TIME Magazine Kicks American Farmers in the Nuts

Posted on 10/02/2009




For Immediate Release
September 29, 2009

Skewed Article on Agriculture in TIME Magazine

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley Skewed Article on
Agriculture in TIME Magazine Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I rise today in response to Bryan Walsh’s recent article published on
August 31, 2009 in TIME Magazine titled “The Real Cost of Cheap Food.”
Unfortunately this is one of the most skewed and one sided articles I’ve
ever had the opportunity to read, particularly in the main stream media.
This report was far from objective journalism.

Before outlining the numerous factual errors the author presents in his
article, I will mention that I support organic and sustainable
agriculture. In fact, Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution and
from my home state of Iowa, is credited for creating a sustainable
agriculture system decades ago. What Niman Ranch and other organic
farmers across Iowa and our nation are doing is to be commended. These
producers are providing additional choices to consumers and creating
highly profitable small farms which can help sustain rural communities.
In fact the National Agriculture Statistics Service reports that in
2007, 566 organic farms were located in Iowa.

That being said, I am disappointed that an information source,
previously known to be a news magazine, has resorted to an inaccurate,
incomplete and unfair reflection of family farmers across the country. I
want to take a few minutes here on the Senate floor to refute a few main
points that the author has made. First, I want to discuss how our
nation’s farmers are stewards of our land, protecting and caring for
their livestock and our environment. Secondly, I will address population
growth and the growing demands to produce safe and affordable food. And
finally, I’ll address how both organic agriculture and conventional
agriculture serve complimentary needs and can co-exist in harmony.

As everyone in this body knows, I’ve been a family farmer all my life.
My son Robin and I crop share our land and we’ve taken great pride over
the years in both caring for our livestock, and conserving our natural
resources while producing a bountiful corn and soybean harvest. We are
not unlike tens of thousands of other farmers across Iowa and this
country whose livelihoods depend on taking care of our soils, waters,
and animals.

With final passage of the Food Conservation and Energy Act in 2008, also
known as the Farm Bill, Congress made one of the largest commitments to
conservation that this nation has ever seen. An additional $6 billion in
new money was added for working lands programs such as the Conservation
Stewardship program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Farmland
Protection Program. Even on my own farm we use no-till on our beans, we
minimum till our corn, and we’ve put in a wetland, a waterway and a
grass strip, even though we have mostly flat farmland. Robin and I
aren’t required to do this. We do it because we know as stewards of our
environment, our farm will benefit in the long run, and we’ll be able to
pass the operation down to my grandchildren and great grandchildren.

That’s one of the main points the author of the TIME article totally
misses. He basically demonizes production agriculture. Mr. Walsh implies
that the only family farmers in our country are those who live on 30
acres. But nothing could be further from the truth. Family farmers can
operate small farms, but they can also operate large farms. And if given
the opportunity they want to be able to pass that farm onto future
generations of their family. It makes no sense to imply that these
producers would purposefully deplete our resources for a quick buck.
There has NEVER been a quick buck in farming. But it can provide over a
lifetime, a rewarding and sustainable lifestyle.

Producers around the United States continue to become more and more
efficient in their production practices. As this chart shows, in the
last 25 years, we’ve been able to produce more bushels of corn with less
fertilizer. Using USDA data compiled by the Fertilizer Institute,
nitrogen, phosphate, and potash efficiency are growing in corn
production. To put it another way, we are growing more bushels of corn
per pound of nutrient applied. This is in direct contradiction to the
author’s statements.

We know that hypoxia is partly a natural phenomenon, but scientists
generally agree that nitrates from agriculture and other man-made
factors contribute to it. When the hypoxia zone forms, it does displace
fish, but it is particularly unfair to try to quantify impacts on the
fishing industry because there isn’t sufficient data to back that up.

Technology has allowed farmers to apply the exact amount of fertilizer
in the right way so there isn’t excess. However, even organic farming
(which the author seems to hold in high esteem) uses manure for
fertilizer which contains nitrogen, and soil naturally contains nitrogen
that washes into streams. Farmers have been employing conservation
practices like no-till, buffer strips, and wetlands just like I have on
my own farm to prevent soil erosion and keep runoff from going directly
into waterways for years. And I anticipate these practices to grow.

