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Thursday, May 26, 2011

'Cause it Matters

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Happy Thursday!


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cooking Pork is Cooler Than Before....

After ordering the pork chop dinner at your favorite restaurant, the waiter asks, "How would you like that cooked?"

Sounds out of place, huh?

Well, not anymore, as pork producers across the US are welcoming the news that the USDA has officially lowered the recommended cooking temperature for pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This means pork will now be held to the same standard as the other red meats: beef, veal and lamb.

Why is this so important to people within the pork industry? I can attest that as a person who would definitely order pork from a menu whenever possible, I can't count the times I've been disappointed by pork that has been dried out and overcooked, making for a pretty disappointing meal. However, when I cooked pork at home, I knew that I could leave it a little pink in the middle and enjoy a juicy, tender piece of meat that would rival a well-cooked steak or lamb chop.
Although the recommended temperature has been lowered by USDA, it may take a long time to get everyday consumers to leave a touch of pink in their pork on the backyard BBQ.

"People have been taught this for generations and it's going to take a long time to get this removed," said Rob Weland, a chef at Poste Moderne Brasserie, an upscale restaurant in Washington."It will be good for the next generation not to be so fearful so they can enjoy pork in a way they may not have been able to in the past."

The USDA decided to make the change after years of research and discussions with food safety experts. Pork producers had proposed the change in 2008, where they cited improved feed quality and cleaner, safer indoor environments as improvements that have reduced the risk of pathogens in pork.

Although producers and consumers alike should be excited that all red meat can now be cooked to a standard temperature, 145 degrees F, those of us within the industry understand that traditions don't change overnight and this event marks the beginning of a long campaign to better educate pork consumers nationwide.

I gotta admit, so far this year, Pork's doing a good job at inspiring me!



Sunday, May 22, 2011

Slaughtering Cattle for Beef

When having conversations about meat, there's often language that people adopt to make things sound a bit less harsh. Excuse me if you prefer that language because this post is just plain honest. I'm not going to insert the word harvest instead of saying slaughter because I believe you harvest corn and you slaughter cattle and I'm just going to say it like it is! I also believe that if you are a consumer interested in engaging in conversations about where your meat comes from, you'd rather hear it first hand than have an edited "family-friendly" version come across.

So there is my disclaimer, there's nothing pretty about slaughtering animals for human consumption. It's necessary in my mind and it should be handled humanely and with an appropriate amount of respect.

Beyond making sure animals are handled humanely I also think consumers really want to make sure that the food they are getting is safe. After spending a week mentoring with a USDA Veterinary Medical Officer in Dodge City, KS, I have become even more aware of how safe our food supply in the US is. As a USDA Vet in a meat packing plant, food safety and public health is a number one concern. We spent most of our time at National Beef and some at Cargill. I was very impressed with the plants I toured and Vets I learned so much from. These are a few things I wanted to share:

  • Utmost respect. Bottom line, there is nothing pretty about death and the process of taking a live animal and moving it through a system to become food for people. Just because it isn't pretty doesn't mean it isn't handled with a high level of respect. Feel good about the process that takes place in the US because I saw first hand how much respect these animals were treated with. They were given more than enough room in the holding pens to lay down, move around and drink clean water. As they moved closer to the knocking box (where they are rendered unconscious to pain) it was a very quiet and smooth process. Workers moved cattle along calmly, taking advantage of the natural behaviors of cattle and herding them through the alley ways.
  • Stringent standards. Rendering animals unconscious to pain is a process taken very seriously in packing plants. Cattle are stunned with a captive bolt that humanely euthanizes each animal and screwing that process up is pretty much zero tolerance. There is a plant employee whose only job is to closely monitor each calf that comes through after being euthanized to make sure that the stunner did it's job.
  • Visible pride. The plants that I visited employ a lot of people. It takes a large number of people to make everything work in a shift. The resounding feeling I got from the employees I got a chance to interact with is that they are all very proud of what they do. Feeding a growing population is a noble sector of the work force and meat packing plants in SWKS are in large part providing the world with beef. The employees should be proud, National Beef and Cargill are two outstanding companies that are literally helping to feed the world.
  • Integration for success. If you think the cattle business isn't integrated, think again. There are so many factors and sectors of the cattle industry that go into a steak on your dinner plate. One thing I was very impressed with from a Veterinary standpoint was that before cattle even get to a slaughterhouse, the feedyards and cattle producers are just flat doing things right! From what I saw, a lot of credit should be given to the feedyard and cow-calf man when a steer or heifer enters the food chain. Cattle were in good condition, health and physical. Cattle were also overall very uniform which traces back to the genetics that producers have adopted and implemented.
  • Hurdles for safety. If you think a carcass is given a once-over and deemed either safe for human consumption or not, think again!!! Carcasses in US meat plants are inspected so many times that I lost track for the first few days. There are so many opportunities for USDA trained inspectors and veterinarians to check for anything that might deem a carcass unsafe for human consumption. This is a wonderful system and is the reason we have the safest food supply in the world.
There's a reason I was impressed this past week by our food system. We are doing things right in the United States. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and a lot of eyes watching to make sure these hoops are jumped through. I'm sure glad it's that way. It keeps the integrity of agriculture in tact and more importantly it keeps our food safe. As a farm girl from Kansas in vet school, I was pretty excited after leaving the packing plant on Friday. I was proud of what people in my part of the country are doing to make sure that people in other parts of the world have beef available to eat. Did you know that 25% of the beef slaughtered in the US comes from SWKS? Feel good about it, folks, because I have personally spent time in 3/4 of the plants in that part of the state and they are doing things right!

My best,


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beef. It's whats for sale!

If you've been to your local grocer's butcher counter lately, you've probably noticed the price of beef and other proteins is high! The All Fresh Beef price for the month of April posted a record level at $4.45 per pound.

So what's the reason for the jump in prices? While many factors have contributed to this situation, one of the biggest has been exports of our product to foreign consumers. Beef and veal exports for March were 46% higher than they were one year ago! Leading the way for this increase is South Korea which imported over three times as much US beef in March 2011 as they did in March 2010. You may recall news stories about the Foot-and-Mouth outbreak in South Korea late last year. In order to prevent the highly contagious disease from spreading, over one million head of hogs and cattle had to be euthanized. This created a huge domestic supply shortfall. South Korea has turned to foreign trading partners to meet its growing demand for beef.

And where do we go from here? Growing demand from Asian countries for animal based protein diets and a very favorable currency exchange rate point to the fact that exports will remain high. (As a sidenote, we are now exporting beef at the same level we were in 2003 before concerns over BSE shut us off from many trading partners). Fortunately for consumers, we are also coming into a seasonal period of higher beef supplies which will moderate retail prices near term.

How have higher food prices affected your grocery shopping habits?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ask Me About Agriculture: Bluestem Bistro

I was in the coffee shop here awhile back avoiding the work I needed to do. What can I do to avoid work, I thought? Then I noticed, the coffee shop was full of sorority girls, popped collars and Polo hats. People who looked like they needed an education on agriculture – and I was just in the mood to give ‘em one.

I however was looking for a method to engage with my fellow coffee shoppers outside of accosting them. Climbing on top of the espresso machine and calling the room to attention I feared would shorten my welcome. Humm.

I will make a sign I proclaimed! It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

I placed this beauty of a sign in view of my fellow caffeine cronies. Apparently there were others who didn’t want to be working… I was entirely occupied with conversation for the rest of the evening.

The questions were far from profound. Most people just wanted to know what a crazy man was doing soliciting conversation about – of all things – agriculture. I was a point of interest to say the least. I feel like people just want to ask questions and get answers that aren’t full of crazy science and political motive. “What was it like growing up on a farm?” it was great; let me tell you about it.

The conversations that Ag Advocates (Agvocates) are having with people need to be basic, connecting with people on a personal level. The quickest way to run someone off is to start preaching about how PETA and HSUS are ruining our lives and how veg-o’s need to go kick rocks. No matter how insignificant or kindergarten the conversation may seem to you, keep it up and be patient, it might be life-altering for someone else. The connection that you have with the person you are talking to is as important as the education.

