Sunday, September 21, 2003

Living Rent Free

I just attended the 3rd annual Waterkeeper Alliance Hog Summit of Sustainable Agriculture in Gettysburg, PA. I did get a chance to ask Waterkeeper president Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. the question that I posed in my earlier press release. Since one-fourth of the food processed in the United States goes into landfills, costing the industry 31 billion dollars annually, and food is the third most prevalent item in the pollution stream, I wanted to know if the Waterkeeper Alliance planned to address the real pollution problem in this country or just continue to file frivolous lawsuits against livestock farmers. Bobby’s response was less than pleasant.

After a barrage of personal attacks, Mr. Kennedy responded to my question with hostility and said, “Yes, we are suing landfills.” That response goes a long way in explaining his mindset about how to deal with issues. “Who can I sue next?” Never once did it occur to him that he could use the millions he gathers, prancing around the country cashing in on his family name, to purchase this wasted food. This solution would prevent pollution and redistribute the food to some of the 12 million people in the U.S. designated as “food insecure.” NO, that would provide a real solution! This group, like most other special interest groups, is more interested in fundraising, spin doctoring and litigating than making a real difference.

To hear Kennedy’s rhetoric, one could easily be persuaded to join their camp and maybe even write a check of support. You will hear statements such as: “We must save the family farm,” and “this country was built on the morals of farm families”. I, more than anyone, am interested in promoting and ensuring the ability of farm families, such as mine, to have a place in the best industry in the world. I simple don’t believe you need to operate as my grandfather did in 1955 to classify as a family farm. So here is where our views diverge.

If you question Kennedy or anyone else in this movement, “factory farms” are the root of all evil. “Factory farms” have replaced “family farms.” But what is their definition of a “factory farm”? In their mind, any producer that must obtain a permit to operate a livestock feeding operation is considered a “factory farm,” regardless of size. If you raise pigs that do not have access to bedding, you are a factory farmer. If your beef or dairy cattle do not have access to grass at all times, you operate a factory farm.

When you write a check in support of organizations like the Waterkeeper Alliance, you are funding frivolous lawsuits and increasing environmental restrictions on the entire industry, not addressing honest issues. When you agree to help Kennedy “sue that fat cat Joe Luter,” it may sound like a great idea, but the resulting legislation and negative publicity hurts everyone in the industry, especially small and mid-sized producers.

When it is all said and done, those of us involved in the daily production of food are going to have no choice but to be much more aggressive in holding people like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. accountable for the lies he spreads about our livelihood. That is the sole reason that I show up when he speaks. He did eventually apologize for losing his cool with me and saying things he shouldn’t have said. I represent the truth about food production and that is what irritates him the most. If he were accurately describing livestock agriculture, there is nothing I could say that would make him uneasy. His reaction to all of our conversations proves that he is anything but comfortable discussing the issue with me.

In fact, I was so shocked when he apologized that I thanked him and let him know how unexpected it was. To that he replied, “Trent, I have to live with myself and I don’t want you living in my head rent free”. Sorry, Bobby. I am there now!

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