New web site counters 'Food Inc.'s' misleading focus

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Allied-industry associations, including the American Meat Institute, National Turkey Federation, National Chicken Council, National Pork Board, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Meat Association, have joined forces to create www.safefoodinc.org. — a new web site listing the facts about the U.S. meat and poultry production to counter a new documentary movie on the American food industry called "Food, Inc. which N.C.C. labels as "one-sided, negative and misleading."

N.C.C. said the documentary promotes a model of an agricultural system that could not possibly produce enough food to feed consumers in the U.S. and around the world. The movie opened last Thursday in New York and debuts in Los Angeles and San Francisco on June 12.

The new industry web site features news releases; video tours; charts, brochures and fact sheets on meat and poultry safety, animal welfare and more, as well as resources on the industry, including third-party experts and contact information for representatives of the web site’s co-sponsors.

Producers of the web site are urging persons to contact their State Departments of Education and local school districts to demand equal time from university experts and industry representatives to counter a study guide, based on this film, which is planned for classroom distribution in the U.S.

When asked how this web site came about, Janet Riley, A.M.I. senior vice-president, public affairs and member services, told MEATPOULTRY.com: "We worked on it for about six weeks. It was all done internally. I wrote the bulk of the copy and our designer created the site in-house."

Development of the web site is one example of how industry can be proactive instead of reactive in addressing erroneous, imbalanced or incomplete reporting on the industry. "Years ago, we used say from time to time, ‘I’m not dignifying that with a response,’" Ms. Riley said. "Today, the world has changed. Information circulates globally and via the Internet — and lasts. So we find it important to be ready and proactive when erroneous and imbalanced information is being presented."

The film delves into other aspects of food production beyond the meat and poultry industry, Ms. Riley pointed out.

"Now that I’ve seen the film, I’m very glad we produced this site," she said. "I refuse to cede the moral high ground to people who want to dismantle the modern miracle that our food production system represents. It is unconscionable that at a time of economic turmoil and global food shortages, this film’s makers could seek to turn the clock back on progress."

The food industry cannot feed the world with slow food, she added. "As the head of the Agency for International Development, Nina Fedoroff said, ‘We have 6.5 billion people on the planet, going rapidly towards seven. We're going to need a lot of inventiveness about how we use water and grow crops. We accept exactly the same technology (as G.M. food) in medicine, and yet in producing food we want to go back to the 19th Century. We wouldn't think of going to our doctor and saying 'Treat me the way doctors treated people in the 19th Century', and yet that's what we're demanding in food production. If everybody switched to organic farming, we couldn’t support the Earth’s current population — maybe half.’"

The best response industry can have to this film is to "hold our heads high, be proud of what we do and get up every day determined to continue producing the safest, most affordable and most abundant meat and poultry supply in the world," Ms. Riley concluded.

Will the meat and poultry industry continue to be proactive in responding to such campaigns in the future? "I hope so because we’re seeing a real rising tide of criticism and demands for change aimed at big-time production agriculture, which are not always very specific," said Richard Lobb, director of communications, N.C.C., and the only industry representative who appeared in the documentary. "We need to get our heads together and come up with a substantive response. We’re doing a great job. We feed 300 million people in the U.S. and millions of other people around the world with only 2 million people involved in agriculture — that’s astonishing."

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