I first learned of Chris Leonard about 14 months ago when he called me for a phone interview. He was writing an article and we had a lengthy visit discussing cattle marketing, modern beef production, and the use of beta agonists.
It became clear during our conversation that we neither shared the same perspective nor approached the politics of beef farming from the same angle, but I viewed the interview as a learning experience. When I later learned that Mr. Leonard had written a book, I deemed reading it as a necessary intellectual exercise.
I have never believed that my job as a beef farmer ended when my animals were loaded onto the truck to leave the feed yard. I recognize that my packing plant and its customers (grocery stores, restaurants, and ultimately each of you) are my partners in beef production. With every decision that we make, we create both the economic market and the fundamental family beef eating experience.
The relationships that farmers have with both their rural communities and their packing plant partners are varied depending on their individual goals and resources as well as the type of food animals that they raise. As with just about anything in our lives, all of these relationships are dynamic: growing and evolving over time.
The idea of change can be both frightening and challenging, but it is the reality and often actually leads to improvement. When I look at the modifications that I have made on my cattle farm in the last decade, I see positive progress. Marked improvements in both animal welfare and beef quality offer the promise of sustainability for both my farm and my beef customers.
Chris Leonard stated publically this week that he believes the perfect outcome for modern food production would be to revert to the system of raising food animals as it was in 1982. As a beef farmer, I believe that this would be detrimental to the welfare of the animals, my farm; and also the quality, safety, and cost of the food products that they provide.
Suggesting such a goal tells me that Chris does not hold an in depth understanding of what I do every day as a farmer. Further supporting this notion is the following quote that appears in the Prologue of the book:
The agriculture sector is one of the richest, most productive moneymaking machines in American life. After all, a lot of the business simply involves sitting around and letting plants grow and letting animals get fat. Mother Nature does the heavy lifting. Then the farmer harvests the plants, kills the animals, and watches the money roll in.”
Chris Leonard, The Meat Racket