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Letter From The Editor: Animal Ag

The hardest two weeks of my life were when I agreed to help my friend Brad when his parents were on vacation.  Brad’s family were Minnesota dairy farmers.  They had about 60 cows that had to be milked twice daily at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m.

I had already spent a couple of weekends at Brad’s farm.  It seemed like fun.  Brad helped his Dad with the cows each morning, and they came in for this fantastic breakfast!  Such a deal!   His Mom helped his Dad in afternoons.

For his parents to take some time off took a real commitment from somebody, and I was an easy volunteer.

I went into the first weekend with much energy and enthusiasm.  Brad and I were going to have a blast!  We’d take care of those cows and then enjoy the adult life in a way that only a couple of guys about to be 10th graders could do.

But I was only feeling aches and pains, not energy and enthusiasm when that alarm went off at 3 a.m. on the following Monday.   It was only Day Three.  I was committed to 14.

Each day got harder.   Aches and pains that could only be helped by sleeping in odd hours during the day were the only way to drag one’s self from one day to the next.

It was my introduction to “animal agriculture.”  And I barely survived.  This is my long way saying I know and respect rural America, from the perspective of someone who grew up in a small town close enough to farms not to miss a smell or a sound.

antibiotics4-featured.jpgLast summer in the Rocky Mountain ranch country, common antibiotics used to treat kids who were infected with rare Salmonella strains proved ineffective.  People remained sick longer than they should have as physicians scrambled to come up with an alternative.

The food safety community needs to engage the leaders of “animal agriculture” on antibiotics.  That’s why I don’t think some of the recent outputs of TV land have been helpful.  The once proud CBS News produced two nights of unspeakably flawed reports by newsreader Katie Couric.

It was a “Def Con 5” event for “animal agriculture” and caused the Cattle Network news site to look back at the experience almost wistfully.

“In some ways,” the Cattle Network wrote, “it was impressive, seeing so many experts involved in the food community working together in a common battle. It was hard work and Aggies always feel better after some hard work. Also typical with Aggies, we like to cite things like scientific research and global and U.S. government data.  Its gives us a sense of ‘well the truth is out, now that’s that’.”

The Cattle Network was acknowledging the Aggies won based on debate points, but the American public remembers what the talking heads on TV report.  That does not do much for the kind of trust and dialogue we’d like to see when it comes to antibiotics.

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