This month, a tiny community newspaper in Iowa won a Pulitzer Prize for taking on big agriculture companies over factory farm pollution.
The Storm Lake Times, which investigated the effects of nitrogen from farm drainage on drinking water in the state, was praised for its “editorials fuelled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”
If only all community newspapers had such courage and tenacity in seeking the truth. Contrast the Storm Lake Times’ reporting with a recent story in the Norwich Gazette, a rural Ontario newspaper, describing a presentation to the local chamber of commerce about “what’s behind the production of Canadian food.”
The presenter, Jody Durand, is described as a former farmer “who now works in the animal health industry.” The story says his presentation was based on one titled “The Real Dirt on Farming” developed by a group called Farm and Food Care.
What the story doesn’t say is that Mr. Durand actually works for Phibro Animal Health Corporation, a pharmaceutical company producing antibiotics and feed additives for animal agriculture. Last year, Phibro was in a dispute with the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over one of its antibiotics for pigs, which the FDA argued could leave trace amounts of carcinogenic residue in pork that could pose a cancer risk to people.
The story also doesn’t mention who’s behind Farm and Food Care. In fact, it’s a charity funded by the food and agriculture industry, including big companies like Maple Leaf Foods and trade associations like Chicken Farmers of Canada.
The Norwich Gazette’s unquestioning account of Mr. Durand’s presentation, which it describes as sharing “farm facts”, quotes him defending agriculture’s use of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. It also states that “Farm animal care is also at the forefront of farming” – a statement that belongs in an opinion piece, not a news story.
To our knowledge, the Norwich Gazette has not been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.