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Understanding Consumers’ Relationship with Food

Dr. Tamika Sims, director of food technology communications at The International Food Information Council shares key findings from their recent Food and Health Survey.

The majority of today’s population is several generations removed from agriculture and are often susceptible to believing myths and misinformation about how their food is produced. To help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork, it is key to first understand consumers’ relationship with food. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey marked the 12th installment of this signature research.  This year’s survey shed light on the way consumers think about and perceive food and health, providing deep insights into food habits and purchase drivers. It investigated important issues regarding consumer confusion, the food information landscape, heath and diet, food components, food production, sustainability, and food safety. The online survey included 1,002 Americans from ages 18 to 80 and was nationally representative.

Sustainability Taking a Top Spot for More than Half of Consumers

Sustainability is a broad term, and can mean many different things to different people. Over half of Americans stated that the importance of food being produced in a sustainable way was either “very important” or “somewhat important.” To understand what consumers valued, specific to sustainability, the Food and Health survey found that reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food, conserving the natural habitat, and conserving farmland over multiple generations were the top three reasons. Fewer consumers highlighted that the food supply was a consideration in their understanding of sustainability.

Consumers and Industry Understand Sustainability Differently

The intriguing narrative presented by these data show that the features of sustainability that consumers found least important are the aspects that the food industry is more focused on. For example, the food industry is committed to producing more food with less natural resources and has developed pledges to reduce the use of greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste created from their products.

Confidence in Food Supply Down Slightly

The Food and Health Survey also investigated consumer trust and confidence in the food supply. More than 50% of Americans stated that they were “somewhat confident” or ”very confident” in the safety of the U.S. food supply, down slightly from last year’s survey.

Consumers were also asked what they considered to be the most important food safety issues today. Data demonstrated that foodborne illness from bacteria was the most important food safety issue, with about 25% of Americans highlighting this concern. Further, carcinogens and cancer-causing chemicals in food were ranked second on the list of food safety issues, with significantly more consumers citing this as their top concern compared last year.

Confidence in Animal Products High after Knowledge of FDA Rule

Animal antibiotics got a spotlight question this year to follow-up from the 2016 Survey. With the new FDA antibiotic rule that recently came into effect, the survey aimed to gain knowledge into changing consumer feelings towards animal products. This rule prohibits the use of growth-promotion antibiotics and states that antibiotic issuance must include veterinary oversight for the administration of certain drugs. These tactics are aimed to limit antimicrobial resistance in animals and humans. The Food and Health Survey examined if this rule altered consumer confidence in purchasing animal products as well as confidence in veterinarians and farmers using antibiotics responsibly. The survey found that just below 50% of consumers were at least “somewhat more confident” in purchasing animal products and responsible use of antibiotics by farmers and veterinarians.

If you wish to learn more insights from our survey, please follow the link below to the full report.

2017 Food and Health Survey


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3 Tips for Consumer Engagement this Fair Season

wheel

Summer is upon us and while I was growing up, that only meant one thing: county fair season is here! Once school was out in early June, I spent each summer morning and afternoon in the barn with my family doing chores and preparing for the county fair. This included many hours spent washing my livestock, walking them around a practice show ring, watching the news and reading the paper to learn about what was happening in the industry and organizing my tack to get ready for the fair.

In addition to showing my livestock, some of the most memorable moments were spent hanging out with my friends in the barn. Every once in a while, though, somebody would pass through the barns and make a comment about how farmers do not care for their animals or another hurtful claim. Whether these individuals were uninformed consumers or animal activists trying to disrupt the fair, it was important to know how to respond. Recently, animal extremists have been targeting agriculture fairs as a way to protest animal agriculture, so I want to take this opportunity to share some suggestions for handling these types of situations.

1 – Communicate Respectfully
I’m sure that those of us who grew up showing livestock can recall a handful of conversations with consumers walking through the barn. Some of those conversations were comical – like the time a woman declared that my friend’s goats were ‘adorable!’ when in fact, she was looking at four sheep. Or when a man and his son asked if I was spraying chemicals on my pig when actually I was using a spray bottle filled with water to keep my pigs cool in the summer heat. While it is easy to laugh at these absurd questions and remarks, we should use them as chances to educate. Instead of responding with an eye roll, take the opportunity to engage with the fair-goer and share a positive story of how you care for your animals.

