Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
Until next time,
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Clearing the Air has been receiving tons of great media attention and has been highlighted in articles in The Washington Times, The Register (UK), The Daily Telegraph (UK), The Des-Moines Register and has had postings on Yahoo! News online and broadcast reports on FOX news and BBC. To add to the good news, the U.N. admitted that the figures concerning livestock in Livestock's Long Shadow were exaggerated in comparison to transportation. Pierre Gerber, Policy Officer for the U.N's FAO, replied to Mitloehner's criticisms after Clearing the Air came out: "I must say honestly that he has a point - we factored in everything for meat emissions, and we didn't do the same thing with transport."
Click to read more about Clearing the Air.
This a great triumph for the agriculture industry -- people are paying attention to the facts about livestock production. Hopefully, The NY Times will follow suit and print an article highlighting the hard facts from Clearing the Air.
Until next time,
I think one of the biggest challenges for our generation of agriculturists is connecting with an increasingly urban group of consumers and politicians. The average person today is 2 generations removed from the farm and this number is going to continue to grow. At the same time, people are wanting to know more about the food they are eating than ever before. I think it will be up to agriculturists to reach out and make this connection, especially over the Internet.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Now, Therefore, be it Resolved, That I, Jennifer M. Granholm, governor of the state of Michigan, do hereby proclaim March 20, 2010, Michigan Meatout Day in Michigan. In observance of this day, I encourage the residents of this state to choose not to eat meat. Eating a healthy diet can be fun. Explore the different recipes that can be created by using fresh ingredients and by having a sense of adventure.
To add insult to injury March 20 just happens to be National Ag Day.
Click here to read about some of the backlash from the Ag Community.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Don’t get me wrong – good things are happening too. Idaho, Vermont, Kentucky and Missouri are in various stages of establishing Livestock Care Standards Boards. In Illinois, Rep. Jim Sacia is sponsoring a bill to repeal the state’s ban on commercial horse slaughter for human consumption and in Indiana, animal care legislation passed with very little uproar.
States across the nation are standing up for agriculture, regardless of specific agendas. This pattern needs to continue; cattle, poultry, pork and dairy producers need to unite and aid each other in the fight against radical animal activists. It’s a lot tougher to take down an entire industry than it is to attack one practice. Remember the theme song from The Wonder Years “I get by with a little help from my friends”? That’s exactly what we as agriculturalists need to do. Very similar to when members of the Central Washington softball team carried an injured Western Oregon player around the bases to finish her home run – when members of one sector get hurt, the other sectors need to pick them up, dust them off and carry them home.
Go Team Ag!
Until next time,
Sunday, March 14, 2010
I was impressed with the quick response to the article coming from the College of Agriculture, although I felt some responses were much more effective than others. For me, comments that provided facts or personal experiences and addressed specific points Beth made were much more persuasive than those that simply attacked Beth as a person. I was particularly impressed by the response from fellow Food For Thought member Miles Theurer and blogged about his comments on the NCBA Young Producer's Council blog.
I sent in a letter to the editor that was never printed and thought I would share it here. Feel free to comment on how you would have handled the situation.
I like Beth Mendenhall. She’s funny, nice and really good at beer pong. I also like meat, beef especially. It’s nutritious, delicious and - unlike Beth - never beats me at beer pong.
But the Collegian opinion article “meet your meat” was anything but fun and games for people involved in agriculture across campus and around the state. I was extremely disappointed in the gross misconceptions Beth puts forth in her article. In fact, I find many things she claimed offensive. As someone who works hand in hand with livestock producers I know they care for their land and animals in a responsible way in order produce a safe, wholesome product and eventually pass their farms and ranches down to future generations.
I also take issue with the UN report Beth references. The vast majority of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributed to livestock production are from deforestation and other significant agricultural land use changes, which do not occur in the United States where we have 16 million more acres of forestland than we did a century ago.
According to EPA, the entire U.S. agricultural sector contributes just 6.4 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. (http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/downloads/08_CR.pdf).
Additionally, muscle protein is a good way to make your carbons count when it comes to your diet. For example, beef is a nutrient-dense, high protein food choice with 29 cuts that meet government lean labeling guidelines.
All that being said, there was one comment Beth made that I did appreciate. She mentioned “voting with your pocketbook.” For me, this is far superior than trying to legislate what livestock producers can or cannot do. Supply will follow demand. If you prefer an alternative like antibiotic free, locally grown meat products, and are willing to pay the premium it costs to produce them, livestock producers will happily meet your needs.
