Animal Ag Engage


Sustainability is more than a buzzword for farmers and ranchers

We’ve all heard the word sustainability, but what does it really mean? For farmers and ranchers, it’s a promise to future generations. A promise that they will care for the land, air, water and livestock in a way that ensures their children can take over the family business if they so choose.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance puts together a report every year spotlighting farmers and ranchers commitment to continuous improvement in animal care, responsible antibiotic use, environmental sustainability and food safety.

Here are a few key points from the 2017 report:

  • The health of broiler chickens in the U.S. continues to improve with scientific advancements in genetics, management and nutrition. As a result of these industry-adopted developments, quarterly mortality rates remain at historic lows. According to 2016 statistics, today’s mortality rate is 4.8 percent compared to 18 percent in 1925.
  • Hens under the United Egg Producers Certified program now account for 95 percent of all the nations laying hens and are independently audited annually based on guidelines recommended by a committee of world-renowned scientists in areas of food safety and animal behavior.
  • In turkeys, the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service reported Salmonella continued to decline to 1.7 percent in its most recent analysis updated in 2015. The turkey industry has continued to aggressively drive down the occurrence of Salmonella, to achieve the lowest count possible among raw poultry products.
  • The pork industry’s flagship education program for farmers and employees is the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus. As of March 2017, more than 63,000 farmers and farm employees were PQA Plus certified.
  • More than 80 percent of research funded by America’s beef producers is used throughout the beef supply chain on a daily basis to enhance the safety of beef and beef products.
  • The U.S. dairy industry conducts almost four million tests each year on all milk entering dairy plants. In 2017, only 0.011 percent of all milk tanker samples tested positive for residues of animal medications, indicating that efforts at detecting and deterring harmful drug residues in milk are effective. Those samples that tested positive were dumped and never reached the grocery store shelf.

Sustainability is more than a buzzword to farmers and ranchers. It is their promise to never stop giving food, fuel and fiber to families across our nation and around the world.

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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


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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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!


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!

Happy June Dairy Month!




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5 things to know for #BeefMonth

May is the month to celebrate everything BEEF! Here are five things to know for beef month (and every other month!):twitter-beef

What is a rancher???

Before we get too far, let’s discuss the difference between a farmer and a rancher. Typically, farmers are those who grow crops but chicken, turkey, egg, pig and dairy producers are also commonly called farmers. Those who raise sheep and cattle are often called ranchers. Make sense?

More than 97 percent of beef cattle ranches are family owned!

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and their National Agricultural Statistics Service, 97 percent of all beef cattle ranches in the United States are family owned. Some ranches may be big and others may be small, but they all share the same passion in raising cattle and commitment to animal care.

Cattle ranchers care for their cattle by providing a nutritious diet, good medical care and healthy living conditions. Here are a three ways cattle ranchers care for their cattle:

  1. Cattle ranchers work closely with veterinarians to keep their cattle healthy.
  2. Professional animal nutritionists help ranchers develop a balanced and nutritious diet for their cattle.
  3. The Beef Quality Assurance program assists ranchers by providing information about science-based husbandry techniques to help ranchers care for their cattle.

Untitled-designCattle ranchers live on or near the land that they ranch – they care about the environment too!

Beef cattle ranchers are committed to continuous improvement and strive to take care of the land on which they raise their cattle. In fact, the ranchers often live and raise their families on the land as well and work hard to ensure they are providing for the future generation of cattle ranchers. Between 1997 and 2007, the beef community produced each pound of beef using 19 percent less feed, 33 percent less land, 12 percent less water and 9 percent less fossil fuels.

In a recent report released by the USDA, all of agriculture was reported to be responsible for only 10 percent of total green house gas emissions in 2014 while transportation accounted for 26 percent.

It’s not just beef!

Although most Americans love a grilled steak at a summer cookout or a big bowl of spicy chili when it’s cold outside, beef cattle yield more than just beef! Did you know baseball gloves, lipstick, tires, soap, asphalt, piano keys, photo film and much more also come from cattle!