If animal extremists confront you, seek a fair manager or other designated spokesperson to help. Having a designated spokesperson to answer questions and share key messages with the activists will alleviate pressure on the youth exhibitors and the exhibitors will  also learn from the experience.

2 – Show You Care
Just as the old saying goes: they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Often those walking through the livestock barns are interested in learning more about animals and how they are raised. In order to be seen as a trustworthy source, show fair-goers you care by telling them how you care for your animals. It can be easy to complete your daily chore routine with nothing more than a glance in the fair-goers’ direction. Instead, chore time could be a great opportunity to explain what ingredients are in the feed that your animal eats, and how you prepare your animal for the fair.

3- Tell Them Why
NutrientsInMeatIt is no secret that livestock exhibitors often get asked, “Are you really going to eat that animal after the fair?!” or “Why do you show your animal?” Let fair-goers know that you were aware when you decided to participate in the livestock project that your animal would become an important part of the food supply. Meat is an important source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals that are not found in plant-based foods. Be sure to remind them that because of farmers, we have food, fuel and fiber that make our day-to-day lives possible.

For those that question why you participate in livestock shows, share with them what you have learned. For me, it was a tremendous amount of responsibility that came with raising animals and caring for them daily, often putting their needs before my own. I made lasting friendships with my fair friends who shared my values and passion for animal agriculture. Showing livestock also meant that I was able to contribute to the food chain by raising a nutritious product that would provide food for a family’s table. And more than anything, showing livestock allowed me to spend time with my family in a way that no other activity could.

So next time a family walks through the barn at your county fair, take the time to answer their questions and tell them about your project – engage with them and show them how you care for your animal. Always be sure to treat fair-goers with respect so they learn to understand, appreciate and respect our livelihood in the animal agriculture industry.

For more fair and exposition security and engagement tips, contact the Animal Agriculture Alliance at hthompson@animalagalliance.org or call 703-562-5160.


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Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

It’s lights, camera, action for America’s farmers and ranchers – whether they auditioned or not. Films are popping up on the big (and small) screen, putting animal agriculture under increased scrutiny. These films often claim they are “shedding light” on the agriculture industry, but they usually leave out the true story.

Producer vs. Producer 

It could be a great thing to have American farmers and ranchers showcased for raising the safest food supply out there and providing great care to their animals, but when film producers attack the producers of our food, fuel and fiber it can spread misconceptions and “alternative facts” – especially when the films are produced by or in collaboration with animal rights groups.

Producing films (and publishing books) is not a new tactic animal rights groups are using to further their mission of putting farmers and ranchers who produce meat, milk, poultry and eggs out of business, but they are getting more attention in recent years. This is due to increased interest in how food gets from the farm to the fork along with the popularity of movie platforms like Netflix.

Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

Documentaries are supposed to provide a factual report of a certain event or issue, but the films produced by activists skew the truth or ignore it all together. Some claim they are giving an “unbiased” look into how food is raised on farms, but is it unbiased if the film is produced a vegan who only interviews other vegans?

Activist films are often how myths get started – because if it’s in a “documentary” it must be 100 percent true, right? Here are a few ways to tell if you’re watching an activist movie, or as Leah McGrath, dietitian and agvocate, likes to call them – “Shockumentaries.”

  • Cherry-picking studies
  • Playing ominous background music
  • Using outdated information and studies from 1841
  • Taking things out of context
  • An animal rights group is the main sponsor
  • The overwhelming majority of the cast is vegan
  • The call to action is “GO VEGAN!”

One of the main claims from an activist film recently released to Netflix is eating one egg is the same as smoking five cigarettes. I was honestly happy to hear this lie included because any rational person would recognize it as crazy and discredit the rest of the movie.

A pig farm

The Animal Agriculture Alliance has more than 20 movie and book reports summarizing these activist films which are available to our members. Each report lists out the main claims so you don’t have to go through the trouble of wasting an hour or two of your time, but can stay informed on what the other side is saying about our industry.

