Written by: Guest | February 9, 2022
By: Mike Schuster, vice president of sales, Laidig Systems, Inc., AFIA Board chair 2021-22
Unfortunately, last week brought another misleading attack on the American agriculture community. The New York Times used its platform to dish out a one-sided opinion video that paints the entire food industry in a negative light. The title alone, “Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet,” is disappointing, given it defies everything I know about those who work in this industry and have dedicated their lives to improving the world in which we live for current and future generations.
The video, the first in a three-part series, falsely suggests that animal agriculture recklessly pollutes the world and attempts to defy all forms of regulation. It also accuses the food industry of being singularly motivated by profits that fund powerful lobbyists charged with concealing environmental damage.
This irresponsible media coverage is blatantly unfair and does a disservice to consumers who value transparency in how their food is produced and want access to safe, healthy and affordable options in their diets. It inaccurately portrays the vital role of American farmers and ranchers in feeding the world. It also clearly ignores some of the great work the agriculture industry has been doing to safely and responsibly feed a growing population in accordance with stringent state and federal regulations.
Since its beginnings, the ag community has worked hard on sustainability. We recognize that using natural resources wisely is a continuous journey and our efforts have resulted in significant advancements, for both the environment in which we live and the animals that are in our care. The supply of safe, nutritious and affordable food that Americans have regular access to now uses measurably less water, less land, less energy and less feed with fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than in the past. For example, between 1961 and 2018, the U.S. beef community alone reduced its emissions per pound of beef produced by more than 40%, while also producing 66% more beef per animal.
Contrary to the NYT’s misleading assertions, in the United States, agriculture only contributes 10% to total GHG emissions, lower than transportation, electricity generation and industry, while producing significantly more protein than the rest of the world. And in fact, if you look at animal agriculture specifically, it is responsible for only 4% of the United States’ direct GHG emissions.
Though the feed industry is just a small part of the overall agricultural community, we have been doing our part to curb our climate impact, as can be seen with many game-changing solutions brought forward in recent years. Some of the very companies that were singled out in the video are actively working on innovative technology with the goal of reducing the animal food chain’s environmental impact, while optimizing animal nutrition and ensuring more people have access to food. And we have been working to advance these technologies so we can make more meaningful progress in achieving the country’s GHG reduction goals - because we also want cleaner air to breathe.
Through the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER), our industry is continuing its significant sustainability advancements by embarking on a Sustainability Road Map project, where many companies will develop a road map and supporting resources for information exchange, including standardization and methodologies, and provide life cycle data of feed up and down the production chain. IFEEDER also joined the Protein PACT, which looks to accelerate progress toward all aspects of sustainability. As a founding member of the Global Feed LCA Institute, the American Feed Industry Association is also working with others in the global agricultural community to measure the industry’s footprint and provide reliable, reputable data to producers so that they may continue their journey toward greater sustainability.
The video also suggests that the industry looks to skirt regulations, but this is simply untrue. The U.S. agriculture industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world. Just in our small part of the industry alone, manufacturing facilities must comply with a whole host of regulations that verify the safety of the products produced, promote safer workplaces and bolster healthier environments. In the past decade, our facilities have come into compliance with even more regulations through the Food Safety Modernization Act and undergo rigorous, regular inspections to ensure they are following all rules. And the AFIA goes even further to support facilities with achieving Safe Feed/Safe Food certification status, so that they can go above and beyond what the Food and Drug Administration requires.
It is unfortunate, but we must recognize that these attacks on the agriculture industry will continue. It does not change our mission of remaining on a path toward greater safety and sustainability, producing more with less, while preserving our environment and feeding more people.
At the same time, it solidifies that our industry must continue to seek creative, effective methods of telling our side of the story – the complete story – so consumers don’t fill up on these side dishes to the main course.
I am proud to work hard with other members of the agricultural community every day to provide vital nutrition to the world’s population. Our positive message must be louder than the misleading agenda of our critics.