Manure Manager

Features Applications Swine
Getting real about the high price of bias


September 23, 2009
By Marg Land


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During the past month or so, the agricultural community has been abuzz with concern and criticism of Time magazine’s recent cover story, Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food, penned by Bryan Walsh.
During the past month or so, the agricultural community has been abuzz with concern and criticism of Time magazine’s recent cover story, Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food, penned by Bryan Walsh.

I’m hesitant to call the Time tirade an article as Walsh’s more than 3,000-word horror story reads more like an opinion piece, and a rather misinformed one at that.

Back in the day when I had less grey hair and a lot more energy, I left the family farm and toddled off to college where I was taught that journalism involved writing a BALANCED article, including both sides of an issue or story. If you wanted to spout off about your opinions or feelings, you became a columnist. Or an editor.

Of course, back then, Time used to have journalistic integrity and was considered a news magazine, not a vehicle for pushing writers’ opinions and agendas. That obviously isn’t the case now.

“It’s ultimately the story we decided to do and this is the angle we’ve been taking,” Walsh explained in a recent interview with Mike Adams, host of AgriTalk. “Time (magazine) is trying to say rather than do a story where you do 50 percent on one side and 50 percent on another, you allow the writer to look at it and make some of his own judgments. That’s why the story came out in many ways the way it does. Coming from my perspective, it was the information I saw and I thought this is the angle I’d like to take.”

Well, I’ve looked at it, made some of my own judgments based on the information I’ve seen and this is the angle I’ve decided to take – Bryan Walsh should be ashamed to call himself a journalist; he’s more of a fiction writer.

In his story, he talks of manure management systems on larger hog farms receiving “little oversight.” Really? It’s quite apparent he didn’t bother to speak to a hog farmer about manure management plans, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting, plus many of the regulations farms must meet at the state and county level. None of it is mentioned in his story. Instead, he talks of “that mess” being disposed of in “open-air lagoons, which can overflow in heavy rains and contaminate nearby streams and rivers.”  Really? He obviously didn’t bother to learn about the many regulations farmers face around constructing manure lagoons or the many hours of monitoring and record keeping that go into maintaining the structures. None of that information is contained in his story either.

According to National Pork Board (NPB) president Tim Bierman, a hog producer based in Iowa, Walsh didn’t even bother to contact the NPB for input. If he had, “he quickly would have learned how pork producers – through their own programs as well as through governmental regulation – have made environmental stewardship a way of life,” Bierman said in a National Hog Farmer article.

Chuck Jolley with the Cattle Network stated that Walsh was introduced to several people within the U.S. beef cattle industry but used none of the information he was provided with in his article.

“He only managed to wedge in one quote,” Jolley said in his online blog – a quote that had to do with antibiotic use.

There’s an old saying in agriculture that goes something like this: If it looks like crap and smells like crap, it’s probably crap. And Bryan Walsh’s “Getting Real” story is definitely that – crap.