What’s worth watching…

As for what you should watch to learn more about agriculture and food production, how about videos of farmers taking you on a virtual tour of their farms?! They may not be as dramatic as the activist films, but they do show the truth. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fresh Air Farmer – a dairy farmer from Canada taking you on a different farm tour every week (from a celery farm to a pig farm!)
  • Farmland – a movie showcasing young farmers and ranchers across the United States
  • Chicken Checkin videos – the National Chicken Council put together a series of videos showing how broiler chickens are raised
  • Farm tour from Tyson Foods chicken farm – a recent video by Tyson Foods, Inc. about their commitment to animal care and sustainability
  • The Udder Truth – series of videos from dairy farmers about what really happens on America’s dairy farms
  • Veal farm tour – a veal farmer from Wisconsin invites you on a virtual tour
  • Turkey farm tour – a turkey farmers from California takes viewers onto his farm

Turkey farm tour!

Farmers and ranchers realize how important it is to be transparent and many have added advocate to their list of farm chores. They’re the true experts on farm animal care and know if they don’t tell their story animal rights activists will not only tell their version of the story, but make it into a book or film. So, the next time you hear of a “documentary” about animal agriculture ask yourself this question: who is telling the story? The farmers and ranchers who raise and care for the animals or the activists who could care less about animal care and just want to take meat off everyone’s plate?

 


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The Alliance Taught Me The Importance of “Why?”

Day One

With any internship, the first day is always the most nerve racking. When starting, there is an expected level of anticipation for traditional intern responsibilities, followed by acceptance because that is the circle of life in the work place. On day one I expected to be picking up coffee, taking clothes to the dry cleaners and answering phones and taking messages. But after day one I quickly learned these were not the tasks I would be responsible for.

I was fortunate enough to play a crucial role in the Alliance this summer; I was able to participate in a number of tasks. I attended two animal rights conferences, drafted several blogs, created social media content, connected with interns working in all aspects of the industry, and tracked media outlets to remain current on industry trends. And while the work load never let up I learned an invaluable lesson this summer. I learned the importance of “Why?”

Understanding the Importance of “Why?”

The need to communicate agricultural practices is at a high. Consumers have become more concerned about where their food is coming from. They want to know the practices that producers use and if these practices line up with their lifestyle, and so they ask the question, “why?” Why farmers implement certain practices, why do companies process food the way they do, why are certain ingredients used, the list is long but the question is the same.

Today all the information that consumers need is at their fingertips. At the click of a button on their phones, laptops, tablets and more, consumers can search for answers to their questions and find them. But there are two sides to every story. This saying is almost cliché because we have heard it uttered so many times, but for the animal agriculture community it could not be truer. A large part of the mission of the Alliance is to protect, to understand who is outputting misleading information with an ulterior motive because no one likes to be the target.

Communication Builds Community

With information coming from multiple sources, why shouldn’t it come from the farmers and ranchers as well, with unbeatable force? By sharing this information consumers are able to build trust by relating their needs to practices and trust leads to continued business transactions. It is commonly said that the biggest problem with communication is that we do not listen to understand; we listen to reply. By understanding the meaning behind “Why?” farmers and ranchers can be reiterating the mutual values they hold with consumers. Communication will lead to community.

A fellow intern this summer quoted, “A customer does not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The animal agriculture community emphasizes animal care every day and this is just one answer to many questions that consumers hold. There is an abundance of information available, but is it the right information? This summer I have asked a lot of questions and I have answered just as many, but most importantly I have learned to understand the importance of “Why?”


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Everyone Needs a Farmer, Three Times a Day

A Growing Community

The agriculture community is vast and continues to not only grow, but also to develop new practice methods. In a field so large not only can it be difficult to be well versed on all its subject matter, but it is also easy to find information that is subjective as opposed to objective. As an intern at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, my experiences have exposed me to the wide scope of information being shared along with those who are sharing it. In short, I have acknowledged the importance of the connection that needs to be made with all sides of the spectrum regarding individuals and their eating habits.

