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If animal rights groups and environmental activists have their way, 21st century Americans will be paying exorbitant prices for food, eating meatless meals and looking for jobs.

Today, taking advantage of modern farming methods that allow each farmer to grow enough food for himself and 100 others, Americans pay 11 percent of their income for food.Soviets are not so lucky. They must pay more than one-quarter of their income for food. South Koreans pay 36.1 percent, people in the Philippines spend more than 50 percent of their income, and in Niger, a small country in west-central Africa, people must pay 61.6 percent of their income for food.

Environmental activists would take away the chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that have brought agriculture out of the Dark Ages when a large, robust farm family could barely feed itself.

If the activists have their way, food production levels will fall so far that American farmers will have difficulty feeding their own country, let alone feeding much of the whole world - as they have done for decades.

Along with lower productivity will come sky-high food prices as supplies shrink and demands increase.

Activists want cattle banned from federal rangelands and herded into expensive feedlots that would cause meat prices to skyrocket.

Some animal rights activists don't even want cattle or sheep, turkeys or chickens or any animals raised in America. They would have us eat no meat, milk or eggs and wear no wool or leather. Forget hunting, too, and expect your grandchildren to ask "What is a zoo?"

Anyone who thinks there is no danger that any of this will happen should think again.

A report in the June 11 issue of the Western Livestock Journal says 13 of the major environmental groups have operating funds totaling more than $414 million. That ain't hay.

One group, the Nature Conservancy, reported a 1989 operating budget of nearly $110 million, the Livestock Journal said.

Where does most of this money come from? Middle and lower income people who respond to impassioned, emotional pleas for funds sent through the mail by activist groups, the journal reported.

Most of those who contribute to the activist groups probably don't realize the consequences of their actions. They believe they are saving America from something ominous - who knows what - that some activist group has conjured up.

What these well-meaning contributors probably don't realize is that agriculture is America's most important business, not only in terms of our economy, but our defense and survival.

When all related aspects of the food and fiber system are taken into account, agriculture comprises more than 20 percent of this country's gross national product.

Agriculture is more than farmers and ranchers - it's equipment dealers and manufacturers, fertilizer firms, food processors, rail and truck transportation, warehouses, food retailers and a host of other businesses.

The same is true in Utah. More than 21 percent of Utah's labor force is employed in some form of agriculture-related industry.

Agriculture accounts for more than $600 million in direct income in Utah, and livestock products account for about three-fourths of that total income. In addition to direct income, more than $2 billion is generated in agriculture related activities annually.

Glen R. Larsen, president of the Utah Cattlemen's Association, says, "A great many myths are being spread by animal rights activists and environmental activists. People need to be told the truth. They need to be aware of how much Utah's economy will suffer with a reduction of the livestock industry. They need to be told that, for generations, the true environmentalists are those who live on the land."