In addition, research is starting to shift on hypoxia issues in the Gulf
of Mexico. There is increasing recognition that causes of hypoxia relate
strongly to man-made alterations of the entire system, including
channelization of the Mississippi, reversal of the Atchafalaya River,
and extreme loss of wetlands and barrier islands that filter nutrients
and protect against storm surges – not solely nutrient issues.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board
(SAB) hypoxia report indicates that 22 percent of nitrogen and 34
percent of phosphorus loads can be attributed to point sources rather
than agriculture. In addition, EPA estimates over 2 trillion gallons of
untreated combined sewer overflow run into our nations waterways each
year and Army Corp of Engineers projects dump millions of yards of
nutrient rich soil into the Missouri and other rivers for habitat
restoration purposes. These types of dredging projects in the Missouri
River floodplain alone may represent as much as 8 percent of the spring
total phosphorous discharge.

Technology in corn production in the United States over the last 100
years has been remarkable. From about 1860-1930 corn averaged about 25
bushels per acre. Not until the 1950’s through the 1980’s when breeders
began using double cross and single cross technology did we see advances
in corn yields. And just in the last 10 years have we seen the increased
use of biotechnology which has provided yields of over 150 bushels per
acre. The author clearly views biotechnology as a bad thing, when in
fact traits such as drought resistance and nutrient use efficiency is
actually improving corn’s performance with less inputs. Many of our
technology companies are expecting their yield trends to exceed 300
bushels per acre in the coming years. For someone like me who has been
farming 50 years, it’s almost unimaginable, but exciting at the same time.

In fact, in 1915, 90 million acres of cropland in America was simply
used to “fuel” our agricultural production. That’s right – it took 90
million acres of crops just to feed all the horses and mules that
provided the work on agricultural lands. If you add up all the land in
the United States being used to produce corn, wheat, and soybeans it
about 224 billion acres in 2009. So, less than 100 years ago we would
have been using nearly half of the acres in the U.S. just to feed our
work animals.

By 2050 it’s estimated that the world population will exceed 9.3 billion
people. As world demands for nutrient rich food and protein continue to
grow as both income levels and populations grow in developing nations,
America’s farmers are ready to answer that call.

The TIME author attacks animal agriculture throughout the article. His
theme is that if the animal doesn’t roam free on the western prairie and
eat grass, it simply couldn’t be healthy or safe to eat. Mr. Walsh cites
the PEW Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production in his analysis
of why animals treated with antibiotics produce meat unsafe to eat.
However, the American Veterinary Medical Association responded to the
PEW report with a lengthy report of their own which the author
conveniently fails to mention. Perhaps because the AVMA study said quote
“A scientific human/animal nexus, connecting antimicrobial treatments in
animals with food borne or environmentally contracted human disease, has
not been proven.”

Livestock producers take very seriously their responsibility to provide
safe and abundant food to the general public. Dairy, poultry, and
livestock farmers have made a voluntary committment to using antibiotics
responsibly. By developing responsible-

use guidelines, these industries
have proactively taken steps to safeguard both human and animal health.

On issue after issue I’ve worked on my main priority is that the policy
decisions we make must be based on sound science, not political
ideology. We’ve seen studies that indicate the risk of food borne
bacteria on meat increases when antibiotics that help suppress animal
disease are removed actually making our food less safe to eat.

We only have to turn to our neighbors across the Atlantic to see how a
ban on antibiotics has played out. The European Union made a decision to
phase out the use of antibiotics as growth promoters over 15 years ago
and in 1998 Denmark instituted a full voluntary ban which in 2000 became

After the ban was implemented in 1999, pork producers saw an immediate
increase in piglet mortality and post-weaning diarrhea. Dr. Scott Hurd,
a former U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food
Safety and professor at Iowa State University College of Veterinary
Medicine released a study which shows that when pigs have been sick
during growth, that they will have a greater presence of food-safety
pathogens on their carcasses when slaughtered.

If this ban had resulted in improvements to public health, suffering
consequences like piglet mortality would make sense, but the science
does not back that positive improvements in public health has occurred
due to the Denmark ban. In fact, the World Health Organization in 2002
released a study on antimicrobial resistance and could find no public
health benefit from the Denmark ban.

