This afternoon My Farmer and I went to our local high school for a screening and discussion of the documentary film American Meat. We were asked to be on a panel discussion with other local farmers, a representative from Niman Ranch, our County Youth Coordinator from Extension, and our local veterinarian. The entire school body of grades 7-12, three other area FFA chapters and members of the public were in attendance, totaling around 200 people.
American Meat is a documentary film that looks at meat production in the United States, mainly focusing on pork and poultry production. I went into the screening preparing myself to see an updated Food Inc. film. While yes, there was a strong support and bias towards grass-fed meat production, the film didn't actively discount modern meat production, or as the film liked to refer to it as - commodity production. I believe there was some mis-information in the film about modern agriculture as it referred to subsidies, animal health, taste of product, farmer's income and reasons for small towns disappearing.
Originally, like I stated earlier, we were suppose to be on a panel discussion following the film; instead we split up the audience into small groups and discussed a series of questions posed by the director of the film, Graham Meriwether:
The small group I talked with was a group of seniors and juniors in high school. None of them knew of anyone that had lost a farm. They believed small towns were disappearing due to lack of jobs, which I believe is true and because peoples habits are changing - such as distance they are willing to drive. I believe the film made an image that the reason small towns are disappearing was entirely due to "big ag." The group said the advantages of modern agriculture were that a large number of animals are able to be produced at a cheap price. The disadvantage the group thought, based on the film, was that animals were sick and it is making farmers poor - both things I disagree with and I explained why to them. The concept of the egg mobile is that you bring a group of chickens out to a paddock that just had cattle on it. The chickens are able to eat the bugs and insects in the manure from the cow. The manure then gives nutrients to the pasture, that then the cattle go back and rotate on to eat the grass and make manure - restarting the cycle. I explained to my group that we have the same cycle with our confinement barns. The pigs make manure, the manure is spread onto fields, the corn benefits from the manure, the corn is fed to the pigs, and the cycle continues. The group decided the advantages of grass-based farms was that the animals were healthier, the food tasted better and was of higher quality, which they would have gotten the sense of from the film. The disadvantage of grass-based farms they saw was that not enough people were doing it, which I believe was a main goal of the film. When discussing these last two questions with the group I reinstated with them that we get safe and high-quality products from all types of production. I also talked about how the market will dictate the ways of farming. The one issue that I couldn't convince them was untrue was the taste; they all believed without a doubt that grass-fed animals tasted better.
Overall, I am happy that I was able to be there today to correct some of the mis-truths of the film, but at the same time, I'm worried what information each small group had during the discussion time. I was amazed how even "farm kids" were accepting of all the information and views in the film. I also find it interesting that this film is being promoted through FFA in Iowa. I talked with Graham after the film and he said he is on a 40 site viewing schedule with FFA chapters and education institutes. His next project is a documentary on young farmers.
In the end, the United States is a great place because it offers consumers choices and this film showed different choices available. And as of now, the United States pretty much allows you to make choices on how you raise animals on your farm. In the United States we are lucky to have such an abundant, safe, consistent and high quality food supply. I am happy that there was respect between everyone in attendance, despite differing views. To check if a screening of American Meat is coming to your local area, check the film's website's screenings schedule.
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