The pork industry is taking issue with Mark Bittman’s inaugural New York Times food opinion column, “A Food Manifesto for the Future.” In a letter to the editor published Tuesday, Randy Spronk, chairman of the National Pork Producers Council’s environment committee, said the industry disagreed with Bittman’s call to outlaw concentrated animal feed operations and encourage “sustainable animal husbandry.”

“The concentrated system degrades the environment, directly and indirectly, while torturing animals and producing tainted meat, poultry, eggs, and, more recently, fish,” wrote Bittman, in his column last week. “Sustainable methods of producing meat for consumption exist. At the same time, we must educate and encourage Americans to eat differently.”

Spronk said NPPC takes issue with all of Bittman’s assertions about large-scale food animal production. 

“Yes, there were a couple of highly publicized manure spills involving hog farms in the mid-1990s,” writes Spronk. “But pork producers have made changes to assure that they won’t be repeated. If they are, producers are subject to fines up to $37,500 per day under tough new federal regulations. Modern livestock housing is temperature-controlled, well lighted and well ventilated. It keeps animals safe and comfortable and protects them from predators and disease. That’s why the incidence of key food-borne illnesses in this country is going down, not up.”

“As for ‘sustainable’ alternatives,” continues Spronk. “[P]erhaps they can produce enough meat for the wealthy, but not for a world population that is growing and demanding more protein.” 

Bittman disagrees. His manifesto blasts the state of the American food system and calls for some big changes. “[We’ve come to recognize that our diet is unhealthful and unsafe,” he writes. “It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system.”

Ending government subsidies for crops like soy and corn, creating subsidies for those who produce “actual food,” breaking up the U.S. Department of Agriculture and empowering the Food and Drug Administration, are among Bittman’s proposed policy solutions. 

He also supports food safety funding: “Food-related deaths are far more common than those resulting from terrorism, yet the F.D.A.’s budget is about one-fifteenth that of Homeland Security.” 

In the piece Bittman says he’ll be expanding on the broad list of issues (and more) in the future. The column will appear in print and on the New York Times’ Opinionator blog

  • Doc Mudd

    The pork producers shouldn’t get so peeved at Bittman, they’re taking him much too seriously.
    Obviously Bittman’s just blowing smoke up all of our skirts. That, or he’s a stunning hypocrite…just have a look at how his ‘healthy’ recipes stack up:
    No wonder the Times moved him to the opinion section.

  • Lynn Henning

    Standards and Practices for Industrial Animal factories are not adequate to protect the environment, public health or our communities.
    We have 12 CAFOs within a ten mile radius with over 1088 documented violations by the Michigan DEQ. We have over 60 lagoons with over 400 million gallons of untreated waste. The state has DNA’d Cryptosporidium at 11 sites and Giardia at 8 sites up to 25 miles downstream back to the cattle. We have 3 CAFOs so far in Michigan with groundwater contamination. My own family has been diagnosed with hydrogen sulfide contamination.
    Eliminate subsidies to CAFOs and start teaching our children how to sustainable farm for the future.
    Eliminate the liquid lagoon system, CAFOs are using clean fresh groundwater to make waste.
    Good job Mark! We must stop listening to the emotional rhetoric of industry.
    Family Farmers have fed this country for generations!
    Lynn Henning
    Family Farmer
    2010 Goldman Environmental Prize

  • @DocMudd: Your link is hardly unbiased scientific information, it is, rather, a lobbying arm of industrial ag, pure and simple.
    @Lynn Henning: keep up the good work.
    Bittman’s vision for a more sustainable food system will come to pass. It’s really just a question of whether we want to do it ourselves or have nature thrust it upon us. Farmer Wendell Berry said it best:
    “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, nature has a hand in all our deals and deliberations. And she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”

  • Doc Mudd

    Well, Kurt, shooting the messenger won’t make Bittman’s excessive calories, fat and sodium magically vanish! Bittman, the opinion writer, has been foisting dangerous junk food on a gullible public. Oh, the shame!
    Where are the food police when you need them? Bittman needs a good dressing down by Marion Nestle and her disciples. Maybe a tax on all his frightening calories, his dreadful fat, his diabolical sodium?