It’s true that overall use of antibiotics in Denmark has declined, but
there has been a significant increase in the use of therapeutic
antibiotics which are used to treat and control disease. I think an
interesting statistic is that in 2009 the use of therapeutic antibiotics
in Danish pigs is greater than what was used to prevent disease and
promote growth prior to the ban in 1999. Not hard to believe if you look
at the science, which Mr. Walsh conveniently ignores.

A 2009 Iowa State University study estimated production costs would rise
by $6 per pig in the first year of a prohibition if a similar ban was
imposed in the United States as Denmark. Over 10 years the cumulative
cost to the U.S. pork industry would exceed $1 billion. This would all
be on top of the estimated $4.6 billion U.S. pork producers have lost
since September 2007 due to the perfect storm of events in the industry.

The author also points to recent recalls in nuts, fruits and vegetables
as evidence that conventional agriculture is harmful and unsafe. What
Mr. Walsh chooses to ignore is that salmonella and e-coli are naturally
occurring organisms that with proper handling, processing, and cooking
can be minimized and eliminated. Organic agriculture is not somehow
exempt from being affected by these bacteria. In fact, one of the main
challenges within our food safety system has been the perpetual
underfunding of the Food and Drug Administration. I hope that the Senate
will be able to undertake comprehensive food safety reform yet this year
and give serious attention to the funding deficiencies at the Agency.

American consumers demand not only a safe and abundant food supply, but
also an affordable selection to feed their families nutritious and
healthy food. The author fails to recognize that personal choice is part
of the equation. While less than 1 percent of agriculture is farmed
organically as he points out, a simple economics lesson would tell us
that supply and demand are in direct relationship to one another.

In 2008 Americans spent 9.6 percent of their disposable personal income
on food expenditures. This has steadily decreased since the late 1920’s
when nearly 24 percent of our income was spent on our diet. Our
consumers have demanded an affordable food supply and the agricultural
industry has answered that call. Other nations with less developed
agricultural industries than the United States spend anywhere from 12-45
percent of their income on food. At the same time that producers have
become more efficient and are providing U.S. consumers with lowering
food costs, the farm share being retained by the producer has been

For example, from 2000-2006 the farm value share ranged from 5-6 percent
for cereals and bakery products compared to what is being paid at the
retail level. Costs in packaging, processing, and transportation account
for most of the cost at the grocery level. Conventional agriculture
producers are not getting rich. Instead they are producing the safest,
most abundant, most reasonably priced food in the world for our consumers.

Perhaps the Time author believes that we should be spending a higher
percentage of our income on food. However, because of the financial
situation our nation is faced with including families out of work and
with lower disposable income, they would be outraged if suddenly their
food expenditures skyrocketed. The Economic Research Service at USDA
reported that total food expenditures for all food consumed in the U.S.
was $1.165 trillion dollars in 2008, a 3.3-percent increase from $1.128
trillion in 2007. Prices are naturally rising because of the higher cost
to do business including transportation costs. Do we really think it’s
feasible to see these prices go even higher so that the author can
further promote his political agenda? Growing all of our food
organically will take more land, cost more money to produce, drive
prices up, and ultimately make food even less affordable to those in need.

I appreciate the opportunities that organic agriculture has made
possible for farmers in Iowa. It has truly allowed our smallest farmers
to flourish and receive a premium for their crops and livestock. It has
also promoted gardens and has helped us teach our children where their
food comes from. I agree with the author that First Lady Michelle
Obama’s and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gardens are bringing more
visibility to educating consumers about where their food comes from. I
commend them for highlighting important issues relating to our health by
eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Organic agricultural and conventional agriculture can co-exist. Both
will be driven by demand and both provide important choices for U.S
consumers. Some consumers will shop for locally grown foods, others will
shop for cost effectiveness in their tight household budgets.

Its “time” for TIME Magazine and Mr. Walsh to start being honest with
their readers. The next time the magazine wants to run a story that
clearly reflects the author’s personal views they should identify as
such. I expect the next article that TIME publishes on agriculture, to
be better researched and present a more balanced view.

Thank you and I yield the floor.

Top of Page

Posted in: HSUS, PETA