Agriculture industry not good for farmers, consumers, group says
Thursday, March 20, 2014
By Amity Shedd ~ Southeast Missourian
As America loses its farmers, it also loses sight of how food gets from a farm to a kitchen table, according to a panel of agriculture experts who spoke about humane and sustainable agriculture Wednesday at the Cape Girardeau Public Library.
The event, hosted by the Humane Society of the United States Missouri Agriculture Council, featured panelists opposed to the direction the agriculture industry is heading, which includes Missouri’s Right to Farm Act that was sponsored by state Rep. Jason Smith, before he became a U.S. congressman.
The legislation would amend the state constitution to "forever guarantee" the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching if it is approved by voters in the November election.
Smith said the constitutional change is needed to protect Missouri farmers from out-of-state animal rights groups and "environmental extremists," The Associated Press reported.
Opponents say the measure could prevent future agriculture regulations, which some believe are needed more than ever now that farming has become so industrialized.
If the legislation passes, it will give foreign corporations the same rights "as humans," and a majority of those corporations do not need protection, said Wes Shoemyer, president of Missouri’s Food for America, member of HSUS Missouri Agriculture Council, a former Missouri senator and a farmer.
One entity will gain, and everyone else will lose, he said.
"This is something Missouri does not need," Shoemyer said.
As agriculture becomes more industrialized, he said young farmers are leaving rural areas and consumers are becoming less aware of where their food comes from and how it gets there.
Foreign entities that buy land and meat corporations in the United States will only care about their bottom line and not their community as local farmers do, Shoemyer said.
Dr. John Ikerd, professor emeritus of agriculture and applied economics at the University of Missouri and author of books about the subject, said for the first 15 years of his career in agriculture, he taught other farmers in a traditional sense — to farm for the bottom line.
In the 1980s, when the United States began losing farmers at a faster rate, Ikerd said he realized the problem was what he and others had taught farmers. They had essentially created an industrialized, mechanized system that is not good for farmers, consumers, animals or the environment.
Farms have become assembly lines and animal welfare has taken a big hit, as too many animals are living in too little space.
"In my opinion, it’s an absolute failure. It failed," Ikerd said of the industrial food system.
There are more hungry people than there were before the food industrialization began, more people are getting sick from the food they’re eating, and the amount of money spent on health care has doubled, he said. Food recalls and contaminations are routine, and some diseases have become resistant to antibiotics.
Sheila Nichols, owner of Springhouse Farms in Springfield, Mo., and a member of the agriculture council, encouraged people to know their farmers and know their food.
Buying local food supports the local economy, and multicorporation farmers don’t give a "flying flip" about a person’s well-being, she said.
Nichols also works at a farmers’ market in Springfield, and said she probably will have to quit her job for the cause, but that’s OK.
"I have a mission, and that is to bring back the family farmer," she said.
Less than 1 percent of the American population are farmers or ranchers, having decreased from 30 percent in the 1970s, according to Joe Maxwell, vice president of outreach and engagement for the HSUS, former Missouri lieutenant governor and farmer.
One percent is not enough people to exert influence with legislators, he said.
Food is not a partisan issue, Maxwell said, and consumers need to join farmers and ranchers so their voices are heard.
711 N. Clark St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.