THE perception that city people do not understand agriculture will not have been helped by the February issue of Choice magazine.
A four page article by Elise Dalley purports to inform consumers about what they need to know about beef. The problem is, it appears Dalley has very little idea herself. The article is riddled with errors and misinformation, much of it sourced from animal rights lobbyists and promoters of ‘biodynamics’.
The first mistake is an attempt to distinguish between “sustainable” and “industrial” beef production. These are terms used by anti-farming activists in an attempt to denigrate those aspects of modern agriculture of which they disapprove, beginning with anything bigger than cottage-size scale.
Dalley’s definition of sustainable production is decidedly flaky. She suggests it involves animal tracing (or provenance), certain approaches to animal treatment (unspecified but presumably organic), together with rotational grazing. For reasons not given, she believes this is resource intensive and results in higher production costs.
Industrial production, she says, involves feedlot finishing using high protein diets, no provenance, and the use of fertilisers to encourage pasture growth. For some reason she thinks this results in lower quality grass and even questions the nutritional quality of the beef.
Feedlots come in for particular criticism, supposedly because they place weight gain ahead of quality and ignore climate and rainfall. (How or why this matters is not explained.) Animals Australia's concerns about feedlots, particularly shade, get a big mention.
The article includes some serious howlers. It claims grain-fed beef has a “rich flavour” while pasture-fed beef is known for its “intense beef flavour and firm texture”. The inadvertent take home message - they taste the same but pasture fed beef may be tougher – is probably the only useful information in the whole article.
Then there is the ridiculous notion that feedlot production is cheaper than pasture production. In fact, the only thing that would make Dalley’s version of ‘sustainable’ production more expensive than feedlots is a failure to use modern chemicals to control parasites. Worm and lice infested cattle tend not to grow fast.
As for grass quality, this is determined by the availability of plant nutrients, not whether those nutrients come from rock phosphate or animal manure. And it is just too silly for words to suggest that beef quality varies according to the source of fertiliser.
Finally, nobody seems to have told her that pasture rotation has long been common practice in areas where it helps with grass quality and worm control, well before it was adopted as part of biodynamics.
No doubt Elise Dalley did the best she could. She is young and has only just finished university. Perhaps her position at Choice is her first professional role, although she has written for the left-wing website Crikey and an anti-business piece for Global Environmental Journalism Initiative.
But when you consider the objective and professional way in which Choice evaluates so many other products, especially things like electrical goods and insurance, it is hard to understand why they would present consumers with such utter nonsense.
It also shows that the gap between the reality of food production and the largely ill-informed perceptions of city-based, self-appointed experts, has never been wider.
David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 years. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org