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.