Also, branch out! A wise man from the Judd Ranch once told me: “Love the ones who need it, not the ones who like it.” He was referring to very friendly pen bulls, but the principal works here. If you make a sign and fly it at the local coop during farmer coffee hour, you will probably be preaching to the choir. So, go to Starbucks, the mall, the park – somewhere where people aren’t wearing boots – and tell your story. Don’t be afraid of the Sperry-wearers; they are the ones who need the love. We have to educate the masses, the mainstream. We have a great opportunity, and judging from my coffee shop experience, people are willing to listen.

So make a sign and head to your local bistro. You might learn a thing or two too. I discovered this amazing little thing called espresso – it’s like black coffee only stronger!

Until next time-

B. Harder

I thought the world was supposed to end in 2012.....

"Both the Hopis and the Mayans recognize that we are approaching the end of a World both cases, however, the Hopi and Mayan elders do not prophesy that everything will come to an end. Rather, this is a transition from one World Age into another." - Joseph Robert Jochmans

I definitely don't want anyone to take me for a person truly believes the world is going to end in 2012. However, I think many people may believe that the world could end tomorrow considering the onslaught of natural disasters that have ravaged Earth so far in 2011. The floods and cyclones we've seen here in Eastern Australia, the combination of wildfires and floods in the US, and the chilling aftermath of Japan's earthquakes have certainly made me wonder what the good Lord has in store for this world next.

These disasters have certainly taken a toll on world agriculture as well. For the three months I've been in Australia, I haven't eaten a banana yet because they're probably one of the most expensive fruits here, at a price of about $5.00 a pound since the crop in Queensland was almost wiped out. Then when I call home to Ohio, my dad still hasn't put a crop in the ground because the ground is saturated. With the supply of corn tighter than ever before, food prices across the board have risen over 3% since 2010, according to USDA statistics.

Even with these somber tones, I suppose there is a silver lining. I know that my wife and I, with our limited budget here in Australia, have really come to appreciate the cheap food costs we enjoyed back home in the US. We've learned to budget accordingly, and only treat ourselves to a rare meal away from home. When I talk to people in the US, they complain about rising food costs as well. I believe that in times and situations where food costs are high, each and every one of us gains a better appreciation for the 'good life' and the amazing food production system we have at our disposal in the United States. At least in the sense of food costs in the US, perhaps WE ARE looking at a New World Age, by joining countries like Australia that have to pay more for the food on their table.

Right, wrong, or inevitable, it's something to consider the next time you go to the store....

Bananaless in Australia,

Hyatt Frobose

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back in the Dust Bowl

An aerial view of a wheat field that failed to grow because of the drought in Haskell County.

Leaders in the Captiol here in Kansas have been hard at work to get 21 south western counties in Kansas recognized by the USDA as areas of natural disaster because of the recent drought that has caused crop and cattle production to dwindle. These are the counties involved in disaster areas: Finney, Gove, Grant, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Kearny, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Wallace and Wichita.

"Kansas if facing one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl days," said Sen. Pat Roberts in this article released today.

He's not far off. If you will remember my family's farm is in Haskell County where we attempt to raise wheat, cotton, corn and cattle. This year the wheat crop is non-existent partly due to the drought conditions and the fire that blazed through the area in April.

It's easy to see that it will be a rough summer for most farmers in the area. One thing many people won't think about is how the drought will affect cattle ranchers in the area. We don't have the lush green pastures of the Flint Hills in Kansas, but what we do have usually works for our cow herd. We turn our cows out in the spring on a pasture of mostly Bermuda grass that looks pretty dormant most years and greens up pretty good in April or May. Things are a little more desolate this year.

The greenest thing in the pastures back home might just be the algae in the water tank. Thus is the reason that this morning my Dad headed to the sale barn this morning with a big chunk of our cow herd. He culled any of our cows that were old or had structural problems. The reason we can't keep these cows around is because the feed that we normally depend on (the pasture grass) isn't there due to the severe drought conditions. This year we are hoping to be able to run 25 cows with their calves along side on 1000 acres of grass. We're not even sure that we will make it into the fall without supplementing them with feed and 1000 acres is a lot of ground!

