Animal Ag Engage

Antibiotics and Animal Agriculture: a consumer’s perspective

I think that everyone probably thinks they have the best mom in the world, but I definitely do. My mom is a woman of many interests: art, music, cold-brewed coffee and football, just to name a few. Like most moms in America, she has always taken a particular interest in the food that her kids eat. When my mom was helping me move into my temporary place for the semester, she took me to the grocery store and made sure that I had healthy options easily available. Recently, she’s been encouraging me to really take notice of what is in the food I eat – and to always read the label.

Like I mentioned in my last blog post, I did not grow up on a farm. Before interning with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, I would consider myself a typical consumer. As a consumer, when I see labels like “Raised without Antibiotics” on a package of chicken in the grocery store, it seems natural for me to assume that the chicken without that label may contain antibiotic residues that could be harmful to me and the people with which I share my food. Throughout my time with the Alliance, though, I have learned a lot about antibiotics and their role in animal agriculture.

Precautions by the FDA and USDA12189598_10153103637045636_4564627764337823932_n

Consumers are concerned about the possibility of antibiotic residues in their meat, and it’s easy to understand why. The worry is that if humans consume antibiotic residues through the meat they eat, they may build a resistance to those antibiotics. Then next time they got sick, it would prevent the antibiotics they needed from properly treating the illness. This is a real concern, but luckily the FDA and the USDA have been working diligently to prevent antibiotic residues from ever entering the market. After an animal has been treated with antibiotics, the FDA mandates that producers must wait for the drug to completely leave the animal’s system before processing them. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service then tests 11210465_10153105088470636_464778758494322294_nmeat, poultry, milk, and eggs for trace amounts of any drugs present in products before they ever reach the market. It’s also important to note that there is very little overlap between antibiotics that are used in humans and antibiotics that are used in animal agriculture.  Meat Mythcrushers has a great article about antibiotic overlap.

Antibiotics for growth promotion are being phased out.

One thing that even I can admit to thinking as a consumer is, “Sure, sick animals need treated. I get that. But I’ve heard that animal farmers will give antibiotics to their animals just to bulk them up, and that seems dangerous and irresponsible to me.” Well, rest assured! In 2013, the FDA requested meat producers to phase out antibiotics for growth promotion by 2016 – and the industry supported the FDA’s decision.

Even animals that are given the best care possible could still get sick.

Another claim that I’ve heard is that if farmers were taking proper care of their animals, they wouldn’t even need antibiotics in the first place. I wish that were true, but unfortunately animals just get sick sometimes even if they have received the best care possible, which farmers work hard to provide. The North American Meat 12063638_10153106540120636_3468161519270424620_nAssociation has a resource that really helped me understand this better. We take care of ourselves, but we still get sick and require antibiotics from time to time. Our pets do, too – and I know that many of us treat our pets as members of the family. The use of antibiotics in animal agriculture isn’t a sign of mistreatment; it’s actually a sign that farmers are paying attention to their animals’ well-being and giving them the medicine that they need to get better.

That said, there are farmers and food companies who have committed to raising animals without the use of any antibiotics. You may have heard “no antibiotics ever” or “raised without antibiotics” as ways to describe this production method. These farmers are just as committed to ensuring animal health. They will avoid the use of antibiotics as much as possible, but as I mentioned above sometimes animals will need treatment. If an animal requires an antibiotic to get better, it will receive the treatment it needs, and then be separated from the “no antibiotics ever” herd or flock and marketed through a different channel. Having different options helps farmers choose what works best for them, their animals and their farms, and benefits the consumer by offering a choice in the grocery store.

Ask questions – and find answers.

To be totally honest, I’m not sure that if I hadn’t accepted my internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance I would have ever researched or looked into the concerns that I had heard about the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. It was very easy to accept the things that were buzzing around without a second thought. So, some advice from a fellow consumer: do your own research and make up your own mind before accepting what you’ve heard online or through word of mouth as truth. And to all the moms out there (including mine), antibiotics in meat are one thing that you can take off of your plate!