FFALike many people I do not have a background in agriculture. Agriculture was not a field I had involvement in until I took my first agriculture science class as a freshman in high school. The class exposed me to the unspoken truth that was made notable by Brenda Schoepp. “Once in your life you may need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” It is when I finally understood this truth that I knew I wanted to become more vocal in speaking out on issues of concern for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

A Need for Effective Communication 

Currently there is a great need to bridge the communication gap regarding the truth that serves as the backbone of American animal agriculture. America’s farmers and ranchers have faced combative comments from animal activists as well as animal rights organizations. They want to know what the agriculture community’s defense is and explain again how farmers and ranchers care. These comments are all confrontational in nature, but by following two steps when responding to – or proactively confronting – these comments the agriculture community can take progressive strides forward regarding farmer’s sincere consideration for animal welfare.

  1. Focus on a particular segment of agriculture

    Photo by: Laura Bardot

    Photo by: Laura Bardot

Animal agriculture encompasses many different species and topics, such as animal welfare. Focus on a particular topic such as pigs, chickens, beef cattle, etc. With all of the different species, there are different farmers and ranchers utilizing different techniques. Because of this, farmers frequently specialize in one of the livestock or poultry species. With this specialization, farmers and ranchers can not only provide more tailored care and welfare practices for their animals, they can also provide specifically designed nutrition plans and specially designed housing. Consumers are hungry to know more about their food. By highlighting the benefits of specialization through focusing on the information about particular species, the consumer can see the emphasis farmers and ranchers put on animal welfare.

  1. Provide facts

Consumers want to know where their food is coming from. By providing facts and adding them to anecdotes of farmers utilizing these practices, information will be better retained. Farmers are constantly learning about new practices and systems they can use to raise their livestock, similarly to how consumers are constantly learning about where their food is coming from. As the majority of consumers are more than two generations removed from the farm, it is difficult to fully understand why farmers do what they do. This is why we encourage consumers to do their own research and decide for themselves what they should eat or not eat. In today’s world, food labels are becoming harder and harder to read, therefore, farmers are trying to be open about how their livestock is raised. The facts about your food are out there, go get them.

13941052_1204172576288928_195915745_nContinue Your Education 

President Kennedy said, “Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something for which they are penalized.” Then and now, the education of agriculture needs to be continuously spread. By being specific in the information being shared and providing facts along with anecdotes the true face of animal agriculture will leave no room for contentious questions. Never stop learning because agriculture never stops teaching.


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Don’t let misinformation become someone’s truth

We are all consumers. We all have our preferences regarding the types of foods we like to purchase and eat, but our purchasing decisions should be based on facts, not fear and misinformation.

IMG_17411I recently attended the annual Glenview Dairy Breakfast and Stockshow at the Historic Wagoner Farm, a family-oriented event filled with games, a tasty breakfast and barnyard animals. My job was to answer any questions people had about animal agriculture and animal care. Almost every person I spoke with didn’t necessarily have a question, but rather a statement they wanted me to verify. Unfortunately, all of their statements were laced with misinformation.

Here are a few of the myths and misinformation I heard:

“I don’t buy products in the store that come from factory farms.”

When people say “factory farm” they are usually referring to large farms, but size does not automatically make a farm good or bad. What matters is how the farm is managed.

It takes farms of all sizes and types to make up the agriculture community and provide consumers with healthy food choices. Large farms can be conventional, organic or local and the same is true for small farms. Large farms often have the resources to hire animal care specialists, veterinarians and animal nutritionists to be on staff to help care for the animals using advanced technology that not only benefits the animals, but the farmer as well.

Farmers may prefer to raise their animals or grow their crops in different ways, but one thing all farmers share is the commitment to animal care and food safety. One way the animal agriculture community ensures their herds and flocks are healthy and receive the best care is through quality assurance programs and constant research and dedication towards continuous improvement.

Advances-in-Animal-Ag

Advances in Animal Ag Infographic

Perfectionism does not exist in agriculture because farmers are always looking for ways to improve and evolve as new research and technology becomes available. The Alliance recently released a report and infographic highlighting the advances in animal care, food safety, responsible antibiotic use and sustainability achieved by animal agriculture.

“What are you doing to prevent farmers from abusing their animals?”

To assume that farmers mistreat their animals is quite disheartening because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Farmers and ranchers care about the well-being of their animals and work hard to ensure they are providing the best possible care every day. Groups that want you to think otherwise often use scare tactics, misinformation and highly-edited videos to convince you not to support American farmers and ranchers. When a farmer takes care of his/her animals, the animals are healthy and comfortable which yields a safe, wholesome food supply for consumers. Farmers are striving to feed us, while activist groups are striving to take protein-packed meals off our plates.

grassfinished-or-grainfinished-beef-1-638“What’s the deal with grass-fed and grain-fed?”

