Agriculture plays a critical role in national security.
I don’t know about most of you, but I find that the more TV channels I have access to, I still struggle to find much that is worth swapping an hour of my time to sit down and watch. That is one reason I appreciate RFD TV. They offer an alternative to the garbage I find on most channels. I am not advertising for you to watch RFD TV. I do not know anyone involved in the network. But I am generally drawn to a channel devoted to the American farmer, food production and the rural way of life.
Recently, as I tuned to see what was on, RFD was having a town hall meeting with various presidential candidates, giving each their own 30 minutes or an hour to answer questions from various agriculture groups such as the cattlemen’s association, 4H and the American Farmers’ Federation. On that particular day, the candidate wanted to make a statement before the questions began. Obviously knowing the audience who would be watching, he made a very pro-agriculture statement. The statement he made was profoundly true and, in my estimation, it is a statement the whole country, especially our urban neighbors, should hear and take to heart. His statement was (slightly paraphrased), "I believe America is a great country because of agriculture. We are able to be great because we have an abundant and safe food supply."
I have believed, for a long time, that, while agriculture is not the single factor making us a great country, it is a key critical component allowing us to be great. The fact that each farmer is able to feed 155 people today, a huge increase over the 26 people each farmer could feed in 1960, allows us to be a great nation. Now I am not so naïve as to believe that hunger does not exist here in the United States, but I believe it is more of a distribution problem than lack of food. I suppose we throw away enough food that goes bad in our refrigerators, the grocery store produce and meat departments, and other areas of waste.
I have visited with friends who have been on mission trips to other countries where the No. 1 priority in people’s lives is to find enough food to get them through until tomorrow when the priority will be to find enough food to get them through to the next day. That tends to re-enforce the statement, "A rich man has many problems; a poor man has only one." A country without enough food cannot be a great or a secure one.
The term food security was first tossed around back in the mid-1990s. The term referred to people having access to sufficient, safe, healthy food to live a healthy, active life. It is estimated that there are around 900 million people around the globe who are chronically hungry. I am fairly certain I do not even know what it means to be hungry. I am thankful for that. I think God has blessed us so abundantly with the ability to have access to an abundant food supply that we pretty much take it for granted. Because of our abundant food supply, we sometimes struggle with the issue of what we are going to eat, but not if we are going to eat.
As a regulatory veterinarian, I consider it a huge honor to be involved in animal agriculture and the health of our State of Alabama herds and flocks. Alabama contributes greatly to our national security in several different ways. We have several military bases. We have a number of high tech companies that work with the Department of Defense to develop cutting-edge equipment and technology used to protect our country. But the fuel that powers the machine is produced by our farmers. We have about 700 thousand beef cows that have calves that go to market annually. We process about 22 million broilers weekly here in Alabama. I take it very seriously that protecting animal agriculture is not only economically important to our state, but it is important to the security of our country.
Over the past two or three years, we have seen certain products in the meat case and on the restaurant menus become more expensive. I recall a couple of years ago hearing people complaining about the price of pork. But when I explained the loss of about 7 million baby pigs due to a new virus that hit the industry, they understood the price increase. Anyone paying close attention to the evening news knows that the increase in the price of eggs was a result of the loss of millions of chickens due to the avian influenza virus.
As I write this column, there will be a period of time between now and the time you read it. We are currently working extremely hard to have plans in place to deal with highly pathogenic avian influenza if it occurs here in Alabama. Through a cooperative effort between the Alabama Department of Agriculture, USDA, the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, commercial integrators and producers, and our agriculture colleges, we are honing our response plans so there will not be a negative significant impact on our food supply. We also continue our surveillance for other diseases that could devastate animal agriculture in our state.
Another tool in the toolbox that allows us to be a secure nation is the word safe concerning our food supply. Our state meat inspection program, working with USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, works to make sure the meat products produced in state-inspected establishments are safe and wholesome. As life expectancy in the United States has increased from about 47 years in 1900 to 77 years by the end of the century, one factor credited with this increase is safer and healthier foods.
We continue to use all of the tools available in the toolbox to make sure that, when we go to the grocery store, restaurant, drive-through or the refrigerator, we have enough and a variety of animal agriculture products available. This allows us to spend time and energy on other issues that make our country safe and secure. Regulatory veterinary medicine is just one link in the chain of animal agriculture. We, along with other stakeholders who are also links in the chain, work hard to make sure your No. 1 priority is to figure out what you will feed your family tomorrow.
Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253.