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Opinion: Speak up when necessary; it does result in change

We’re often advised to get involved and work to make a difference, but human nature will more likely be urging us to do the opposite.
Every once in a while, someone shows us a better way than griping at the cat.

It’s easy for those working in agriculture to complain a lot, mainly because there’s a lot to complain about.

Farmers must deal with bone-headed government policies, price-raising input suppliers and ill-meaning activists.

The usual temptation is to yell at the cat, grumble to the folks on coffee row and then sit on the tractor and fume.

We’re often advised to get involved and work to make a difference, but human nature will more likely be urging us to do the opposite. Many times it’s too easy to listen to the voice inside our heads asking, “what can one person do, anyway?”

Every once in a while, however, someone shows us there can be a better way.

Take, for instance, the recent case of questionable high school course material found in an online class in Alberta.

It turns out that learning institutes in the province were using the book Modern Agricultural Economies-Animals as part of a World Geography 30 course. Excerpts from this material showed significant bias against animal agriculture, particularly feedlots. Here’s one paragraph from the book:

“Residents in Alberta’s Feedlot Alley have the highest rates of intestinal disease in the province. In a three-year period from 1989 to 1991, E. coli killed almost a dozen children and affected scores more in southern Alberta’s cattle country.”

This is false information, in a course offered by a learning institute in south-central Alberta just outside of Calgary.

We’re not sure how many people read that “deeply disturbing” paragraph and decided not to do anything about it. But someone did decide to do something.

Early last month, The Western Producer received an email from a “fifth generation cattleman” who took the World Geography 30 course as part of efforts to upgrade his education. He was appalled by what he read in the course material and figured he should let us know what was going on.

“It’s a really misleading piece about ag and specifically the beef industry in Canada, in addition to being outright incorrect in places,” the reader wrote to us.

“I think it’s really awful that stuff like this is being passed off as education about agriculture. I can’t imagine what beliefs I’d hold if this was all that I knew about the industry. I thought that maybe you folks would be interested in writing a piece about it.

“I know how important public perception is in ag right now and with this kind of thing being passed off as education, it’s little wonder it’s a problem for folks in the industry.”

We passed the email to Alex McCuaig, the Producer’s reporter in Medicine Hat, Alta., who made some phone calls and put together a story for our website and print edition. By the time the story was published, the biased and error-ridden course material had been pulled from the online curriculum in Alberta.

There are a few observations that can be made from this case.

One is something most of us already know — that most members of the public today have only a rudimentary understanding of agriculture.

Another is that while efforts have been made to improve agriculture’s presence in the education system, much more must be done.

However, we think the most important take-away message here is that it is important to speak up rather than feel powerless when we see something that needs to be fixed.

We can all make a difference.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.