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Finding common ground to explain agriculture

Explaining agricultural practices to someone not involved in agriculture can be challenging at times, but as a rule of thumb it is best to connect with your audience by finding common ground. I had an interesting conversation with my mom recently about misconceptions in agriculture where I did just that – found common ground.

Finding common ground

One of the misconceptions we discussed was how some argue that farmers are trying to hide something because they won’t let anyone and everyone onto their farm without any notice.

My mom is heavily involved in a dog rescue organization that has a 61-acre ranch where they care for the dogs and cats that are not in foster homes.  As we began talking, she mentioned that the rescue ranch has the same issue with people accusing them of trying to hide things because they don’t allow just anyone onto the ranch for safety reasons.

To be clear, I am not saying that companion animals and farm animals are one in the same – they have entirely different purposes and needs. I’d just like to share the similarities regarding security measures to provide context that may help some understand why farms need to be secure.

clouds-blue-yellow-farm-mediumIt’s about security, not secrecy

One reason a lot of poultry and swine are raised indoors is to keep them safe from predators and disease. Farmers and the workers who are on the farms every day have to go through specific protocols to ensure they don’t accidentally bring  pathogens onto the farm that would harm the livestock. These protocols may include wearing protective clothing and shoes and sometimes even showering in and out to remove any possible germs.

This level of security also helps to ensure that our food supply is abundant and safe.  A current example would be avian influenza. This disease is carried by migratory birds (ex: geese traveling from the North) and is transmitted via loose feathers or droppings as they fly near a farm. As of today, there is no cure so if a person were to track feathers or dropping inside a barn and the flock became sick the flock would then have to be euthanized.

One reason the rescue won’t allow many visitors is to keep the dogs and cats safe from people accidentally opening gates and letting dogs loose or coming in contact with an aggressive dog. It is for the animals’ safety, but also your own safety.

Your safety

Have you ever met a temperamental dog? Well how would you like to meet a temperamental, 1,400-pound cow?animal-countryside-agriculture-farm-medium

Children are taught to ask an owner permission before they pet their dog – this helps to ensure the child’s safety in case the dog doesn’t like children or strangers. Well, some livestock can be temperamental and if you don’t work with the livestock every day, you may not know how to correctly approach the animal without spooking it and the last thing you want to do is make a 1,400-pound cow angry.

Property and privacy 

Another thing I think a lot of people seem to forget when they want to walk up to a farm is that not only do farmers work on their farms, but the majority also live on the same property. So when you’re on their farm, you are also at their home. But, just because it is also their home it doesn’t make it any less of a business.

The dog ranch is also an operating business and if someone shows up wanting to visit all the animals, it can disrupt the workers from caring for the dogs because now they have to address the visitor.

As I made these connections with my mom about how farms need to be secure for basically the same reason the dog ranch needs to be secure, I could tell she began to understand because she already understood half of the conversation as it related to something she was already informed about. If you are having difficulty getting a message across about agriculture, meet someone half way. Listen and understand their side of the story – it may help you tell yours.





Why I am not a vegetarian (anymore)

It has taken me about seven months to write this blog post. I knew I had a good story to tell seven months ago, but part of me was hesitant to share it because I didn’t want to admit that I once had doubts about the industry that I now am so passionate about.

11188468_10152744847515636_3360909980126081613_n-2Like I’ve said before, I didn’t come from an agriculture background nor did I participate in FFA or any other agricultural programs when I was younger. I stumbled into agriculture while in college and it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Since I didn’t grow up on a farm and wasn’t involved in agriculture like I am today, I was just the regular consumer not too long ago and had the same questions and concerns that a lot of consumers have today. One of my concerns led me to become a vegetarian for about a year.

My vegetarian days  

Strictly speaking, a vegan is someone who does not consume meat, milk, eggs or animal by-products such as gelatin, broths or honey. There are different levels of vegetarianism – some may eat eggs, dairy products and fish but not meat or poultry or some variation in between. For me, I didn’t eat meat, poultry and eggs but I still ate dairy products and the occasional seafood.

