Is News Media Making Your Food Choices For You?

September 23, 2016

news article meat supply

Last night during dinner, Farm Boy says, “Mom, I need to tell you something.”

Conversation died off, the farm princess looked worried and my heart sank. We’ve been on a roll of good behavior, responsible choices, completed homework . . .

“Today CNN Student News had a report about ranking restaurants and Chipotle and Panera got ‘A’s.”

Pause.

The entire family started to snicker and I felt my blood pressure rise. Later, Farm Boy pulled up the report. Sandwiched between news from Syria and the latest from the presidential campaign was a short segment about restaurant chains and their commitment to reducing and or eliminating meat from farms that may use antibiotics.

From the CNN Student News transcript for September 21, 2016:

“Six nonprofit activist organizations recently got together and graded U.S. fast food restaurants. Better grades went to chains that serve meats that were not raised on antibiotics at the farm. Chipotle and Panera got A`s. The report said their meats are raised without the regular use of antibiotics. Chick-fil-A got a B as it converts its chicken supply to antibiotic-free status. Subway improved from an F last year to a B for its new antibiotics policy. McDonald`s improved to a C+ for changes in its chicken, but made no promises about its beef and pork. Pizza Hut and Papa John`s got D`s. And the majority of chains failed. The goal of this was to encourage companies to serve meats not raised on antibiotics. But why, if many farmers used the drugs to keep animals healthy and help them gain weight, making them more profitable?”

The report continued with a feigned in-depth explanation of antibiotic use on farms by CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He attributed the use of antibiotics on farms to the “poor diets and crowded, dirty conditions” in which many animals might live. He does admit that properly cooking meat could save the consumer a lot of health hassle. Gupta councils the students to read ingredient labels and only eat food with ingredients you can pronounce. (Straight from The Food Babe herself).

Honestly, this isn’t another pity-party, angry rant, woe-is-agriculture, no-one-likes-farmers post. This is about the lost art of critical thinking and reading.

Resources like CNN Student News or Scholastic News magazines are widely distributed and used in our nation’s classrooms. For the most part, I support their use because they make current events relevant to our youth. However, as my compliant is with almost all news organizations these days, they rarely focus on the truth of the matter or tell the full story.

So, Farm Boy and I spent the next half hour peeling apart the report and seeking out the truth.

  1. Non-profit activist organizations” . . . first clue that this report is one with a clear agenda. A quick search yields the full report, “Chain Reaction II”, created by Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Keep Antibiotics Working and Center for Food Safety.
  2. The report clearly focuses on antibiotic use, which was its intention. But to report this as if the A-ranked restaurants are superior to others is flat out irresponsible. CNN Student News patently ignored food safety concerns . . . in the restaurants! The e coli outbreaks in several Chipotle restaurants sickened hundreds and highlighted its lack of safety protocols when it comes to food preparation. That is no secret and would seem to be a very important piece of information to share with students. But, then they might deduce what these activist organizations choose not to acknowledge — a food label does not make a food safe.
  3. Asking a doctor of human health to comment on health care in livestock? Interesting choice. Why a farmer or a veterinarian, for that matter, is never asked to talk about antibiotic use in animals is beyond me. It’d be too easy??? Their knowledge would take away the implied conspiracy theories that drive our news cycle???
  4. Poor diets and crowded dirty conditions . . . many farmers and feedlot owners have peeled back the fabricated mystery surrounding cattle feedlots, swine barns and dairies. Everything from nutrition to daily care to living conditions has been covered by these farmer bloggers (and I list just three, but so many more exist):

Ironically, just this week I shared the following links with an FFA member researching antibiotic use in livestock. Finding “the other side of the story” or the truth isn’t difficult.

Finally, Gupta invokes none other than Food Babe herself, overly simplifying the art of food consumption to ‘eat what you can pronounce’. For a doctor to encourage science illiteracy, which is the biggest issue facing our society’s ability to feed, fuel and clothe itself, is once again irresponsible and so disheartening.

As we wrapped up our dissection of this report, I asked Farm Boy what he and his peers thought of it. His response is the true reflection of today’s food/farm conversations: “Everyone was just really concerned about their favorite restaurant not getting an ‘A’. I don’t think anyone cared about the why of it.”

Katie Pratt

Andy and Katie Pratt Dixon, IL

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises cattle and row crops only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, The Illinois Farm Girl.

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