A common misconception is that grain-finished cattle never eat a blade of green grass, but all cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pasture. Some cattle are grass-finished and others are grain-finished. Grain-finished means they are fed a nutritionally-balanced diet of grains, vitamins and minerals for the last 3-6 months of their lives.

Farmers work closely with veterinarians, animal nutritionists and animal care experts to ensure their animals receive the right amount of nutrients at the right time. Whether the animal is grass-finished or grain-finished does not correlate with the quality of care they receive. Ninety percent of United States cattle are raised under the guidelines established by the Beef Quality Assurance program – a science-based program that helps farmers and ranchers raise their cattle using proven techniques and recommendations from animal care specialists.

Myth-busting marathon

What I honestly hoped would be a day filled with sharing coloring books with children and Alliance resources with parents quickly turned into a myth-busting marathon, but I would run the marathon again in a heartbeat. The people I spoke with were only repeating what they had heard from advertisements, activist groups and misinformed friends. Once I started a conversation with parents addressing their concerns and sharing the truth about how farmers care for their animals, they planted their feet in the ground and we had long discussions that left them smiling and thankful to hear the other side of the story.

We need to share our agriculture story so they hear the truth. Go to events, be active on social media, talk to people in your community and don’t let misinformation become what they think is the truth!IMG_17621

About the author: 

I didn’t grow up on farm, but as soon as I met a farmer I knew I wanted to help tell their story. I am the communications coordinator at the Animal Agriculture Alliance responsible for social media, website management and member resources, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and telling farmers’ stories every day. 


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5 things to know for #JuneDairyMonth

june-dairy-month-twIf you read my last blog post, you may know that I am a dairy cow person. Something about those black and white spots drew me in and I stuck around for the ice cream. During my collegiate studies, I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the hardworking individuals who look over these cows and provide high quality dairy products for American families. Here is some information to know for June Dairy Month:

1. Animal care is the first concern for dairy farmers.  

Animal well-being and care is the top priority in any production animal facility. Dairy farmers work hard to ensure that every animal receives the best 12442717_1081168835279252_1142547140_ntreatment. Calves grow up to become the cows that produce milk, so farmers make it a priority to get them off to a healthy start. Most dairy calves are moved into calf hutches – clean, dry individual pens that have ample space for the calf to freely move about – after birth and live there for the first three months. Each calf receives individual milk feedings while also having access to water and feed around the clock. Housing calves individually prevents disease between calves, allows the farmer to closely monitor each calf, and gives the calf a clean environment to live in.

Cow comfort is important to dairy farmers because comfortable cows are happy cows. Dairy farmers provide clean, dry bedding for their cows and access to food and water 24 hours a day. Farmers closely watch the herd to monitor each cow. Dairy producers are committed to providing quality animal care.

 

2. Dairy farmers work with veterinarians and other experts to provide the highest quality products and animal care.

The dairy industry works with veterinarians and other experts to establish guidelines for the proper care of dairy cows. The National Dairy FARM Program is a nationwide, verifiable animal well-being program that brings consistency and uniformity to on-farm animal care and production practices. The FARM program provides resources for farmers including materials on animal care, environmental stewardship and herd health. More than 90 percent of all the milk in the United States comes from farmers who have joined the FARM program. FARM promotes a culture of continuous improvement that inspires dairy farmers to do things even better every day.

3. Dairy farmers are committed to environmental stewardship

Dairy farmers live on or near the land that they farm. They understand the importance of protecting natural resources and that caring for the land, water and air is a responsibility they share with he local community. Dairy farmers work with experts to find ways to reduce their environmental footprint, conserve water and develop renewable energy sources. Dairy farmers can recycle manure as high quality fertilizer on the fields. Federal, state and local clean water laws regulate how manure is applied on cropland, so nutrients are absorbed by crops, not groundwater. Farmers can clean, recycle, and reuse dairy cow bedding. The dairy industry has significantly reduced the greenhouse gas emissions that goes along with making a gallon of milk and has voluntarily committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emission by another 25 percent by 2020. Dairy farmers know that the key to sustainability in agriculture is only reached by being responsible stewards of the environment.

