FROM THE PASTURE TO THE PLATE: IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY, WHO WILL? PART 2

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts from guest blogger Trista Milliman. Trista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation. For the first part, click here.

I addressed my friend’s accusations calmly and factually. Hard to do when you’re angry. First, I explained the “steroid” myth. I don’t know who labeled them that, maybe the media or PETA, but we DON’T give our animals steroids. What they get is a growth hormone implant in their right ear. Now, anyone who has taken an Anatomy and Physiology class, what are the two growth hormones that NATURALLY OCCUR in the body, human or animal? Estrogen and testosterone. The hormone we implant is estrogen. (Every woman knows what role estrogen plays in unwanted weight gain.) The estrogen improves our calves feed to gain ratio, which cuts down on the amount of money we have to spend on feed and the amount of time they have to be on pasture. Translation: you get better beef at an affordable price with a smaller amount of time between our pasture and your plate. No steroids here. Oh, and if you’re that concerned about the amount of hormones in your food, consider this: there are 500 times more estrogen in ONE leaf of organically grown spinach than in a three ounce piece of estrogen implanted beef. My town friend was listening.

I moved on to the antibiotics. My town friend loves her two dogs. So, I asked her what she does when her dogs get sick. Of course, she takes them to the vet and if it’s an infection, the vet prescribes an antibiotic. It’s the same with our cows. If we spot a sick one, we take her up to the alley and give her an antibiotic. We treat her as long as she needs it. Simple. If she’s not sick, what’s the point in wasting the money on giving her (and the rest of our herd for that matter) an antibiotic? Not very cost effective if you’re trying to run a business. If the animal is sick we treat her, if she’s not, we don’t. I can’t come up with a better description of animal welfare than that. Point made.

Then, we moved on to my favorite topic, feed. My specialization in my major was livestock nutrition. My husband and I both figure our rations as do many beef producers. And if they don’t do it themselves, they hire a nutritionist. Now, how many PETA or HSUS supporters use a nutritionist when feeding their own families? My town friend just couldn’t get over the idea that we were feeding our cattle genetically modified grain that had been sprayed with pesticides. She was just so sure our cattle were ingesting all types of toxins that would end up in the meat. I explained that one of the reasons we “genetically modify” grain is to make it insect and disease resistant so that we don’t have to spray chemicals on it. I also gave her a short economics lesson while I was at it. In laymen’s terms, a GMO produces more with less input, therefore making the product cost less. Keeping costs down on our end is what keeps costs down on the consumer’s end. People forget about that part. Point taken.

My town friend was so taken with the notions that are portrayed in “Food, Inc.” and Omnivore’s Dilemma. She thinks everyone should have chickens and “organic” vegetable gardens in their back yards. That’s great, if that’s what you like to do for fun. That’s awesome if you feed your family and have a little extra to give to all your neighbors and your friends. But is that really relevant to everyone’s living situation? No, it’s not. Let’s just be honest. Is that going to feed the world? No, it’s not.

The reason we try to feed out our calves to market weight within 18 months is because we’re doing just that, we’re feeding the world. We wouldn’t be getting anywhere if we waited on them to reach market weight on just grass. We’d be at least 2 if not 3 years out before we could feed anyone. If you want to go back to agriculture the way it was in the 1940s, be my guest, but if you think the world is starving now, consider what it would be like if we took a step backwards? And, not to mention the amount of money we would have to spend on importing food from other countries because we couldn’t meet our own demands. Don’t even think for a minute that food production around the world is regulated better than it is here. I’d much rather have pork raised on concrete from the U.S. than I would if it was raised on the dirt in some third world country living off of the trash and waste in the sewer ditches. Our food is as healthy and safe as it’s ever been. The whole idea of research and technology is progress. Who in the world thinks it’s a good idea to regress to old medical procedures, or maybe go back to using type- writers instead of computers?

I crunched some numbers to illustrate my point. Back in 1940, the world population was around 2.3 billion people. There were around 6 million farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and each one could feed 19 people a year. Fast forward to 2010. The world population is roughly 6,825,100,000 and there are around 5.7 million U.S. farmers and ranchers (that’s about 2% of the U.S. population). Thanks to our research and technology, a U.S. farmer can feed 155 people a year. Not to be arrogant, but the U.S. farmers and ranchers feed the world. And there are less of us to do it. In fact, there are 300,000 less farmers in 2010 to feed over three times what the population was back in 1940. Every year we are expected to provide more food at less cost to the consumer, with less land to use, with less input, and less waste. We meet the demand. We give the consumers what they ask for. She heard me loud and clear.

