Reporting partnership takes us forward

As part of our series, Harvest's Jeremy Bernfeld traveled to central Kansas to report on a feedlot in tiny Marquette. (Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media)

Here at Harvest Public Media, investigating controversial agriculture and food issues is an integral part of our mission.

In the two years since we launched this nonprofit Local Journalism Center, we’ve most notably taken on ethanol, local food production systems, and the future of farming.  But the beef system is something else altogether.

After all, it has been a particularly difficult year for the cattle industry.

From lean finely textured beef (the so-called “pink slime”) to a “Meatless Mondays” controversy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beef has been mostly on the short end of the publicity stick. (Business Insider recently named the brouhaha over “pink slime” to its list of the top PR disasters of 2012.)  Then there was the unprecedented drought that caused many farmers to sell their cattle because they didn't have the grass and water to feed them. And a fresh lawsuit claiming misappropriation of funds at the national Beef Checkoff Program.

It seems like we report almost every week on the beef industry, exploring everything from the drought’s impact on feed prices to the backing off on antitrust rules. In June, reporter Peggy Lowe contributed to NPR’s Meat Week series with a story that can clearly be understood by its headline: Unlike chicken and pork, beef still begins with small family ranches.”

But now we’re taking our reporting to a new level with our series “America’s Big Beef.” We’re looking at the safety of the meat in our grocery stores and who funds the scientific research on the industry. We’re diving into what goes in to breeding the highest-quality beef, the potential environmental impact of the way conventional cattle are raised, and what might happen if the beef industry continues to consolidate.

Harvest was fortunate to collaborate with The Kansas City Star and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mike McGraw for this exploration of the beef industry. Two of our stories — one from Jeremy Bernfeld and another from Lowe — will be incorporated into a three-day series in The Star.

This partnership is reflective of our own industry and how it has dramatically changed. Harvest Public Media, a hybrid of public radio, connecting with a newspaper to fully investigate an industry has never happened in our region. Putting aside our past as competitors, we hope our respective and collaborative work will show a greater depth to coverage of food production.

It’s important to note that The Star’s series, which launches this weekend, takes a significant turn toward various health aspects of beef production. That is not the primary focus of Harvest Public Media’s series, which is intended to provide insight into the scope and impact of the beef industry on different facets of the American landscape.

We hope our radio and online audience will come away with a greater understanding of the forces that are shaping the beef industry now and into the future.

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