Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Producing enough sustainable food

imageAhhh. Sustainable.

A word that is so overused, yet so important to agriculture. And also to consumers who want to use it as much as possible when it comes to their food.

And we’re taking food. Everyone wants it. Everyone needs it.

This YouTube video came out yesterday and it does pretty darn good job of talking about how everyone deserves responsible and sustainable food. Yet, also how it can be achieved with modern agriculture.

Even though they plug their brand, they have a great message of what it’s going to take to feed 9 billion hungry people by 2050.

My family produces sustainable beef. What’s that mean? Read about it here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why do we use antibiotics in food animals?

The last few days have been fluttering with information about the Food and Drug Administration announcement last week which called on drug companies to help limit the use of antibiotics in farm animals.
Why is this an issue: The FDA has struggled for decades with how to tackle the problem because it’s so important to the agriculture industry who agrees that drugs are a key part of modern meat production. Some livestock producers give antibiotic drugs like penicillin, which can be routinely mixed with animal feed and water to help livestock, pigs and chickens put on weight and stay healthy in feedyards. Others only give when necessary to help a sick animal. This scare from the FDA has consumers worried that excess antibiotics are being passed through the meat and affecting humans.
Blogs, press releases and quotes are all over the Internet, so instead of writing about this issue, I’d like to just share resources that are already out there.
look and listen blog“I am a mother, grandmother and cattle feeder in northeast Nebraska. When we use antibiotics in cattle it is for sickness. We do not use long-term antibiotics for cattle performance. The type of antibiotics we do use are not used in human medicine. People need to know that we utilize antibiotics to take better care of the cattle. It is really all about animal welfare,” says Joan Ruskamp, CommonGround volunteer and cattle feeder in Dodge, NE. Read about Joan’s feedyard and how she “Looks and Listens'” for signs when her cattle are sick here.
Teresa Brandenburg, CommonGround volunteer and beef cattle farmer in Russell, Kansas says, “We manage about 85 head of beef cattle each year on our farm – momma cows and their calves. It’s really important that we keep every one of them healthy. Antibiotics given to our cattle are always prescribed by a veterinarian. Overall, you should know that our animals are on a stringent herd health program. We give them vaccinations to prevent disease and only use antibiotics to treat them when there is a problem.” You can also hear what she has to say about antibiotics in this video:

Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek blog and a turkey producer says, “I’ll admit, I lost some sleep worrying about the idea that we were putting human health at risk in order to raise our turkeys. But I’m a modern (stubborn, skeptical) woman, and I wasn’t totally convinced. I have two little boys – I really wanted to make sure that we, as a farm, and we, as an industry, weren’t doing something that would endanger them. …Instead of taking my husband’s word for it, I talked to the experts….I’m no longer worried.”
The Beltway Beef blog featured veterinarians to explain the how’s and why’s of antibiotic use in cattle. Watch the video here:

Joe Frasier, beef rancher in Eastern Colorado {and my dad!}, says, “I give antibiotics on an individual case basis, based on the diagnostics of the elements and the animal’s temperature. Then I make sure to get a veterinarian's diagnosis. For example just recently, I had an animal with swelling in her jaw, which I had the veterinarian look at. She diagnosed it as an infected tooth (yes, animals can get those too, just like humans) so the vet recommended that I give her tetracycline. Why? The vet said that was the best type of antibiotic for a bone infection."

Having the veterinarian consent is a must when it comes to animal health in my dad's cattle herd. He also said that he always has backup and documentation what he's giving the animals based on the vet recommendation. By having this documented, an animal cannot go into the food system still having that antibiotic in its system.  He can still make important decisions on medication to give his cattle, and is not required to have veterinary consent, but in order for anyone else to pick up antibiotics from the vet's office (like Mom or other ranch management), he calls into the office to verify that he is going to pick up and administer that medication to a sick animal. The vet ok's it and documents. This may seem like overkill sometimes, but consumers and safe beef are the end products that beef ranchers keep in mind in every decision that is made.

What’s your take on antibiotics?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Transformation Nation, and we’re not talking Dr. Oz.

Consumers. They are the ones who have the most influential say in what production practices are put into place for livestock production and animal welfare practices.

And these consumers are talking to their food retailers. Lately, we have seen more and more retailers put policies in place that require their supply of meat to be produced a certain way. We most recently saw this with the outcry of grocery stores promising to stop selling or pre-label lean, finely textured beef. Luckily Hy-Vee reversed their stance.

What is more frustrating is that these consumers are getting their information from popular, public figures who “claim” to be experts in food (aka Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution). But that’s for another post, another time.

This concern of retailers changing their supply of meat/food products and policies is not specific to beef alone.

In pork production, Sara Lee Corporation is the first to require premises identification (ID). They sent a letter to its pork suppliers notifying them of the company’s intent to begin requiring a premises ID tag in all sows delivered to its Newbern, TN, processing facility effective January 1, 2015. Many producers see the need for this type of identification to help determine an area of outbreak of disease. Others aren’t thrilled.

Also, McDonald’s released a statement in February that they will work with U.S. pork supplier to phase out the use of gestation crates. McDonald's joins a growing list of food producers and retailers, including Smithfield Foods, Hormel, Cargill, Burger King and Wolfgang Puck, that have promised to move away from pork bred from sows confined to the crates.

McDonald’s changed their egg supplier after a Mercy for Animals video was released on how the layers were being treated. Consumers saw this and reacted, along with Target stores who followed McDonald’s lead to drop the same egg supplier. 

Some restaurants are switching their chicken to free-range or cage-free – more as a marketing gesture than to really appease consumers.

Grocery-giant, Wal-Mart, listened to their uneducated customers in 2008 when they demanded hormone-free milk to be labeled and sold in stores. Some brands specifically, such as Horizon, only sell organic milk. Many moms demand this type of milk because they believe it to be safer for their kids, or even their doctors tell them so.

The Point

The main thing I want to achieve with the information from this post is that consumers have choices – and those choices are very powerful when it comes to what they want from their retailers. McDonald’s wouldn’t make those choices and spend more on their food supply if their customers didn’t demand it.

That’s where the education comes in. Agricultural and livestock producers need to educate their consumers on their production practices and why they are needed. More importantly, a simple conversation will give them the satisfaction they need to understand why that practice is in place, and give the producer the satisfaction of being able to produce food for the future.

Agriculture has been criticized for not listening and only telling. If you’re a farmer/rancher, what choice will you make to help educate consumers on their food supply (which is the safest and most affordable in the world, btw). If you’re a consumer, what determines your food purchasing decisions and why is that truly important – those of us in agriculture want to know. Let’s converse.