let’s take a closer look at livestock agriculture and more specifically raising hogs. Fact #1 – Hogs do create manure. Fact #2 – Yes, it does stink. There is no denying that fact. I live on a farm with about 2200 head and there are a few days a year where I close my windows because of the odor. But most days during the spring/summer/fall, my windows are open. So what do we do about the odor? Not much at this point. I have heard there may be some technology coming down the road that may help with animal manure odor, which doesn’t surprise me because this is what we do in agriculture. See a problem, attempt to solve it.
But what really scares me about these lawsuits is where does it stop? I am afraid the new “Monsanto” (who is no longer) is “Smithfield.” It is so very easy to attack a mega corporation because it’s easier than attacking individual farmers. Yes, Smithfield is owned by the Chinese. It seems no one feels one bit guilty attacking a foreign-owned corporation. Family farms contract with Smithfield to raise hogs.
Working with a company like Smithfield has some attractive advantages. Farmers don’t have the cost of purchasing hogs, feeding them, dealing with a volatile market where there is no guarantee of a profit and no paycheck for six months (time to raise them to market weight). By working with a company like Smithfield, they are guaranteed a check every month. Farmers like it. Bankers like it. So even though people may be “yes, let’s stick it to Smithfield,’ they need to understand there are family farmers and employees directly impacted.
We need to stop suing farmers and our food supply. Now. Stop and think about what we are doing. It’s nothing short of eliminating our domestic food source. Are we ready for that? Do you think buying our pork from another country will be better? What country do you want to buy your pork from? Please put your country of choice in the comments below because I would love to know where you want to buy your pork from.
If you attack one state’s pig farms, why wouldn’t other farms in other states be next? Why wouldn’t it happen here in Minnesota? How about dairy, beef or poultry? Look at if from a trial lawyers point of view. It’s a huge windfall for them if you have the right players. All you need is to combine a greedy lawyer, some wagon-hopping environmentalists or some radical PETA supporters. That is the equation. There is nothing stopping them.
This should scare every. single. consumer.
As a farmer, what can we do?
We need to be political and we need to build community relationships. We all need to look at our state political processes to make sure what is happening in North Carolina doesn’t happen here. Thankfully, North Carolina has passed some legislation (with an override vote on the governor’s veto) that will help reel in future lawsuits.
Secondly, build community relationships. Here are some ideas farmers can do be involved in their local communities. Farmers need to get off the farm and build relationships within in their communities. I get it. It’s not easy. But we have to make it a priority. One of the more popular events agriculture is involved with locally are farm-to-table dinners. We literally have a dinner on a local farm and invite community leaders, business owners, medical professionals, other influencers and have conversations. We listen. We answer questions. I believe it’s harder to sue someone when you just shared dinner and wine with them.
Build relationships. Listen. Connect. Build trust.
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There are just some days that certain words and phrases drive us completely nuts. In fact, there are 10 words that drive farmers crazy. Let’s take a look at the list.
If I had to narrow this list from 10 to 1, this is the word I would choose. Drives me nuts. In agriculture, we know that people who use the word “factory farm” are using it in a negative way. The people who use “factory farm” don’t want you to think there are people who care for animals on these farms. They want you to think there is minimal animal contact, conditions are dark and unfriendly. But the truth is people run and manage these farms and barns. They are friends, neighbors, and family. Remember, it’s family farms, not factory farms.
A popular word that literally means nothing. You see it everywhere. But what you may not know is there is no definition for “all-natural,” so food-fear marketers take advantage of the lack of definition and plaster it on just about everything. Again, anything that can stir emotion in consumers is a marketers goal. And “all-natural” makes us all feel good.
I hate how food fear marketers use this label. I know you have all seen this label, Non-GMO Project Verified. The problem is they place this label on food items that have no GMO version. For example, DOLE places this label on their peaches. There are no GMO peaches. None. They might as well say “unicorn-free” on the package because it has the same meaning. I understand that consumers want to know what is in their food. But, seriously? I just hate the deception of food labels.
The reality is there are many women farmers. Most of us are highly invested in our farms just like our husbands. So it is insensitive and irritating when a salesman knocks on the door or calls on the phone and asks, “is your husband home?” It’s offensive and needs to stop. Treat women farmers with respect and for who they are.
