Consumers, farmers both want food facts

The conversations are endless. Consumers want, and some demand, to know the origin, safety and nutrition contained in the food they eat or feed to their families.

Little more than a couple decades ago, it seemed like most people could give a hoot about their food. Heck, 20 years ago the only time the media paid any attention to food was to tell consumers when prices went up.

It’s obvious farmers, ranchers and other people who want to sell food want to tell the public about their product. But are they being heard? Does their message resonate with today’s savvy consumer?

Or is it being sidelined by well-funded, well-managed and strategically placed ads and social media?

During the past several years, agendas championed by some environmental groups have been less than kind to agriculture. Some have flooded the public with figures on soil losses, pesticide-related mishaps and alleged failed attempts at using pesticides to reduce infestation.

Technology has often been labeled the No. 1 environmental enemy. But here’s the flip side of that coin and one agriculture must tell over and over again.

For food producers, farmers and ranchers, technology is viewed as the application of knowledge. As humans, we survive by adapting the environment to our needs.

Someone much wiser than me once said, minus technology, we would be just like other primates—confined to tropical regions and subject to extinction due to environmental changes. To survive, we must disturb the environment, conserve resources and continually create them.

Resources are made not born. Land, ores, petroleum, etc.—the raw materials of this planet—are not inherently resources. They do not inherently further human purposes.

We as humans must determine what is useful and how to use it. Topsoil becomes a resource when a farmer nurtures the soil and plants wheat seed for example. Ores become resources when metals are extracted from them.

During the past two centuries, technology has been creating resources more rapidly than humans have been consuming them. By every measure of price and availability, resources have become more abundant.

Without science and technology, today’s farmers and ranchers would be unable to feed the masses outside the agricultural industry. Farmers use technology responsibly. They constantly use new farming methods and practices. Their minds are like the fertile soil they farm—always ready to embrace new ideas

But new ideas and new farm technology is costly. It is in the best interest of farmers to use it carefully. Misuse would add to production costs, which would result in an even lower return on investment.

Farmers use agricultural herbicides and pesticides only when necessary. When they use these plant protectants, farmers follow label directions designed to safeguard the public.

When ranchers use anti­biotics and other animal health products for their stock, they follow proper drug-use practices. When new advances in biotechnology are discovered, farmers must abide by stringent testing and monitoring practices that ensure only safe products in the market.

Food produced in the United States is safe. More than 50 years of Food and Drug Administration testing has shown the majority of our fruits and vegetables have no detectable pesticide residues. This underscores that American farmers use pesticides properly.

Every year billions of dollars are spent to support food and agricultural safety and quality inspection, according to the General Account­ing Office. The private sector, combined with state and local governments, spend an estimated $9 billion on similar activities.

Farmers and ranchers support efforts to evaluate and enhance the current regulatory and food monitoring system. Agricultural producers are willing to work with others to maintain safe food, but this industry must avoid policy changes that are based on fear, emotion and public manipulation.

Decisions affecting the course of agricultural production are critically important and will have far-reaching implications on our quality of life. We must be careful when determining long-term policies.

Farmers and ranchers must continue to maximize their production capacity with an ever-watchful eye on food safety, quality and the environment.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.

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