How methods used to produce food affect the health of those who eat it will be examined at a conference here Friday.
The “Healthy Farms, Healthy People: Agriculture and Health Summit" is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 16 at Topeka’s Ramada Inn (register here). About 120 people are expected to attend, said organizer Julie Mettenburg, executive director of the Kansas Rural Center.
"The point of the day is to start a wide-ranging discussion about a variety of health issues in our communities that intersect with agriculture," Mettenburg said. "For example, the issues surrounding consolidation in the farm industry. We are concerned about antibiotic use, chemical use, and pollution of our water, air and soil. But we don't advocate a certain agenda that anyone will be pushing that day. We work with farmers to find alternative practices."
Among the scheduled speakers is Bob Martin, a senior policy advisor for John Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore. Mettenburg said he was invited to speak, in part, because of his experience as executive director of the National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Among other things, the commission recommended fostering more competition in the livestock market and banning non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal husbandry.
Officials at the Kansas Livestock Association recently raised concerns about Martin’s appearance because of his support for the "Meatless Mondays" campaign.
That initiative was briefly proposed this summer by officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a way of encouraging agency staff to cut meat from their diets for a day. Protests from the beef industry caused the department to abandon the campaign.
Todd Domer, communications director for the livestock association, said he could not specify what Martin's tie was to Meatless Mondays other than "he's a supporter."
"We didn't ask to keep him off the program, but we did express some concern over what message he might deliver," Domer said.
"Obviously, we would oppose Meatless Monday for a variety of reasons," he said. "It's pretty apparent that animal agriculture is vitally important to our state. Our members are really proud to continue producing a safe, great-tasting, nutritious product in the most sustainable way we know how and we try to get better at doing that every day."
At least one representative of the association is planning to attend the conference, Domer said.
Mettenburg, a beef producer, said she doesn’t know whether Martin plans to mention the Meatless Monday campaign. But she acknowledged some topics at the summit could be controversial.