Taking agriculture back in time ‘will not feed the world today’

RICHMOND—Big companies are trying to change the way U.S. farmers operate their businesses, but some things don’t need changing.

Restaurant chain Chipotle aired its “Back to the Start” advertisement Feb. 12 during the Grammy Awards. The commercial portrays large-scale farming as dismal compared to bucolic grasslands on which pigs roam free. And McDonald’s recently announced that it will require its U.S. pork suppliers to outline their plans to phase out the use of sow gestation stalls. The move is supported by the Humane Society of the United States.

The negative portrayal of antibiotics and vaccinations in the Chipotle ad misrepresent how farmers actually use those tools.

“When the average consumer, who has never been to a farm, watches the Chipotle spot or hears that McDonald’s is only going to buy meat from pork producers who don’t use gestation stalls, it reinforces the belief that modern farming practices aren’t good for animals or the food supply,” said Lindsay Reames, assistant director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Indoor housing for pigs, which Chipotle paints as bad, protects the pigs from bad weather and keeps them cleaner.”

As for antibiotics, most people are unaware that farmers use them to treat sick animals, and that those animals are not allowed in the food stream until the antibiotics are out of their systems, Reames said.

Chipotle’s negative portrayal of medicine misrepresents how antibiotics, vaccines and other medications are used in pig production, according to Dr. Darryl Ragland, a veterinarian and Purdue University associate professor of food animal production medicine.

"These products are used in a strategic manner to address health issues on most farms and represent a tool and not a crutch," Ragland said. "The push to ban antimicrobial use in animal production is likely to create a welfare issue where we may have sick animals that cannot be medicated because of restrictions."

The American Society of Animal Science said most Chipotle pork suppliers are not certified organic producers. Instead, they follow the company’s “naturally raised” guidelines, under which medications are given to the animals and the pigs do not roam free.

Going back in time to the way farm animals were raised 50 years ago will not feed the world today, Reames said. “By 2050, world population is projected to reach 9.1 billion, and our farmers will need to feed all those extra people. They need modern farming practices to do that.”

The best way to see modern farming is to visit a farm, she said. But if that’s not possible, virtual tours are the next best thing.

The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance offers online tours of beef, dairy and hog farms at usfraonline.org, along with information about the Beef Quality Assurance program, which provides cattle farmers and ranchers with ongoing training to support them as they care for their animals.

Contact Reames at 804-290-1019.

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