I was 16 years old when I made the decision to eliminate meat from my diet. I was worried that eating meat caused health issues and that it didn’t have much to offer on the nutritional side that couldn’t be replaced with protein from another source.

I vividly remember my doctor’s face when I informed him that I decided to become a vegetarian – it 11150483_10152838744175636_2546207196395563572_nwas as if I was the doctor telling him he had an incurable, life-threatening disease – pure terror. I was convinced that I knew what was best for myself, so I  didn’t let anyone change my mind – not even my doctor when he told me I should be eating meat to get the necessary protein and nutrients I needed as a growing teen.

I began eating more beans, nuts and other plant-based proteins, but I soon discovered that it simply didn’t satisfy my dietary needs. Long story short, a vegetarian diet was hindering my health instead of improving it. After a year or so of strictly not eating any meat, I decided that I would re-introduce my once-loved protein back into my diet for the same reason I let it go.

Lessons learned 

In the eight years since I returned to eating meat, I’ve learned a few things about the nutritional aspects of animal protein that I wish I would have known eight years ago…

  1. Meat and poultry are packed with vitamins and minerals.
  2. Animal-based protein and plant-based protein are not equal.
  3. There are lean cuts of meat available with less fat.
  4. Balance is key.

11755235_10152923620605636_3003432396995242031_nReflecting on my experience, I don’t necessarily regret my hiatus from eating meat because it has provided me with a unique perspective, but If I could tell my 16-year-old self one thing it would be to hear all sides of the story before making an important decision that could have an impact on your health.

If you are considering changing your diet based on concerns about nutrition, the environment, ethics or a combination of the three, I hope you take the time to talk to subject-matter experts, read credible resources and hear all sides to an issue instead of basing your decision off a feeling like I did.


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An interesting perspective: animal agriculture and city life

This guest blog is by one of our past interns, Kirk Kaczmarek, reflecting on his summer internship experience. 

Since finishing my internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, I’ve had time to visit my brother at college, see both sides of my family, halter break some calves, and reflect on my experience in D.C. Working with the Alliance helped provide me with an interesting perspective.

On one hand, I was connected to my family’s farm and agriculture in general through the nature of my internship. On the other hand, living with the hustle and bustle of D.C. places you far away from the farms that produce your food. However, the D.C. social life, at least for my age group, is dominated by food. We meet for lunch, coffee, drinks, appetizers at a bar, and the list goes on. For a huge group of people, farms are always at least a D.C.’s worth of distance away from their forks. Now this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking observation, but I never really stopped to think about what this means for animal agriculture as an industry until working with the Alliance. I noticed three effects in particular that caught my interest.

People Want Information

Most restaurants I went to engaged in some fashion of advertising the origin of their products. Local beef, Boars Head meats, all eggs from insert-farm-name-here, etc. adorned signs in business after business. People generally want to make smart choices; they want to eat food they know is healthy and humanely raised, so they seek out certain products that they think will benefit them in these regards. This should be wonderful news for the animal agriculture crowd, because we aspire to produce just that kind of food. And for many of the farms with their names listed in D.C. restaurants, I’d say this consumer demand for information is working out rather well. However, people don’t always have correct or complete information.

People Don’t Always Have Good Information

Although consumers want to make the most informed decision concerning food purchases, they are often bombarded with statements that misleading. The amount of people who think a “No Hormones Added” label to chicken means anything at all – no chicken sold in the U.S. has added hormones – is astounding. It can be difficult for consumers to wade through all the disinformation and misinformation surrounding food so that they can make the best decision possible.

Long Live Price and Taste

Regardless of how somebody purchases food based on the first two observations, price and taste remain the most significant factors in determining food choices. Once again, those engaged in animal agriculture should be overjoyed, because we do aspire to produce flavorful and reasonably priced products.

The animal agriculture industry today has the opportunity to continue bridging the gap between farm and fork. Consumers will continue to have questions about our food supply; farmers and industry leaders need to ensure they are present to answer the questions.