Animal Ag Engage

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Wait. What did you just say?

Growing up on a farm I have always been very aware of where my food comes. I have been known to freak out my “non-farm” friends by bringing up subjects that were part of the normal conversation around my household.  I distinctly remember my freshman year in college when I asked my suite-mate if she wanted to ride with me to my parents’ house to drop off a semen tank. Her eye brows raised and her mouth dropped open hearing the word “semen” coming from my mouth, but to me, that was just another farm chore.  She asked me “Rossie, what in the world is a semen tank and why do you have one in your car?” I proceeded to inform her all about artificial insemination in cattle and how our bull’s semen was collected at a veterinarian’s office near our school. She was absolutely amazed and said that she had no idea that farmers used artificial breeding. I really blew her mind when I told her about flushing cow eggs (AKA in vitro fertilization)!

After that she came to me with any questions she had about agriculture. I loved that she felt comfortable asking me questions instead of believing what she heard in the news or from animal rights clubs on campus. A lot of other friends asked me questions so that they could understand both sides of the argument. I had the training to answer questions effectively mainly by being on the National Beef Ambassador Team and by having a first-hand farm background. After a while I realized that there was a lot of information that was readily available coming from the opposing side and they had the money to put it on television and on billboards. On the other hand, the information coming from the agriculture industry was only found if the consumer took the time to search for it online. The sad truth is, most consumers won’t take the time search for the other side of the story.

So, what can we do in the agriculture community to get our message across and make information about ag more easily accessible? For starters, we can answer questions that come to us through media outlets or from the neighbor that lives down the road. Believe it or not the average consumer trusts farmers. Now they might say that they only trust family farmers, but to me that’s just the perfect example of misinformed consumers, when we in ag know that nearly 90% of farms are family-owned operations. Most of the questions asked of me as a beef ambassador were about all of the beef choices (grassfed, natural, organic, etc.). I explained what each term meant and how the cattle were raised, to help them understand the difference.

There are many groups against animal agriculture that are trying to push legislation to make our lives as farmers and ranchers more difficult. These groups are also the ones that are filling consumers’ minds with questions about animal agriculture. And as I have mentioned many times before, plenty of our state and national legislators are three or four generations removed from the farm. The legislators and their staff have questions about farming and we need to be their point of contact, that’s why building strong relationships with your elected officials is so important. You want them to feel comfortable calling you with the hard questions so that you can tell them the honest answers.

So to all of you ag guys and gals out there, I challenge you to be honest, be transparent. Don’t avoid the consumer’s question. If a consumer asks why you castrate, or why you dehorn, tell them! Farmers are practical people and do things for a reason. Consumers just want permission to trust agriculture. They hear all of these terrible things about farming and ranching but when they ask questions and learn why we do what we do they are reassured in their protein selection. At the Alliance, we’re trying to correct misinformation about animal ag every day, but we need your help. Together, let’s give consumers permission to eat meat, milk and eggs.

For more information on animal agriculture visit the Alliance Website.

P.S.: Please scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the Animal Ag Alliance Blog!


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Helping the Hungry

Nothing is much more heartbreaking than seeing a child standing in a food line with other homeless people, waiting for a free hot meal.  Having served such a child personally, when her turn came to be given a plate of turkey tacos and a ribbon-tied bag of homemade trail mix, caused my heart to hurt, my throat to swell and took every ounce of control to fight back tears while sharing with her a warm smile.

It made me so appreciative of all that my family has, and even prouder of my own daughter, now a senior in high school, for giving me the reason – and opportunity – to be out there serving that child and other homeless and hungry people on the streets of Washington, D.C.  It made me so aware of how much we have and how much we have to give back.

I know many of the producers that support our work here at the Alliance give back to their local food banks, halfway houses and even animal shelters, not because they have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. Just this past Easter weekend, America’s egg farmers donated nearly half a million eggs to food assistance organizations!

That moment also made me even more aware of why it’s important to keep food affordable and accessible.  It brought some reality to what I do, have done now for nearly 20 years with the Alliance.  It gave me more purpose in fighting for justice on behalf of farmers and ranchers and consumer choice.

So many of the groups and individuals we have to deal with at the Alliance push for policies that would drastically raise the cost of food in America, making it both less affordable and less accessible.  On the surface, some seem noble in their cause to improve animal care, but having that inside track to knowing their real agenda, most of the groups we battle are either seeking to eliminate animal protein and consumption all together or eliminate modern technologies that allow food to be more affordable.

We are blessed in this nation to have so many choices.  So many products produced in different ways and at varying price points.  And protein, a necessity of life, should not be only for those who can afford the $20/lb. steak.