One of the hot new terms I hear lately is soil health. Like it is a new concept or something. It makes it sound like farmers never cared about soil health until now. That can’t be further from the truth. Farmers have always cared about their land. Many want to leave their land better than when they started farming. Farmers have always worked on soil health and will continue to do so. Yes, there are some new ways farming techniques that improve soil health, just like we have used new farming practices in the past to improve soil health. It’s just what we do, always have.
One of those phrases I hear a lot. I have no problem with farmers selling their products directly to the consumer. Direct sales allow consumers to “know their farmer,” which is always used in the context that it’s better. But the problem with using this phrase is it makes the rest of us, who sell our products differently, feel inferior because you don’t know me directly. Just because you don’t “know me” specifically doesn’t mean our food is any less quality.
Another common word that people love to use. In fact, many companies and organizations have “sustainability officers” as part of their organizations. One challenge with the word “sustainable” is it means different things to different people. When I think about sustainable I think about doing more with less. Farmers have been doing more with less for a very long time. Sustainability has always been a priority, we just didn’t call it that. We are and have been on a continual path of improvement. Always have, always will.
Thank you food-fear marketers. Here we go again. Let me reassure you that all meat is antibiotic-free. There are safeguards put in place to ensure that your meat is free from antibiotics. So why is it necessary to tout antibiotic-free when we all know it is?
The public loves to lump all agriculture biotechnology companies under the name Monsanto, even though there are many companies that perform the same function as Monsanto. They love to blame this “giant evil-doer of the world” for everything. As a farmer, I appreciate new biotechnology advancements. We use them and thanks to the advancements, we use fewer pesticides which is good for us and good for the environment.
If I could have a dollar every time I have heard people who watched Food, Inc. and then claim to know it all because what they saw on the documentary must be true, I would be a very rich person. Yes, one of the most common claims I hear. At the point, I challenge them to watch a video on the other side of the food issue such as Farmland. It’s frustrating that people believe everything they see and hear.
So yes, these words drive me nuts, which is why my passion is to connect consumers with the people who raise and grow their food. Only with those connections, can I start eliminating some of these words from my list.
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Perhaps one of the most common questions I am asked in regards to pesticides is, “Is Glyphosate Safe?” So let’s take a closer look at this topic.
Glyphosate is a herbicide introduced by Monsanto and used by farmers to help control weeds. Glyphosate is also known as RoundUp. On our farm, we have used glyphosate for many years. In fact, this picture is from the early 80’s. We were spot spraying weeds with RoundUp. This was before our seeds used the GMO technology.
Weeds. Weeds are a continual problem for farmers. When RoundUp (glyphosate) is used, it will kill any plant. The only exception would be glyphosate-resistant plants(weeds). This happens when glyphosate has been repeatedly used and the plant, over time, develops a resistance. Prior to using RoundUp, we used much more toxic herbicides. It’s imperative that we keep changing the herbicides we use to help lessen herbicide-resistant weeds. Weeds need to continually change. If they didn’t they would be extinct. And we know weeds are alive and well!
Does Glyphosate cause cancer?
Rats, dogs and mice were repeatedly fed glyphosate at differing rates which resulted in no cancer. The EPA also stated there is enough evidence to support the same results.
How does it affect wildlife?
Glyphosate is only slightly toxic to wild birds and is practically non-toxic to fish. Glyphosate is also nearly non-toxic to bees.
What about the IARC report indicating the toxicity of glyphosate?
Yes, the original report from the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) did indicate glyphosate was a probable carcinogen. What we later found out was the WHO cancer agency edited out the word “non-carcinogenic” in its report. No one from the agency said who or why the change was made. Keep in mind that working a night shift, caffeine, high-temperature frying, very hot beverages and being a hairdresser are also classified as probable carcinogens.
Based on the length of time we have used glyphosate, chances are there are trace amounts in our food. There was a multi-university study done on the effects of accidental consumption of RoundUp. The results? It undergoes little metabolism, does not accumulate and is excreted mostly unchanged in feces and urine.
At the end of the day, farmers need to control weeds in their fields. If weeds are left unchecked, they use important nutrients and water that should be used by our crops. Farmers would love nothing better than to not use pesticides. They cost money. In fact, they cost a lot of money. But the economic impact is much worst if the weeds are out of control. I remember the days before glyphosate. The herbicides we used were terrible and I was always nervous about using them. When RoundUp was introduced, we were relieved because it was less toxic. And better yet, how effective RoundUp was and the cost was very reasonable.
Agriculture will continually find new and better ways to control pests (weeds and insects). Just like we always have.