Last week we told you about a page-one story in The Kansas City Star (9/26, A1, “Livestock endured mass death in the heat,”) that described the terrible deaths suffered by livestock during this past summer’s heat wave. Specifically, we took issue with the timing of the story and how the facts were presented. From our perspective, it appears The Star leans toward an anti-meat agenda.

That a metropolitan daily newspaper has an uninformed view of agriculture is not surprising. But it’s disappointing that The Star – which has a long history of agricultural reporting and serves a heartland community dependant on agriculture – would print such an article.

Our criticism of the story centered on the negative headline, and the fact that the lead centered on the deaths of 5,000 hogs in a confinement facility and the first source quoted was Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection with the Humane Society of the United States, who called the deaths, “Horrible. It is just an unimaginable way to die.” All of which appeared on page one.

The Star’s reporter, Karen Dillon, did interview a handful of agriculture sources for the story, but their quotes were tucked neatly away after the story’s jump – on page six.

Last week we wondered why this story was relevant now, “weeks after the scorching weather abated? The answer, of course, is that a vocal minority believe that raising food animals is abuse, regardless whether the animals suffer in the heat or cold.”

Does The Star or its editors have an anti-meat bias?

I wrote an e-mail to Karen Dillon at The Star and included a link to last week’s commentary. I also described why I believe the story was unfair to livestock producers. “Your story provides an opportunity for anti-agriculture activists to continue making unsubstantiated claims,” I wrote.

Today’s issue (10/5/2011) of The Kansas City Star contains exactly the type of misinformation you might expect to be generated by Dillon’s story, with several inaccuracies. For instance, “Factory farming methods are barbaric,” the letter’s author says. And, “Fruits and vegetables are not shot up with hormones and antibiotics or defecating on each other.” Or, “I don’t think you will want to eat disease-ridden animals that are inhumanely raised and unethically treated just so the fat cats can get fat wallets.”

However, The Star did publish a letter in Saturday’s edition (10/1/2011) supporting livestock producers:

Committed to farming

I found the Sept. 26 article, “Livestock endured mass death in the heat,” quite offensive to the farmers and ranchers of Kansas and Missouri. Karen Dillon’s choice of words enraged me.

The story repeatedly used the term “factory farm.” What exactly does that mean? I’ve lived in Kansas my entire life and I don’t think I’ve seen one of those.

There are more livestock deaths because of corporate farming? Really? It may be the fact that record heat waves with no relief and power outages, which the farmers had no control over, are to blame.

American agriculture is the backbone of this country. With the world population reaching historic levels, our farmers and ranchers must increase their herd size to feed the world.

More than 800,000 U.S. beef farmers and ranchers are committed to caring for their animals and producing safe, wholesome beef for consumers around the world.

Beef producers have long recognized sound animal husbandry practices — based on research and decades of practical experience — are critical for the well being of cattle, individual animal health and herd productivity.

Jody Holthaus
Holton, Kan.

Another letter was sent to The Star last week by Ken Grecian, a cattleman from Palco, Kan. His letter has not been published by The Star, but we offer it here in its entirety:

Healthy cattle is feeder’s priority
The September 26, Kansas City Star story about livestock losses requires some clarification. It starts in the headline with use of the extremely misleading term “factory farming.” I am part of the beef industry, where 97 percent of ranches and farms are family-owned and operated. About two-thirds, including my family’s farm and ranch in western Kansas, have been under the same family ownership for two generations or more.

When referring to cattle, The Star story generalizes about feedlots to the point that readers are left to imagine. After spending the first 12 to 18 months of life on pasture, cattle typically are housed in a feedlot for four to six months. The cattle have 125 to 250 square feet of clean outdoor space per animal. Cattle are fed a scientifically formulated ration and have constant access to clean water. Environmental factors, such as water and air quality are monitored and managed daily according to strict regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Finishing cattle in a feedlot assures consumers a consistent, year-round supply of high quality beef. As ranchers and feeders, we do everything in our power to keep animals healthy and comfortable through all kinds of weather, including extreme heat and cold.

Ken Grecian