A proud 97.5 percent of Americans eat meat and should continue to do so knowing they are supporting a hard working, wholesome group of farmers and ranchers. Right now consumers are overwhelmingly voting for affordable, conventionally produced meat. This is a healthy, responsible choice. Personally, it’s my preference. Make your own decision. But also respect the opinions and decisions of others. All I ask is that you base your decisions on sound science – something Beth failed to do- and don’t attempt to pass regulations that would limit other people’s food choices.
Communication Studies Graduate Student
Yes, this is a blog from Italy! While visiting for a spring break tour of the food industry of the Tuscan Region, I have some thoughts that needed to be shared with my colleagues, producers and consumers in the US. I was seeing the markets in Florence and ran across a stand that was very similar to the HSUS and PETA campaigns in the United States. It instantly returned me to "Food for Thought" mode and inspired this blog. We also have two Californians on the trip with us and I believe the insight from this state(they do not have an apostrophe on Italian keyboards!) constituents, especially the few that vote for production agriculture, is very helpful in forming a front against activists of our industry.
Anyways, it leads me to an important topic that I plan on addressing as soon as I return to the states and that is changing things at Kansas State University. Specifically within the Animal Science Department, but it could be expanded to all majors that deal with the food industry in general. We need to have more opinion-provoking topics addressed in our lectures. Period. We need to have more lectures that involve teaching about very basics of our industry to help our students form their own opinions about what is going on today. Let me give you an example to help prove my point.
In a class that I will not name, that deals mostly with an industry I have little experience in, I point blank asked the professor how we defend the industry when looking at confinement type production practices versus looking at free-range type systems or pen housing. This was not unreasonable, I just needed background on what the industry can do to improve public perception. The professor answered matter-of-factly that he did not have a defense. I agree with not skewing lectures with opinions, but we are the minds that are being molded and Universities have to do their part. I need the opinions of my professors presented because I will take those and build my own. We need to tip on the edge of controversy so that students refuse to have no opinion on subjects that matter the most to our industry.
I apologize for the rant, but as the Italians might say - me scuzi! I just found that talking with a few of my fellow students coupled with running into an interesting anti-agriculture group in Italy, sparked a few ideas that we can improve on the "home front". What we as producers and future industry people can do to improve what the public perception is of our industry.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
View from Across the Pond By: John Strak
Producers are out of balance
(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)
I drive a Ford. It’s a new car for the family this year and we took our time looking around the showrooms last summer working out which car would suit us best as a replacement for the nine year old GM people mover that had served my growing family well.
Before we decided what to buy we went into all the details about how the new car would perform, how economical it would be, and how comfortable it would be for all of us (including the dogs). My wife and I tried to balance all of these needs against the various car models and their costs. Nothing too surprising in this experience and one that many of you will recognize.
As it was the whole family that was the customer, my teenage daughter gave me valuable advice on the gadgets and accessories that the new car needed to make our iPods and iPhones and our other 21st century electronic paraphernalia work whilst we were on the move. And my teenage son had the fuel economy and CO2 emissions numbers set out in a league table of alternative vehicle choices.
The various car salesmen we saw in different showrooms were all extremely polite and patient as we described our multiple demands and tried out all the model options and then, finally, made a selection that gave us everything we wanted – the Ford. Even if the salesmen thought that our final choice of model or make was wildly wrong, or that our mix of gadgets and accessories and vehicle colour was a little eccentric, no-one ever said so. We were, after all, the customers.
Livestock producers are not strangers to car showrooms, or tractor and machinery dealers, or the ringside of pedigree livestock sales. In other words, producers are customers too. And when they make a deal on equipment, livestock, or feed I am sure that they expect the salesmen to be just as patient and polite as they were with me when I bought my new Ford.
Here’s my point. Why do producers not see that their customers -- the ones who buy their hogs and cattle, etc from them -- might also be a little, how should I say, fussy when they make a deal? Their customers ask for freshness, quality, taste and availability and, of course, low prices. Nowadays they are even starting to ask for traceability, country of origin, and something called “sustainability.”
When they are customers producers think, correctly, that they have the right to spend their money on what they want. What stops producers from seeing that they can’t be out of balance on this issue? As suppliers they have to listen to their customers – or risk losing them.