4. All milk goes through strict quality controls to ensure safety.

Dairy farmers are committed to providing a safe, wholesome dairy products like cheese, milk and yogurt. Strict governmental standards ensure that both conventional and organic milk are wholesome, safe and nutritious, so you can feel confident in consuming all varieties of milk, cheese and yogurt. Milking equipment delivers milk directly from the cows in a refrigerated holding tank to preserve freshness and safety. The milk is then quickly transported to processing plants for continued freshness and safety. Did you know that every tank of milk in the United States is tested for antibiotics? In the unlikely event that milk tests positive for antibiotics, it is disposed of immediately and does not enter the food supply. All of these measures demonstrate dairy farmers’ commitment to providing safe and healthy products.

5. Milk is a nutritious part to any diet!

10330405_10153364680446479_6084401011259896718_n

If you are a lucky calf, you can drink your milk and have your ice cream too!

Dairy is an important source of vital nutrients including calcium, vitamin A, phosphorus and protein. Dairy isn’t just milk, of course. Other dairy foods, such as yogurt and cheese, are packed with nutrients and vitamins that are part of a healthy lifestyle. For good health and essential nutrients, it is important to get your three servings of dairy everyday!

So go ahead and enjoy that glass of milk, cup of yogurt, slice of cheese or my favorite, scoop of ice cream. If you want to know more about the dairy community, visit www.dairygood.org!

Happy June Dairy Month!

 

 

 


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ALL chicken is free of added hormones!

Winter storm Jonas sure left a lot of east coast residents snowed in for a few days! After everyone secured their milk and bread, we bundled up and waited for the biggest snow fall many of us have ever seen and once 30+ inches hit the ground we waited some more. Waited for the snow plows to come, for the sun to shine and for our hands to thaw from shoveling our driveways.

Most people didn’t return to work until Wednesday with many streets still white and the federal government closed. This allowed ample time to watch television and of course with television comes commercials. As I was binge watching HGTV, two commercials caught my attention.

945870_10153214630345636_8173192544720295372_nAll chicken is free of added hormones and steroids

One commercial was about chicken and proudly stated “our chicken is free of added hormones and steroids!” Now this isn’t a lie by any means – I’m sure their chicken is free of added hormones and steroids. Why? Because ALL chicken is free of added hormones and steroids! They simply stated a fact about all poultry products, but someone who may not be as familiar with animal agriculture might be led to believe that only this particular company’s chicken is free of such things.

Added hormones and steroids have been illegal in poultry and pig production for the past 50 years, yet it is still a myth many consumers believe is true. Although no chicken has added hormones, it is key to remember that all living things produce hormones naturally. This is why chicken shouldn’t be labeled “hormone-free,” but can be labeled as “raised without added hormones.”

When I watched the commercial all I could do was roll my eyes, and then another commercial came on that made me roll my eyes again.

All milk is tested for antibiotic residues 12509845_10153240602540636_7357635977960804751_n

This commercial was about milk and they said their milk is “always tested for antibiotics.”

Antibiotic use is a hot issue right now with everyone concerned about antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are one tool farmers and ranchers use to help treat, prevent and control disease to take care of their animals. The majority of antibiotics used in animal agriculture are different from the ones used in human medicine, but the agricultural community is committed to reducing antibiotic use too.

If any food-producing animal is treated with an antibiotic, they must go through a withdrawal period before they can be processed. The withdrawal period depends on the specific type of antibiotic used and the type and size of the animal receiving the antibiotic. For dairy cows, their milk must be dumped while they are on the antibiotic and for the withdrawal period afterwards. All milk is tested for antibiotic residue before it reaches your grocery store shelf.

It’s all delicious and nutritious!

I understand why the companies use such advertising – they are simply trying to sell their product. They are not intentionally trying to mislead consumers. If I were in their shoes and simply trying to sell a product, I might be tempted to do the same thing (although I wish they would just stick to saying their product is delicious and nutritious!).

Now that the store shelves are fully-stocked again, know that whatever chicken, milk, turkey, eggs or beef you decide to buy – whether it has a label full of buzzwords or not, it is all safe, delicious and nutritious!