Teens Opposing Poverty (TOP) is an initiative by which youth in churches purchase, prepare and serve hot meals to those who are homeless.  My 17-year old restarted the initiative in our church this fall after about a three-year hiatus as part of her high school senior project themed, “Being the Change I Want to See in the World.” Her project is all about service to others.  I joined her initially just to support her and to serve as the female adult chaperone (all youth events must have at least one adult male and female).  I had no idea how much I would gain from this experience, nor how meaningful it would be to interact with and see homeless people – really see them – for the first time.

The homeless live on the streets for many reasons.  Some have made bad choices in life.  Some have no family or support network.  Some are military veterans who have been unable to find work after returning home.  Some immigrated here hoping for a better life, but possibly with little education and unable to speak English.  Some like the little girl were born into that life.

Regardless of how they got there, they are all people, with stories.  People who need help.  People who need food and need others to care if they are to ever have hope of a better life.

So as animal rights groups, or groups like the Pew Commission, Center for a Livable Future and even Chipotle work to push their agenda, making protein less affordable and less accessible, my resolve is even stronger now than ever before to support farmers, ranchers, food producers and others who work tirelessly to produce protein in modern ways, using modern and safe technologies and processes.  I just think of that little girl and her need for a better life.  One hot meal of turkey tacos served with a smile just maybe can change a life.  Maybe the activists should give it a try.

-Kay Johnson Smith

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Is the word Sustainability becoming Unsustainable?

Sustainability; we’ve all heard that word tossed around quite frequently the past few years. But if I surveyed 100 people, no let’s make that 5 people; they wouldn’t give me the same definition of sustainability. Just look at these three different definitions of sustainability:

Webesters dictionary
Sustainability: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

Sustainable: a socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable product that prioritizes our planet, people, the animals, and continuous progress.

As you can see, none of the definitions listed above are the same. They are similar in some aspects but they all have a slightly different take on the word sustainability. It is going to be tough to move in the direction of sustainable agriculture if there isn’t a definition that reads the same across the board.
Let’s get one thing straight, farmers and ranchers are sustainable. If they were not sustainable their farms and ranches wouldn’t date back multiple generations. The companies that are pushing sustainability criteria say that they want to help producers use water, land, and transportation resources efficiently. I don’t know one producer that isn’t already working towards all of those goals. They love producing food for the world; it gives them that warm fuzzy feeling. But running an operation is a business; it is how farmers and ranchers feed their families. Don’t you think that they are already trying to reduce costs and limit their use of resources? Farmers and ranchers can now raise more animals on less land, using fewer resources than ever before. There are constant innovations and new technologies used to raise animals more efficiently. Farmers and ranchers were sustainable before sustainability was cool!
So why am I on my soapbox about sustainability? Well, the new dietary guidelines are being discussed and sustainability has become part of the conversation in the working groups. Now I know you are all thinking, what does sustainability have to do with nutrition? That is my main question. There is not additional nutritional value in sustainable meat.
The dietary guidelines set the standards for several programs that help people in need. The school lunch program is an example that helps feed kids that wouldn’t have meals on their tables otherwise. Should a term nobody can seem to define be a limiting factor for our food supply? Isn’t the main goal to have safe, affordable food that also that tastes good? Let’s get our priorities straight people!
So I ask you, is the word sustainable becoming unsustainable? Websters defines sustainability as able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed. In my mind the term sustainability has been completely used up! Before there are any guidelines set about sustainable agriculture there needs to be a clear definition.

For more information on sustainability visit the Alliance Website.

P.S.: Please scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the Animal Ag Alliance Blog!


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Boots on the Hill

Heads turned on Capitol Hill this week to admire the cowboy hats and boots strolling through the halls of congress. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I was raised on a cattle farm in North Carolina and this week I joined other cattle producers from across the nation for the 2014 National Cattleman’s Beef Association Legislative Conference. During the conference the attendees discussed issues facing the cattle industry and how their ranches could be affected. By visiting the offices the cattlemen were able to share their personal stories and become a point of contact for the congressional members and their staff. Hopefully congressional staff will put their new contacts to use when they have questions about farming and ranching.