March 10, 2010
I think it is important that as agriculturalists-specifically producers- we remain critical of our own actions. We have failed at this quite dramatically lately. No other industry in the world would get by wholly dismissing their customers as 'wrong' or 'stupid' like conventional agriculture has at times. Do consumers make decisions that are silly and uninformed? Of course they do. But just as the above blog points out, who are we, as producers, to tell them that they are wrong? This is where education must come into play. Producers can wear that hat if they'd like, but they had ought to know when to take it off and serve their customers. I would argue that the responsibility of educating consumers on what is 'right or wrong' as far as consumption decisions, lies in the hands of our private and federal researchers and scientists.
Let them explain to consumers the error of their ways while we as producers are providing them with the service and courtesy that they receive from every other industry.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Until next time,
Last month when [yellow tail] wine donated $100,000 to HSUS I read about it immediately in blog posts, on twitter, in Facebook updates and all over the agriculture media. You can even watch Advocates for Agriculture’s Troy Hadrick dump his last bottle of Yellow Tail out on YouTube. The catchy grassroots campaign slogan [yellow fail] started showing up everywhere.
[yellow tail] took notice and responded with a letter to the Animal Agriculture Alliance where the wine company pledged that any future animal welfare support would go to groups that provide hands-on care rather than lobbying organizations.
This morning Amanda Nolz posted on the BEEF Daily blog about Mary Kay being involved with an HSUS. People responded so quickly that by this afternoon Mary Kay made a statement on Facebook, correcting the record and clarifying that they were not affiliated with HSUS.
Keep a watchful eye out and soon getting in bed with HSUS will be nothing short of the kiss of death for businesses who rely on public support.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Friday, March 5, 2010
Seven out of ten Americans wrongly believe the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is a pet-shelter "umbrella group," according to a recent survey. The survey that was commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.
In my personal experience, social networking advocacy is a great way to clear up misconceptions like this. The Humane Society of the United States is an organization that – despite its misleading name – does not operate any animal shelters or spay and neuter clinics but does spend a considerable amount of its time and money lobbying against animal agriculture. From time to time, I utilize my personal Facebook page to share this with others. Below is a screen shot of an interaction where my friend Craig’s opinion of HSUS changed based on my Facebook advocacy. Craig is a law student specializing in administrative law with an interest in politics.
I had a similar interaction with my friend Tina, a Wichita nurse.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
The customer is always right. I first learned this lesson when a pot load of feeder calves arrived in our yard, only to be greeted by a very stern voice that I rarely heard come out of grandpa’s mouth. He had a few choice words about the quality of calves with the truck driver and the semi pulled out of the yard just as quickly as it had pulled in. “That kids, is why the customer is always right,” my grandfather muttered as we followed him back into the house. We were only disappointed in missing out on the fun of unloading a new group of bawling calves. I didn’t understand what he had meant that day, but perhaps it was an idea I reviewed when the waitress at our local café served a cold pot of coffee to a table of table of our bull buyers, this resulting in that stern voice again and ultimately a free meal.
I won’t go as far to disagree with the general concept of the customer always being right. After all, it is the idea that all good business practices were built upon, but I think it is a principle that could use some reflection. In the production agriculture industry, we have always looked at things from a more scientific perspective. I would say that some of our customers, or consumers, view things from more of an ethical standpoint. We all know how far apart the middle ground between science and ethics can seem.
Consumers today are identifying with a plethora of labels - the trends of organic, natural, locally owned, antibiotic and hormone free, sustainably produced and even the issues involved in animal welfare are trendy stickers in grocery store aisles. While these are all issues that consumers identify with and want to have an impact on how food is produced, they are also issues that consumers form opinions on that may not have sound foundations in science. There are reasons why corn is grown close to the cattle that consume it, why hormones and antibiotics are responsibly administered to livestock and why you don’t see rows of orange trees along the flint hills of Kansas. So we, as an industry are faced with a crossroad. Do we conform to what consumers demand and forgo the production practices that have built a safe, efficient, nutrient-dense food supply? Can we educate a growing population about the science and logic behind modern production practices? I could throw questions at the screen all day, but questions don’t lead us to solutions.
At the bottom line, today’s agriculture has created a safe, nutritious and affordable food source for our American consumers and populations outside of our country. At some point we have to realize that maybe the customer isn’t always right. I’m afraid that if we keep adhering to this concept while taking advantage of consumer (dare I say) misconceptions and the premiums available in these niche markets that we are going to find ourselves in a position of no opinion. In a place where we don’t have a say, and agriculture is controlled by these ideals that make it impossible to feed a hungry world.
