Now more than ever, people are more aware of what they are eating. There are so many terms and labels used for food now a days that it is hard to keep up. Organic, natural, GMO, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, the list goes on. Most people just go off of the latest trends to determine what they believe when it comes to these different terms and what they decide to eat.
I definitely encourage you to do your own research from reputable resources. I have had a career in food science for over 5 years, my degree is in agriculture, my current job is in agriculture, and I also live on a farm with my husband. I have seen every side of the process when it comes to the food we eat. When I saw the 10 Mega Myths about Farming to Remember on Your Next Grocery Run article from the Washington Post, I was pleasantly surprised. I think they did a great job describing the myths that most people believe to be true about farming and the food that is produced.
The article goes through 10 myths about food and farming, and describes what they really mean. Here’s a recap of what they went over, but I encourage you to read the whole article.
The first item of discussion is the myth that most farms are corporate owned. So not true, nearly 99% of United States farms are family owned. This speaks right to my heart, because I see how hard my husband works everyday. My husband will go weeks without a day off, he works outside in 100 degree weather, he works every holiday, and makes many sacrifices to make sure the farm is running smoothly. Farmers are some of the hardest working people I know.
The 2nd myth discussed in the article is that food is expensive. The article says that Americans spend the least amount worldwide on food as a percent of income. Consumers are buffered from spikes in grocery bills. This a great reminder to be grateful for the opportunities we have in this country. Another aspect of this is that only between 10% to 20% of the cost of food actually reaches the farmer. That is crazy to me, because farmers are the ones that do the majority of the dirty work and make the most sacrifices to make sure that food is readily available to consumers. I would say the system is a little messed up. Just remember to have more appreciation for all farmers, because they are the ones that usually take the hit.
The 3rd myth is that farming is traditional and low tech. Without high tech equipment, genetic engineering, and many other resources farmers would not be able to keep up with the growing demands for food. Farming is not behind the times, in many areas they are way ahead.
The 4th myth is about pesticides. The article lists the different types of pesticides: herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, and rodenticides. One thing of significance to note about pesticides is that both organic and conventional farmers use them. Most people think that organic means pesticide free, but it’s just not true. While some organic farmers choose not to use pesticides at all, to be certified organic under the USDA criteria, you can still use pesticides, they just have to be non-synthetic and can’t be on the national prohibited list.
The 5th myth is that organic farmers and conventional farmers don’t get along. There are farmers that actually grow food both ways. It doesn’t have to be one extreme to the next. As the article states, some crops are just easier to grow organically than others depending on the type of pests they face. I think it is good that we live in a country where we have options, and farmers have the choice to grow organically or conventionally. It doesn’t mean that they are against farmers that do the opposite of them. A label doesn’t define how good of a farmer you are.
The 6th myth discussed is about GMOs. This seems to be more of a “hot topic” lately. I don’t know where the reputation that GMOs are bad came from, but it’s just not true. It seems that many people think GMO means that more pesticides are used, when actually genetic engineering can help reduce the amount of pesticides used. Without GMOs, farmers would not be able to provide enough food for the ever growing population. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather eat genetically modified food than starve. GMOs are beneficial and help feed the world.
The 7th myth discussed is the “hormone-free” label. As the article states, no meat is hormone-free. Animals naturally produce hormones. Also, the use of added hormones is prohibited in all pork and chicken operations. Hormones can be used with cattle, but the amount is not significant. The “hormone-free” label is a marketing scheme.
The 8th myth is about the labeling term “antibiotic-free.” Another marketing scheme. All the meat in your grocery store is antibiotic-free. It is against the law to sell meat from animals that still have antibiotics in their system. Residue testing is done to check that antibiotics are no longer present. It now seems that labeling is going toward “raised without antibiotics,” so that means even if an animal is sick and it needs antibiotics they are not given any. That is too extreme. So when animals can’t get the care they need because of strict rules laid out by corporate buyers, the farmers are the ones that have to deal with the sick animals and the loss that could come from that. As the article states, labeling stating “no sub-therapeutics added” or “not fed antibiotics” mean antibiotics were only used as necessary. Which is more humane, than never using them and allowing the animal to suffer.
The 9th myth discussed is the labeling term “natural.” As the article says, natural food labels don’t actually mean anything. The term natural is thrown around a lot now a days, but it seems like everyone defines it differently. Natural does not always mean healthier or safer.
The last myth discussed in this article is that chemicals are the biggest threat to food safety. There are three different types of food safety hazards: physical, chemical, and biological. Throughout the 5+ years I have worked in the food industry, biological contaminants are by far the most common food safety hazard. Biological contaminants include salmonella, listeria, E. coli, campylobacter, etc. This type of contaminant has killed or hospitalized more people than any chemical contaminant. It is important that everyone know and implement proper food handling techniques. As stated in the article, these techniques include things like proper cooking, cleaning, and storage.
I encourage everyone to please learn the truth when it comes to the different aspects of agriculture. Do your research, and don’t just rely on the latest trend. If you really want to learn about farming, visit a farm and talk to the people who actually work there.
**This post contains information that is contained in the 10 Mega Myths about Farming to Remember on Your Next Grocery Run, and information I have learned throughout my career in agriculture and food science.