Sides emphasizes the positive impacts of modern agriculture in the U.S.Written by Saige Albert
At their event, Today’s Ag, held on April 16, the group encouraged producers to invite non-ag community members to hear about agriculture from Sides.
Sides began by emphasizing the incredible impact that modern agriculture has had on the developing world.
The impact of modern ag
“In Peru, women are beasts of burden,” he says. “It’s a tough life and one that is brutal on women.”
“They live in rock shacks or grass huts with their sheep that graze in communal grazing lands at 15,000 feet above sea level,” added Sides. “If nothing else, modern ag frees women and children from this type of lifestyle.”
Modern agriculture and technology open a world of possibility for Americans, he said.
“We don’t have to go very far to see what life is like without modern agriculture,” he added.
Because of the technology in modern agriculture, Sides said that food safety has increased, allowing Americans to worry less about the food they eat.
“Is there anything that is really safe? There is really nothing safe,” said Sides. “Is there a risk to eating food? Yes. So what’s the risk in eating?”
According to Sides, eating is a risk worth taking.
“In 2011, the CDC estimated that yearly, one in six people will become ill from food borne illnesses, with 120,000 people hospitalized and 3,000 deaths,” explains Sides. “Your chance of dying is 0.0001 percent.”
He also noted that, since 1999, food safety has increased dramatically, with half as many deaths and hospitalizations resulting from food borne illness.
“Practically all of these diseases are preventable if food is cooked fully, if you don’t eat raw meat, don’t drink unpasteurized milk and rinse or cook veggies,” added Sides. “It’s everything that our grandmothers used to tell us, but people today don’t know.”
Sides also addressed arguments for organic foods from a food safety perspective.
Last year, an outbreak of E. coli in sprouts sickened thousands and killed 31 people, largely women, and an E. coli contamination in organic spinach from California in 2006 resulted in 276 sicknesses and five deaths.
“By definition, organic food producers cannot use commercial nitrogen fertilizers, and their sources of nitrogen is manure, which is a source of these different disease causing bacteria,” said Sides.
Milk and water
After an outbreak of typhoid transmitted by milk in 1913, all milk was required to be pasteurized in the 50 largest cities by 1917. Today, Sides said milk is safe because pasteurization controls bacterial threats.
“Raw milk accounts for less than one percent of total milk consumed, but is responsible for 90 percent of food borne illness related to milk,” he noted. “Pasteurization is a piece of technology that saves lives.”
Consumable drinking water is another aspect of our lives that we take for granted, said Sides.
“Every year, 30,000 children die in Peru from drinking unsanitary water, and we know that the tap water isn’t safe in Mexico,” he said. “I never worry about the water supply in the U.S. Outside of the country, water is a precious issue.”
Hormones and antibiotics
“Antibiotic use in livestock is a really complex issue,” said Sides, looking particularly at tetracycline.
Tetracycline, a commonly used antibiotic, is naturally occurring, he explained. A microbiologist taking soil samples at the University of Missouri campus isolated a bacterium that produced the compound in 1949.
“We have used tetracycline for about 60 years, and it still works,” Sides noted. “If we have a huge resistance issue, why is it still working?”
He added that resistant organisms occur naturally, as well, specifically mentioning that a bacterium found deep in caves that have never been exposed to humans before, but was resistant to antibiotics.
“We use antibiotics very judiciously,” he said, using cattle as an example. “Cattle have very small lungs and rapidly die of pneumonia, so these treatments are very valuable.”
Antibiotic use in livestock is also very strictly regulated and don’t pose a food safety risk. Sides said in one example, conventional and organic animals in a feedlot were tested and no difference could be seen in their meat.
“Antibiotic resistance, especially with MRSA, comes from human hospitals where you have people that are susceptible and a system that is deficient,” he added.
The hormone story
Hormone use in cattle is another area of controversy throughout the world, and some consumers are concerned about the safety of hormone use.
“International bodies have determined that hormone use in beef cattle is safe and effective,” explained Sides. “There is no such thing as hormone-free beef or chicken or pigs.”
The hormone utilized in cattle, estradiol, is essentially the same hormone found in animals and humans naturally, he said.
“Estradiol is required for life,” he added. “There would be nobody in this room without the hormone, and the European Union has declared it to be a carcinogen.”
At the end of the day, a safe food source is something that many in the U.S. are concerned about, all while having no idea where their food comes from. With the current set of strict regulations and basic food safety practices, Sides says the U.S. food supply is both safe and abundant.
“Food security means I have access to good food, and I can get what I need,” said Sides. “These technology that are being used are the greenest of the green.”