Food killing you, says US Catholic rancher

The industrial model of food production is driving farmers from the land and producing food that "is killing you", a Kansas cattle rancher told a US Catholic rural life conference on sustainable agriculture last week.

Describing Mike Callicrate as a "straight-talking plainsman with a blunt, hard message", Catholic Online quoted the rancher from north-west Kansas as saying that "Your food is killing you, and your food system is killing your community and nation".

Mr Callicrate was speaking at a National Catholic Rural Life Conference annual meeting attended by farmers and ranchers, advocates, food industry professionals, and workers in Catholic social justice and rural life ministries.

The theme of the event was sustainable food, business and agriculture.

"Our food is killing us, literally," Mr Callicrate said in an interview after his address. "The industrial model of food production that has been forced upon us has given us food that is very unhealthy."

It's not just the food - loaded with chemicals and hormones, and produced in unhealthy ways - with which Mr Callicrate has problems.

"The model of the industry - the industrial model, the business model - is very, very abusive," he told The Leaven, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City. "It concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a very few, which has always been a serious threat to human societies throughout time, and is now unprecedented.

"That great concentration ... hurts our society. And another thing is that farmers are being driven from the land," he said.

"We are eliminating agriculture in this country in favour of imported food, so it threatens the survival of our country from an economic and social perspective."

Although news of the ongoing crisis in food and agriculture was a part of the conference gathering, so too was optimism, according to Holy Cross Br David Andrews, executive director of the rural Catholic conference. One reason for this is that the church remains committed to justice in the areas of agriculture and food production.

"We need to construct an alternative to the corporate-controlled food system that we have in place right now," he said.

That message, he added, "resonates quite well with the messages of our Catholic bishops' conference in their last publication For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections of Food, Farmers and Farmworkers", a 2003 document in which they expressed concern about the growing concentration in the food system and called for an alternative in sustainable agriculture.

Br David said he could sense a lot more optimism than at previous conferences.

"I think we know that we're on the cusp of change," he said.

"It will still be uphill. It will still be challenging, but the people here are committed to changing the food system and changing the opportunities for farmers so they can get a more fair food dollar."

'Our food is killing us,' Catholic farmer, rural life conference speaker says (Catholic Online, 17/11/06)
Dire warnings, but also hope (The Leaven, 17/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
National Catholic Rural Life Conference

US lobbies Vatican on GM food and world hunger (CathNews, 27/9/04)
Lobbyists welcome cross border water agreement (CathNews, 29/6/04)

20 Nov 2006