Remembering that farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists, the SWKS area will get through this drought just as it has in the past. Rest assured that farmers are doing everything possible to preserve the ground that they have signed on for a lifetime to be caretakers of. My dad will not be doing anything foolish with the ground he farms because he wants his son to be able to continue with the family business. Ranchers are also being responsible in how their cattle are cared for. Knowing that it's going to be a rough summer, my family will not be compromising the welfare of any cows that might have a hard time grazing the pasture ground we're dealing with. By selling them as cow-calf pairs we have, in a sense, given them an opportunity to move on to greener pastures!

What does this mean to you as a consumer? The southwestern corner of Kansas is a huge supplier of grain and cattle in the Kansas economy, which is also a huge supplier to the US food supply. You probably won't see a rise in prices at the grocery store, even though many farmers are going to see huge deficits on the profit margin. That's where understanding how American Agriculture works full circle and realizing that we are still able to feed our population through adverse weather conditions comes in.

American Agriculturists are working hard to literally put food on the table. We need consumer support and welcome any questions you may have.

My Best,

Tera Rooney

To read more:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Food and Fuel Myths

Check out this great commentary by Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh getting down to the real statistics on food and fuel prices.

Miles Theurer

Friday, May 6, 2011

Busting the Meat Myths

The American Meat Institute has recently announced the development of a new site called Meat MythCrushersThe sites's goal is to "crush the myths and provide you with referenced facts so you can make informed choices that are right for you." The AMI has equipped the site with several short videos to crush and clarify myths that have been formed about the animal agriculture and meat industry.  The mythcrusher videos address topics such as animal well-being, antibiotic use and grass fed vs. grain fed beef.

The site also provides a new resource for consumers; a long list of meat and animal science professionals and experts with extensive knowledge in food production, safety and distribution. Additionally, consumer brochures are available for downloading.

I consider myself a pretty well informed consumer and even I learned a heap after I spent a good twenty minutes perusing the website. I think it's important that we all understand the values, principles and science that go into producing the nation's meat supply.  Head on over to Meat Mythcrushers and give it a looksy. You won't regret it!

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

We've got mail!

To better serve our followers we have created a FOOD FOR THOUGHT e-mail address. Please feel free to pass on any information or quesitons you have to the following account:

We look forward to getting some mail from you!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pass Me the {Chocolate} Milk!

School lunch programs all over the nation are undergoing unnecessary makeovers. First, there was Meatless Monday in Michigan and now several school districts have, or are considering, removing milk from school lunches. This decision is based on the fact that flavored milk, such as chocolate, contains 3-4 tbsp of sugar more than regular white milk. However, by pulling milk from school lunches, children are left no other choice to drink water, juice or soft drinks.  Did you know that chocolate milk is much healthier than several other lunchtime beverages?

Many children choose not to drink milk if chocolate milk isn't an option (I know this was true for me as I usually drank two chocolate milks at lunch). Not receiving the calcium, Vitamin D and protein that milk provides is far more detrimental to children's health than the 3 tbsp of sugar in chocolate milk.  I feel as if administrators looking to eradicate milk from school lunches are missing the forest for the trees.

A study presented at the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference reveals that eliminating chocolate and other flavored milks from school cafeteria menus resulted in a dramatic drop in milk consumption along with a substantial reduction in nutrients—which are not easy or affordable to replace. The study included nearly 700 measurement days over three months at 58 elementary and secondary schools across the country. When flavored milk was not available, many children chose not to drink milk and missed out on the essential nutrients that milk provides. On days when only white milk was offered in cafeterias, milk consumption dropped an average of 35 percent.

The study results indicate to replace the nutrients lost from the decline in milk consumption:
  • Required three to four different food items to match milk's nutrient contribution.
  • Added back more calories and fat than were being reduced.
  • Added back roughly half the sugar, netting a savings of only 15-28 grams per week.
  • Cost an incremental $2,200 to $4,600 more annually per 100 students.
So, instead of trying to remove healthy choices from school menus, administrators should focus on educating children on the health benefits of meat and dairy products and a balanced diet. Remember:  For the greatest amount of nutrition, at the most reasonable cost, chocolate milk is the choice with the most muscle.

For more information on chocolate milk in school lunch programs check out the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and to learn more about the study visit

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~



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