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Farm tours and a city girl

image11My internship with the Alliance is coming to an end, and I’m sad to leave no matter how great South Florida temperatures are sounding right now! I’ve learned so much during my time here – not only about animal agriculture but about life in general. I think that the number one life lesson I’ll be taking back to Florida with me is this: no matter what the situation is, I need to look into things myself and form my own opinions before accepting what I read and hear as fact.

image31Throughout my internship with the Alliance, I’ve had the privilege of visiting several farms.  I was able to tour both the pork adventure and the dairy adventure at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Indiana. A major poultry company’s employees were kind enough to give me and some of my coworkers a tour of one of their hatcheries as well as two chicken farms.  I was also lucky enough to visit an Angus beef cattle farm and a sheep farm.  Through these experiences, I have gotten an opportunity to collect an understanding of the way modern animal agriculture really looks.  I’m more than happy to share with you the things I’ve learned along the way:

Some things may look confusing if you don’t have the context behind science-based practices.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I went into this internship without any experience in animal agriculture.  I would be considered a typical consumer.  I’ve learned that the first step in creating a better understanding of animal agriculture is for us as consumers to be aware that we do not know everything about the industry – and with such a broad and diverse industry, it would be hard for anyone to! Farmers make up only 2% of the population in America and many of us are removed from agriculture by several generations.  It’s not a bad thing, it just means that we might need some additional information for us to fully understand what and why farmers do certain things.

Ready to tour a chicken barn!

Ready to tour a chicken barn!

For example, if someone posted a picture of broiler chickens (chickens raised for meat) claiming that they are raised in crowded barns, we might believe that chickens are raised without the space they need to roam and be comfortable.  A closer look into the truth reveals that experts with the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) have conducted studies and found that broiler chickens need a minimum of one-half square foot per bird.  Typical chicken barns, however, allow eight-tenths of a square foot per bird.  Chickens have a flocking mentality, which means that they like to be in close proximity to one another.  So, while some may claim broiler chickens are raised in overcrowded conditions, the truth is that the birds are given more than the necessary space they need and they group together out of preference.

This is only one example.  More than likely, there are management practices that consumers might not understand at first glance in every species-specific part of animal agriculture. Farmers rely on science-based practices to take the best care of their animals and many farmers (like the ones I met!) are more than happy to explain why they do what they do – we just need to ask.

Farmers are passionate about what they do.

Farmers are passionate about their work.  That’s something that I was able to witness first-hand.  It was easy for me to tell just by studying their

image17faces that they were proud of their workplaces and were happy to have visitors look around at the results of their hard work.  When one of us asked a particular farmer why he has chosen to continue raising chickens over the years, he smiled and happily answered, “We just like raising chickens.”  If you had met the Angus beef cattle farmer that I met, there would be no doubt in your mind that he is passionate about what he does.  The sheep farmer that showed us around his farm was equally passionate about his animals.  It stood as a common theme throughout my farm tours, and it’s something I’ll remember for a long time.

Farmers want to do their job well and provide the best care for their animals.

Farmers want to treat their animals well not only because it’s their passion, but also because it’s their business.  This requires farmers to build relationships with the animals they raise.  We had a lot of discussion while touring farms, most of which centered around animal image28care.  One thing that really struck me was that when we asked questions like “How do you know what to do to make the animals the most comfortable?” several different farmers would say something to the effect of “They’ll tell me what they need.”  In order to build this kind of intimacy with the animals they raise, farmers spend a lot of time with them studying their behaviors. Good animal management pays farmers back in more ways than one.  Well cared for animals are not only the pride of the farmer, but also create a better market and a happier consumer.

After getting a behind-the-scenes look, I feel confident that the animal products I eat are a result of responsible animal care and a farmer’s careful attention.

I know that people are becoming more and more interested in the food they eat and where it came from, and that is a wonderful thing!  After getting an inside look into the world of animal agriculture, I can say that I feel comfortable eating the burgers, pork chops, eggs, milk, chicken and turkey I love.  I hope my story and experience encourages you to ask your own questions and form your own opinions.  I will say that after finding my own answers, I’m confident that you’ll be pleased with what you learn as well!


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!