Who are the credible sources in agriculture?
Last Sunday’s Cross Country Checkup, CBC Radio’s national phone-in program, brought together a variety of sources to discuss the subject of “should we eat meat?”
In part, the show’s subject was sparked by an editorial piece presented on The Weather Network that decried beef production for its carbon footprint and the subsequent backlash that occurred from the agriculture industry.
To be fair, the Weather Network’s content was flawed in its balance, but was based on some information from credible sources: a report from the World Resources Institute. It offended many farmers because the weather forecasting company provides services that are (or were) popular with producers, and they feel betrayed.
Finding experts to speak to dietary issues or global warming isn’t too hard. There is a great deal of credible science out there about the subjects. Agricultural sustainability can be a little trickier because commercial farmers can be viewed as heavily biased toward defending their personal and business interests.
Their work is often called into question by a vocal few who tend to gain credibility, generally unearned, simply by ensuring they are available to speak. These voices are perceived as necessary in the media to provide editorial balance against good science.
The availability of these minority-position, generally anti-science speakers is funded by non-science organizations that attract donations and other funding for popular notions that are often in opposition to unpopular realities.
There were a few of these on Cross Country Checkup last week, and CBC balanced them with farmers and credible scientists.
Many of the non-science nonsensians came across to the general public as honest and credible. Their calls for small, mixed farms, cheek-by-jowl on the nation’s farmland providing sustainability for the soils and waters of Canada as national, public policy, sounds delightful to many of the 96 percent of the population who have no direct tie to agriculture.
It was another reminder why Canadian agriculture needs to be vigilant about being the most sustainable farmers to have ever lived on the planet, but not to the point of being vigilantes.