Setting aside all the statistics, producers love their animals and the lifestyle they provide despite some hardships. How many times have we had to cancel dinner on friends while we tend to a sick calf? How many times have we had to miss church to find a lost calf or cow? How many hours have we spent feeding orphan calves? And what about all those hours spent on the floor board of the truck or the kitchen floor trying to warm up and dry off a newborn calf in the middle of a Northeast Oklahoma blizzard? How many times have our neighbors missed their own children’s ball games, dance recitals, or piano lessons because they had to stay with a bloated cow? I’ve even ruined a nice J.Crew sweater (gasp!) to pull a calf when one of our first-calf heifers was having trouble. All of this to put quality food on your table. Where are the animal rights activists then? How many of them make sacrifices like that?

I don’t know that I completely won my town friend over, but I know I proved that what we do is ethical, humane, and practical. And it’s not just to turn a profit, either. If that was the case, we would have found an easier way to do it by now. My point is that we, as producers, need to make sure that we are the ones providing the general public with the CORRECT information they need to know about the food we supply to them. The average consumer is so detached from the origin of his/her food that it makes it very easy for anti-agriculture organizations to come in and offer these people their version of what animal agriculture is. I encourage producers to get involved in putting your story out there via social media. Use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs to share the information you want your consumers to know about your operation. Something as simple as a video of harvest or chore time at your farm/ranch is a great way for consumers to see your passion for what you do and where it all starts from pasture to plate.

Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier

FROM THE PASTURE TO THE PLATE: IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY, WHO WILL? PART 1

Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is the first part in a two-part series from guest blogger Trista MillimanTrista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation.

As a beef producer, (or any other type of producer for that matter), there are those whom you consider your “neighbors” or more precisely, the people that live within a 5-10 mile radius of your place and are fellow producers. Then, you have the people you consider your “town friends”, the friends who live in town (obviously) and really have no direct ties to agriculture, except for maybe, of course, their acquaintance with you. Well, that and the fact that they probably like to eat food and wear clothes, but that’s for another time.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for the roles my neighbors and my town friends play in my busy, overscheduled life. It’s always nice to take time out and enjoy their company whether we’re processing calves, helping each other move cows to another pasture, shopping at the mall, or going to a movie. All of our differences keep the conversation interesting. Recently, however, I had a visit with a town friend that really left me quite unsettled with the way the public perceives conventional animal agriculture. Though, I feel that I answered her questions and corrected her misconceptions accurately, it really made me realize how completely unattached and misinformed the general public is about the production of their food.

Let me bring you up to speed. My husband and I live in Northeast Oklahoma, or more affectionately termed by Okies as “Green Country”. Both of us have our B.S. in Animal Science Production and run our own cow-calf operation in the heart of ranching country. We are extremely proud of our commercial Charolais herd and the quality beef we can provide for people’s dinner tables. Not only is it an income, it’s a lifestyle. Our lives are scheduled around feeding time, breeding season, calving season, and weaning. Mix that in with our “town jobs”, (my husband is an OSU Extension Educator and I am a professional farrier), and our cattle (and horses) eat better and get more rest than we do. Let’s just say it’s not too strange in our small town to see us come in to do our banking covered in manure with our spurs still jingling. Everybody else around here does it, too.

Anyway, back to the conversation with my town friend. I’ve known her for years and consider her a very intelligent person. She’s been around the world and back, literally, and I love her taste in music and clothes. I respect her opinions, even if they don’t always match up with my own. She is very well read and up to date on current issues. So, it surprised me (and quite honestly, disappointed me) when she shared her views on what conventional animal agriculture is. I guess I take for granted that maybe even my closest friends don’t really know exactly how our operation runs or how well taken care of our animals are. And that’s my fault for not providing that information. Then, it got me thinking; if my close friends don’t understand it, then what kind of skewed information is the rest of the world getting and who are they getting it from? Scary.

