Gary Sides: Defending modern agriculture in a Facebook culture

Amanda Radke
Courtesy photo
Gary Sides |

“Facebook me,” is a common phrase nowadays. It refers to a person’s wish to receive a message, tagged photo or relevant piece of information to be added to a personal profile page. Facebook is an online social network, where news, gossip, photos and information are blasted to the recipient. Gone are the days where people search for the news; in today’s world, the news comes to them.

How can farmers and ranchers utilize these online social networks to share the agriculture story? In a fast-paced, Internet-based world, is there a way to connect consumers to producers? Gary Sides, Ph.D., beef and feedlot nutritionist with Pfizer Animal Health, thinks so and offered his suggestions to educate and engage consumers with the dynamic world of modern food production.

Sides spoke at the South Dakota Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer and Rancher Conference held on Jan. 14, 2012, in Spearfish, SD.

“There is no culture without agriculture,” said Sides, who encouraged attendees to educate themselves about political issues and keep up-to-date on environmental and animal rights activities. “Yet, simple lies are more palatable than complicated truths.”

What Sides meant by that is it’s much easier to believe a load of lies delivered in the form of an article from the New York Times or Wall Street Journal than it is to seek out the truth from the farmers and ranchers who are actually raising the nation’s food.

“There are 50 million people in the U.S. who rely on foods stamps, and that number has doubled in the last two years,” said Sides in regard to food security. “Food is a right, and that’s our nation’s mentality.”

“In 1950, everything we ate was organic, and our life expectancy was 55-60. Today, we can expect to live to be 81,” Sides said. “If we are not permitted to use technology to increase our efficiencies in food production, we will starve. There are 7 billion people on this planet, and we are responsible for feeding these folks.”

Sides recommended the audience read the works of Gary Taubes including: Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.

In his books, Taubes promotes a protein-rich diet. He writes, “If your goal in reading this book is simply to be told the answer to the question, ‘What do I do to remain lean or lose the excess fat I have?’ then this is it: stay away from carbohydrate-rich foods, and the sweeter the food, the more likely it is to make you fat and the more you should avoid it. Eat as much as you like of meat, fish, fowl, eggs and leafy green vegetables. Avoid starches, grains and sugars, and learn for yourself what your body can tolerate. Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.”

An interesting mix of facts and figures, Sides equipped the audience with the tools they need to start engaging consumers online. Use these tips to strike up your own conversations. Sides believes farmers and ranchers have an interesting story to tell, so get online and start typing!

Gary Sides, Ph.D., beef and feedlot nutritionist with Pfizer Animal Health, stressed the importance of sharing the agriculture story with consumers. Some interesting facts and figures he shared with the group:

• U.S. beef production has doubled in the last 50 years, while using fewer natural resources – less land, water and reduced green house gas emissions.

• A Monsanto study compared rBST, organic, conventional and natural milk and found no chemical differences in the products, whatsoever.

• One birth control pill has the same amount of estrogen as 250,000 pounds of conventionally-raised beef from steers that had received a hormone implant. “That’s one million quarter-pounders,” said Sides.

• Bill Gates just bought 5 percent of John Deere Company. “Do you think that’s an indication of a bright future in agriculture? I think so,” he predicted.