Something to ponder,
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
My name is Clem Neely, and I am 23 year old first year student at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. However I am not new to the K-State scene, I graduated last May with my Bachelors of Science degree in Animal Sciences and Industry and I have been a diehard wildcat fan long before that. K-State has been a big tradition in my family for three generations.
Another tradition that is deeply rooted in my family is agriculture. In the late 1860’s my great-great-grandfather purchased his first piece of land in Neosho County, Kansas. My family still resides in that same area of Southeast Kansas and I am very proud of my family’s agricultural heritage. I often reflect on the challenges and hardships that my family and other farm families faced throughout all those years. I sometimes wish I could just have a one day to visit with my ancestors about the droughts, the floods, the Great Depression and how they decided which of one of the eleven kids got to take the first bath on Saturday night.
Today, we involved with agriculture are confronted with numerous hurdles, many of which have no apparently clear solution on how to get over them. Market based questions arise like, “What is the proper role of the government in agriculture? How do we compete in today’s global market place?” Also questions that strike a more personal note come forward, “How do we bridge the information gap between consumer and producer? How do we counter attacks from extremist environment and animal rights agendas?”
American agriculture has seen a lot of change and progress since the first plow broke soil. Even though different challenges have come and gone since that time, there are a couple of variables that remain constant. The first is that it was not easy in the beginning, it is not easy now and nor will it ever be easy. The second constant is that change will always be on the horizon, for better or for worse.
I suppose my point would be this, we are not the first to be faced with adversity and we will definitely not be the last. Many have succeeded before us and now it is our time to try to succeed.
Thanks for your time and GO STATE!
My name is Casey Bieroth and I’m an agriculturalist. I grew up in a very remote little corner of the mountains of Northern Nevada. My family homesteaded in this area over a century ago and we’ve been in the same general location ever since. These days I fancy myself as an agricultural economist—by self proclamation for now, but soon by decree of Kansas State University. I graduated with a bachelors degree in Agribusiness from K-State, and now I’m working on a Masters Degree in Ag Economics with a research emphasis in beef marketing.
Blame it on my economics background, but I come at the world with a very science based approach to problems. I’m a big believer in markets and incentives. Give somebody enough incentive and you can get them do just about anything…good or bad.
Take HSUS and PETA for example. They would have the general population believe that their incentive is to protect animals from abuse and mistreatment- a noble goal indeed. As more and more people are discovering, however, these organizations are huge lobbying efforts that are driven by profits and a personal vendetta against animal agriculture. Don’t believe me? Take a look at how the HSUS divvies out its $100,000,000 budget. And yes that is a one hundred million dollar budget. No typos. If that isn’t scary I don’t know what is.
Now on the flip side, where are the incentives for American farmers and ranchers? They have a great deal of incentive to work hard everyday taking care of their land and livestock. How much incentive do they have to defend their practices day in and day out against attacks from activists? Well not as much as you might think for a couple of reasons. First, as anyone who has been around a full-time agricultural enterprise knows, it’s hard work. I challenge you to show me a farmer or rancher with tons of free time. They just don’t exist. Caring for animals is a job that keeps you on your toes everyday. Contrary to popular belief, livestock eat, get sick, get lost, and are generally needy on Saturdays, Sundays, Easter, Christmas, and even during football season. I’m not discounting the need for a counter attack, I’m just pointing out that agriculturalists usually put out the hottest blazes first and that leaves very little time for proactive PR work. Secondly, there is a free rider problem when it comes to agriculture advocacy. Forgive the economics lesson, but the free rider problem occurs when people consume more than their fair share, or shoulder less than a fair share of the cost of producing a public good. In this case, the public good is ag advocacy and the free riders are agriculturalists who assume that someone else is addressing the problem. Everyone will benefit from increased advocacy, but the ones who have to actually pay to produce the good will benefit less than those who don’t pay anything at all. Ag advocacy is time consuming and as I have already pointed out, farmers and ranchers are already short on this resource. Therefore the “advocators” net benefit will be their share of the public good minus their expenditure (time) used to produce it.
So long story short, we are behind the 8 ball on this one. Inherently, the best agriculturalists are the ones least available to take on the HSUS, PETA, Western Watershed Project, and so on and so on. We will all need to step up our game and shoulder our fair share of the costs of agricultural advocacy. There are organizations out there that are good at pointing out our flaws, but to the majority of the world we ARE still the good guys. We need to work hard to keep it that way.