I also got the pleasure of serving as the chaperone for four fantastic young ladies on the National Beef Ambassador Team. It is refreshing to see young people so enthusiastic about animal agriculture. The members of the team accompanied their state groups on Capitol Hill and were engaged in the discussions while providing a new perspective from the next generation of ranchers. They also took lots of fun pictures and videos of their time in Washington D.C. (this boot picture credit goes to the team!) and used their millennial flare to spark discussions on the hill

It always amazes me to hear about the wide array of issues facing agriculture on a daily basis. Cattlemen don’t just focus on animal health issues and beef markets, they also have to pay attention to issues with trade, transportation, environment, nutrition, small business ownership and many other issues that don’t necessarily come to mind when thinking about cattle. All of the animal protein groups have to monitor legislation, not just about their animals, but about issues affecting all of agriculture. Keeping up to date on legislative initiatives at the state and federal level should become part of running your business.

I know what some of you are thinking right now, I wish I owned cattle so that I could be a part of this amazing experience. Well, HAVE NO FEAR! Nearly every animal protein group has a national fly-in day here in D.C. I also got to visit with some of the pork producers last week when they visited Washington D.C. for their legislative conference. There are plenty of opportunities to visit Washington D.C. to talk to your members of congress. If you can’t make it to town for a legislative fly-in, call your member of congress, write them an email, or come on your own and talk to your national organizations about setting up meetings. Many legislators are even active on social media, so if you’re so inclined: send them a tweet or Facebook message! There are so many outlets available to reach out to your legislators and become engaged in the discussion. So what are you waiting for? Let’s see those heads turn when your boots make their way through the halls of congress!

And remember—the Alliance tracks state legislation and updates our interactive map every Thursday, so let us be your one-stop-shop to keep you up to speed on legislation in your state!


A sore horse makes for a sore subject on Capitol Hill

Horse soring has been a hot topic this week as both sides voiced their opinions in the House. Bill HR 1518 the Prevent all Soring Tactics (PAST) Act was introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee. The opposing bill, HR 4098 Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2014, was introduced by Representative Marsha Blackburn, also from Tennessee. Horse soring is a process that has been used on show horses, typically Tennessee Walking Horses, for many years. This process is done so the horse has an exaggerated gait or walk for the judges during competitions in the show-ring. Soring can be done in several different ways to make the feet on the horse sensitive to exaggerate their gait. The different techniques include applying chemicals to the hooves or using weighted shoes, pads, boots or chains.

The groups pushing the PAST Act are against all soring methods. This side includes the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), but our main concern is that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) also sits on this side of the isle. Certainly AVMA is lobbying for what they see is best for the horses health but we all know that when HSUS is involved there is always a hidden agenda.

tennessee walking horse 2

Opposing groups including the walking horse industry’s premier show, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, doesn’t want to see a long-time show tradition eliminated. These groups would like to see a stricter inspection process with more accurate testing methods. The current testing methods are done by inspectors at shows where pressure is applied to the hoof of the animal to see if the animal is sensitive to touch. Horsemen that oppose the legislation say that this way of testing is too variable as the horse may pick up his foot when pressure is applied without being sore.

Many of the large stable owners have spoken out on this issue admitting to using soring practices including chemicals back in the day as a way to get ahead. But they say that soring is very rarely done that way anymore. Most of the industry uses weighted shoes and gradual training (which would not be allowed under the PAST Act). One industry leader says those drastic soring procedures aren’t necessary, the key is a horse with natural talent and gradual training, using weighted shoes.

The Tennessee Walking Horse industry is a treasured tradition for many Tennessee residents and brings a lot of visitors and shows into the state so the industry is very weary of this bill supported by HSUS. They think that training can be done in the right way without the whole industry disappearing along with their passion and tradition. Senator Alexander did speak up about this point in his argument by saying: “In baseball, if a player illegally uses steroids, you punish the player – you don’t shut down America’s national pastime.”

“With Tennessee Walking Horse shows, when trainers, owners, or riders illegally sore a horse, we should find a more effective way to punish and stop them – not shut down one of Tennessee’s most treasured traditions,” continued the Senator.“The problem with the Humane Society’s bill is that it destroys a Tennessee tradition known around the world. Our goal is to find a way to preserve the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition and stop the cruelty to horses.”

Horse owners realize the importance of animal welfare but do not believe that padded or weighted shoes and chains harm the horses. This belief is based on a passion for horses and a desire to work with those animals day and day out. Horse owners would like scientific testing systems performed using techniques like blood tests and swabbing not pressure tests with variability.  Horse owners often consult with their veterinarians to ensure horse health but they are skeptical of a bill backed by HSUS—and they should be. As HSUS’ ultimate goal is to not use animals in any way—it is likely that their affinity for this legislation is a means to shut down another community that uses animals for showmanship and entertainment.

While this is a bit of a sore subject amongst industry leaders and Congressmen & women alike, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Especially as these discussions continue to “trot” through congress.