The cover story of the Aug. 31 edition of TIME is entitled "The Real Cost of Cheap Food." In the article reporter Bryan Walsh painted modern beef production with an unflattering brush of a wide range of claims. He included common myths of over-reliance on corn and antibiotics, poor farm animal living conditions, and how meat is leading to obesity.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association was contacted by Walsh last week asking what the cost of raising a 1200 pound steer from birth to slaughter in a conventional production method. NCBA Executive Director of Communications Daren Williams was concerned, knowing that Walsh had written a piece last September that was very biased and slanted against the food industry and beef industry. In that article Walsh accused livestock production of causing global warming and that eating meat increased the risk of heart disease as well as several other blanket statements that could not and are not substantiated by science.
"I had some immediate concerns obviously whether or not Bryan Walsh was interested in writing a fair and balanced piece on modern food production," Williams said. "At that time I put him in touch with and insisted really that he speak with a number of experts and actual producers."
Williams had Walsh talk with both Shalene McNeill and Tom Field of NCBA. McNeil, the director of nutrition research, talked to him about the facts of beef being a part of a healthy diet and studies that show beef helps decrease risk for heart disease and cancer. Field talked about production methods and cleared up some of the misconceptions about the differences between natural and conventional production methods. Williams also put Walsh on the phone with Washington State University's Jude Capper, who is one of the leading experts in calculating the environmental footprint of livestock production.
"I also had him talk to Anne Burkholder in Nebraska and Gary Teague in Colorado, people who run feedlots and produce both conventional and natural beef," Williams said. "Unfortunately Mr. Walsh chose to completely ignore every word, every fact offered to him by these experts and actual producers on the front lines."
Williams says this is a disturbing trend seen growing in the mainstream media, particularly with weekly news magazines.
"They're becoming more opinion pieces than balanced news reporting pieces," Williams said. "Writers like Bryan Walsh are not journalists, they're activists. And I don't know where he went to journalism school but I'll tell you any respectable journalism school in this country would cringe in the lack of objectivity in this reporting."
Williams says he would like every beef producer to let TIME magazine know that they are disappointed in the lack of objectivity in this writing.
"To quote the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is obviously a biased source of information," Williams said. "And to completely leave the beef industry out of the story other than one small snippet from our director of legislative affairs, Kristina Butts about the safety of antibiotic use in livestock production; and to completely ignore all of the other information that we provided and quote sources like Bon Apetite Management Company and Union of Concerned Scientists is flat out irresponsible."
The Beef Checkoff, in an attempt to combat the spread of misinformation about the beef industry, is urging the public to find information refuting these types of claims at ExploreBeef.org.