Food with Integrity? Maybe Not

Sometimes I think agriculture is falling into a well-conceived trap.  We’re told we should market to the consumer, provide what the consumer wants, and it’s the only way to be successful.  While there clearly is merit in that belief, even to the point that it may be hard to survive without doing it, it begs a question of what has happened to that consumer, and where are they getting their information?

Before I continue, I must say that I believe one of the greatest words in the English language is ‘balance.’ So understand that I believe there is room for all kinds of agriculture.  I just don’t like it when one group misleads the public about another to boost a self-serving agenda.  Yes, I realize not all do, but some with large pocketbooks certainly are.

Just today, I learned of a new video from Chipotle, the burrito-making bunch.  It has some great music (though it’s sad Willie Nelson is drinking the cool-aid) with a well-done animation of a farmer, who is putting animals in fences and buildings, then sees the ‘error of his ways’ and releases them all, into this nirvana of open pasture, much to the delight of Chipotle.  The purpose and message behind the video and the Chipotle website is what they call ‘Food with Integrity.’  Well, to make their claim, they say, or imply, you must never use hormones or antibiotics, fencing or housing animals is not caring for them, and a host of other agenda-driven hype.

I can spend a lot of time talking about science-based and practical reasons why housing animals save many of their lives annually, especially this year during the heat and drought.  I can talk about predators, prudent use of antibiotics, the ‘natural’ presence of hormones, and a lot more about animal welfare and food safety.  But my real concern goes beyond all this.

I am concerned that the consumer is getting inaccurate and misleading information on purpose.  If  ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’ agriculture isn’t torn down, then other forms cannot be nearly as successful.  So, at whatever the cost, the public is being misled by some to believe that if a hog is housed, the farmer doesn’t care about its welfare, when actually just the opposite is likely true.  Hey Chipotle (and others this applies to), lying about food production hardly sounds like ‘Food with Integrity.’   It seems before we blindly accept ‘marketing to the consumer,’ we must continue and improve our effort to provide the consumer the truth.