At the end of the day, it’s all about feeding people.
I am tremendously blessed. I work at a job that, for the most part, I really enjoy. That in itself is pretty good because a recent CBS news survey found that only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their job. I enjoy the people I interact with. I enjoy being able to use my veterinary medical education. I enjoy being able to use my practice experience on a regular basis to relate what is going on in the real world. And, above everything else, I enjoy being part of agriculture.
The best I can tell, the first jobs available were in agriculture. Cain was a row cropper and Abel was a livestock producer. I guess Adam, their dad, stayed pretty busy naming everything. When you think about it, it would have been hard to tell Abel to go feed the cows if you didn’t know what to call them. Anyway, it is obvious that the things God put in place during and right after creation were extremely important to the success of the human race – and everything else for that matter. I am blessed to be involved with agriculture.
I may have mentioned this before, but I have never been hungry, not really hungry. Of course, I have probably made the statement before that "I am so hungry, I could eat a horse." But I have never experienced hunger the way so much of the world’s population has. I would say that most of you reading this article are just like me. I have talked to people who lived through the Great Depression and told me they may not have had what they wanted to eat but they never went to bed hungry because they were involved in agriculture. It may have been a glass of milk and cornbread, but they were able to eat. I have heard people who were not involved in agriculture tell about their neighbors giving them a sack of potatoes during hard times. Potatoes can be pretty good when that’s all you have. And caring neighbors involved in the production of food during hard times is a good thing, too.
With each generation, we get further away from really appreciating the fact that, although I believe God is intimately involved, food doesn’t just rain down from heaven. The abundance and variety of wholesome, safe, healthy food in the United States is something we pretty much expect. If you have heard me talk anywhere recently, there is a good chance I have made reference to a Whataburger that has opened in my hometown. It stays open 24 hours a day. I am convinced the reason they stay open 24 hours a day is because there are people who will do business with them all day and all night. And it is also because they are able to fill the order at 2:30 a.m. when the person at the drive-thru orders a triple-meat burger and large fries. I do believe abundance has a tendency to breed complacency.
You know, with the internet, there are not a lot of things you can’t find. They may be wrong, but you can find an answer. So you have to be a little discerning when you search for things on the internet. So using some degree of discernment, I believe that close to 780 million people across the world do not have enough to eat to live a healthy life. I also believe there is some accuracy in saying that progress is being made toward reducing world hunger. But I have to wonder if that trend will be sustained as the population continues to grow and farm land worldwide decreases. If you think about it, most housing developments, factories and other urban developments are on land that would have been suitable for farming. There is certainly competition for the land and, once it ceases to be farmland, it will likely never be used for that purpose again.
I have used all of the space on this page so far to tell you why I think agriculture is important and that I feel very fortunate to be just a speck on the radar screen of this enormous industry that feeds people. The employees of the Alabama Department of Agriculture who work under the umbrella of the state veterinarian, along with our federal colleagues, are committed to making sure, when you are the person at the drive-thru at 2:30 a.m. or any other time, the food is there to fill your order.
The mission of our veterinary diagnostic laboratory system is to be able to give producers and their veterinarian information to help optimize livestock production. The meat and poultry inspection program exists to ensure the products offered for public consumption are wholesome, safe and truthfully labelled. The poultry section is dedicated to surveillance for diseases that could diminish, disrupt or even devastate the poultry industry in Alabama. Our animal industry veterinarians and field employees assist producers with a broad spectrum of disease surveillance, environmental issues and anything else dealing with government regulations.
I have always looked at agriculture as the noblest endeavor that exists. To me, feeding people is the most important thing a person can be involved in. It is ironic that we live in a society paying athletes and actors as much in a year as a farmer may make in a lifetime. Yet, in societies where food is scarce, there are no high-paid athletes or actors – maybe not even low-paid actors and athletes. There are people in the world whose main tasks today are to find enough to eat to be able to stay alive or to go out and find enough to eat tomorrow. Being able to check that task off our list allows us to do all the other activities we enjoy. If you are the average cattle producer, meaning you have about 17-20 cows, from those cows you produce about 16-18 calves a year. That means you are in the cattle business, meaning you are actively involved in feeding the world!
Some people look at regulatory veterinary medicine as one of those government jobs that is just another drag on the taxpayer. But my experience and knowledge of the history of regulatory medicine tells me different. As we go down the road and the population continues to grow, I believe all of us who are fortunate enough to make a living in agriculture have a moral obligation to produce the most food we can to make sure everyone at the table gets fed. Whether it is being able to eradicate brucellosis and tuberculosis, making sure ground beef isn’t contaminated with anything unsafe, vaccinating calves against blackleg, using the best available genetics to optimize feed efficiency or stopping an outbreak of avian influenza, at the end of the day, it’s all about feeding people.