We may not admit it, but writers like to be recognized for their work. Even the most jaded of us get a thrill when we see our byline. But I doubt we would enjoy the attention Time's Bryan Walsh received in a speech by Iowa's Senator Grassley on the Senate floor Sept. 29.
“I rise today in response to Bryan Walsh's recent article, ‘The Real Cost of Cheap Food,’” said Grassley. “Unfortunately, this is one of the most skewed and one-sided articles I've ever had the opportunity to read, particularly in the mainstream media.”
Grassley, one of the few senators to list his occupation as farmer, said he supports organic and sustainable agriculture, both featured prominently in the Aug. 31 article. He noted that fellow Iowa native, Norman Borlaug, created one of the first sustainable agriculture systems.
“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. The author totally missed the point on a number of fronts.”
Item: Walsh implies the only family farmers in the U.S. are those who live on 30 acres. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Grassley who farms 710 acres of corn and soybeans with his son, Robin. “Family farmers can operate small farms, but they can also operate large farms.”
In contrast to Walsh's claims, producers are becoming more efficient, growing more bushels of corn with less fertilizer. “In 1915, 90 million acres of cropland in America were used to ‘fuel’ our agricultural production,” said Grassley. “If you add up all the land being used to grow corn, wheat and soybeans now, it's about 224 million acres. So, less than 100 years ago, we were using nearly half our acres just to feed our work animals.”
Item: The hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Agriculture is only one of several sources of nutrients that are washed into the Mississippi River, and farmers, including Grassley, are using tools such as minimum-till, buffer strips and wetlands to reduce that contribution.
Item: biotechnology. “The author clearly views this as a bad thing,” says Grassley, “when, in fact, traits such as drought resistance and nutrient efficiency are actually improving corn's performance with less inputs.”
The senator also defended modern animal agricultural production from criticism of the use of antibiotics. Besides making food “less safe to eat,” their loss would also drive up food costs when many Americans are struggling financially.
“It's time for Time 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 it as such. The next article should be better researched and present a more balanced view.”