Now you know a little bit more about beef cattle – Happy Beef Month!

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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Is it immoral to promote systems that do less with more?

“I believe it is immoral to promote systems that do less with more.” Cameron Bruett, chief sustainability officer and head of corporate affairs for JBS USA Holdings, Inc., introduced this idea at our 2015 Summit during his presentation on sustainability. I knew that being resourceful, efficient and thinking about the future was the smart thing to do, but to say that it is immoral if you support and promote systems that aren’t – I had never exactly thought of it in terms of morality, but I think Mr. Bruett has a point.

Doing less with more 

Is it immoral to promote systems that don’t take advantage of scientists’ research about technology, biotechnology and other improvements to further and better agriculture? Perhaps it is. People have accepted and welcomed innovations and and improvements using technology in other areas that directly affect their lives, so why is there a hesitation to accept innovative techniques in agriculture?

The same people who are completely against modern agriculture probably have an iPhone, have taken medicine in their life, have used a GPS system and can’t wait for the next new thing to come out.

Well, the idea of genetic engineering and selection isn’t new by any means, but it’s here and ready to help produce more with less. And yet people are pushing it into a dark corner. Why?

As the population continues to increase, farmers and ranchers are expected to feed 9 billion people by 2050 and genetic engineering can help achieve this, yet some say it shouldn’t have a role in food production.

Sustainability, biotechnology and animal agriculture

Bruett defined sustainability as “responsibly meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to responsibly meet their own needs.” Advances in technology like genetic engineering can do just that.

Photo credit: GMO Answers

Image credit: GMO Answers

Biotechnology can prevent crop disease, control insects, manage weeds and reduce pesticide use. It also improves yields, keeps food affordable and has no effect on human health. It has been researched to death and nothing harmful has been found to come from using biotechnology. Biotechnology is safe and benefits the farmer, the environment and the consumer.

So how does biotechnology have a role in animal agriculture? Well, livestock and poultry eat too. For more than 20 years, livestock and poultry have consumed genetically-engineered crops and producers have not seen a difference in feed efficiency or the animals’ digestion process. There is no evidence that genetically-engineered crops are unsafe to animals.

Biotechnology has not only had positive impacts in the United States, but it has the potential to help save lives in developing countries.

Image credit: TIME Magazine

Image credit: TIME Magazine

“If you can add vitamin A to a developing world’s staple food, you can save lives,” said Mandy Hagan, vice president of state affairs and grassroots at Grocery Manufacturers Association.

To realize that we have this level of technology is amazing to me, but the fact that people are still against it also astounds me.  I’d have to say media sometimes portrays these advances in a negative light and puts a level of uncertainty into consumer perception. For example, if you’ve seen that dreaded tomato with a syringe sticking out of it and think that is biotechnology, you have been misled. Biotechnology involves genes and takes place at the production level, it isn’t injecting chemicals into food.

Continuous improvement 

Are people who oppose biotechnology and want everyone else to oppose it as well being immoral? Maybe. Or maybe they just don’t know what they don’t know. And in that case, if they are lobbying against the use of something without taking the time to research the facts, then I think they are definitely being careless.

If a company wants to not use certain techniques or systems in their production methods because it works for them then that’s their choice, but to rally against the use of sustainable methods for everyone isn’t the way to go.

Advances in technology that are able to use less input and get the same or greater amount of output help keep food costs down while still producing a product that is safe and nutritious along with providing environmental benefits.  It’s really a win-win, so why not take advantage of it?

Image credit:

Image credit: ISAAA

Agriculture has come a very long way and I would argue that it is the best it has ever been because farmers and ranchers don’t view sustainability as a destination; there is always room for improvement. Continuous improvement, even – because everyone has a different definition of perfection and because research and technology is always advancing.

I encourage everyone to join agriculture’s journey of continuous improvement by not only staying informed yourself, but sharing credible, factual content with your friends about sustainability and modern agriculture and basing your opinions and decisions off of factual information.

For more information on sustainability, biotechnology and modern agriculture check out GMO AnswersBiotechnology Industry Organization and the video below!