She gave me her overall impression of production agriculture with one word: “poisoned”. It knocked the wind out of me. I asked her to explain what she meant by it and she said, “You pump them full of steroids, you are constantly treating them with antibiotics, and you feed them genetically modified grain. What makes you think anyone wants to put that into their bodies?” And then, she disclosed where she got her information from. She watched Robert Kenner’s documentary, “Food, Inc.” and read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I should have seen that one coming.

Both are filled to the brim with misinformation and propaganda that would easily suck the average, uneducated consumer in. And both were supplied information by PETA and HSUS, organizations that want to do away with animal agriculture altogether. I mean, who doesn’t want to eat healthier, save the environment, and stop animal cruelty? I know I do. And so does every other livestock or grain producer that feeds the rest of the world and wants to make a living doing it. The information in the movie and the book is maddening, sickening, inaccurate and outright wrong.

They use terms like “factory farm” and “sustainability”. Last time I checked, agriculture has always been sustainable. That’s why it’s called “agriculture”. And livestock production practices have become so efficient that we’ve actually eliminated some diseases, which in turn has eliminated the need for certain vaccines and opened the doors to medical research in saving human lives. Good stuff, considering that it makes the quality of life for these animals outstanding. I could go on, but maybe later.
Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier

WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITHOUT PORK BURRITOS AND STEAK FAJITAS?

Our office took a stand Friday. We are boycotting Chipotle. But first, let me give you some background so you can understand why you should DEFINITELY boycott Chipotle too.

I have no idea if you’ve been following the animal welfare issues going on in Ohio, so let me start this post out with a summary.

Ohio was chugging along, producing quality grain, meats, and produce for the citizens of our world, when the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) came along and decided to wreak havoc. As they have done in other states, HSUS decided to pursue a ballot initiative that would make certain farming practices illegal. Here’s hoping that any of you reading this already know that HSUS isn’t as concerned for animal welfare as they are for ending animal agriculture and meat production in our country, but if you don’t, read this before you go any further.

Ohio agriculture raised a lot of money and started to fight back. They set up an agency within their state that would oversee animal welfare issues and enforce animal care standards, thus eliminating the need for the HSUS to come in and demand the end of the various farming practices.

But now the HSUS has decided that they will continue to fight. They are currently behind a new ballot initiative that will “require the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to adopt certain minimum standards to prevent animal cruelty, improve health and food safety, support family farms, and safeguard the environment throughout the state of Ohio.” These are their words.

The point to my post, however, is the fact that Chipotle is a corporate sponsor for their effort. They are allowing ballots to be placed in their stores throughout Ohio to make it easier for unsuspecting patrons to vote in their favor, bringing us one step closer to ending animal agriculture in the United States.

Yes, the same Chipotle that serves the pork burritos that my co-worker Becky loves, is trying to end pork production in the U.S. And they know it.

They have statements about their purchasing choices and support of humane animal care all over the store. They were also the first restaurant to remove rBGH from their milk products, buy from family farms and make a real, financial commitment to sustainable meat. (source here)

(Whether or not they actually understand that this production system isn’t sustainable remains to be seen. I guess there could be different definitions of sustainability.)

Obviously, with this background, they are well-educated on the goals of the HSUS and want to support ending animal agriculture. Don’t be surprised if you head into Chipotle next year and the entire menu is vegetarian.

Because of all this, our office decided to make a statement yesterday. Becky, Mark and I had the wonderful pork at Moe’s Southwestern Grill instead.

We couldn’t find anything on Moe’s website indicating that they support activist groups and we wanted to reward them for it. Not to mention that their food is better and their chips are free!

Then we met some more folks from the office and expressed our displeasure for Chipotle.

Why don’t you go ahead and do the same?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

EPA: Inmates (Interns) Running the Asylum

Hello, my name is Becky and I’m a meat eater.

I can stand up and say that proudly, but why is it that some people try to denounce omnivorism like it’s something that should be part of a 12-step program?

The latest comes from the US EPA’s blog. The author, Nicole Reising, a sophomore intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection, extols her ‘knowledge’ in farming and how meat production is bad for the environment. Her reasonings are:

– Ethics against killing animals.
– Disliking the taste of meat.
– Air pollution due to dust and liquid manures.
– Rainforest erosion and destruction for pasture land.
– Water contamination due to animal waste.
– Grain and corn grown for animal feed instead of addressing world hunger.

Now I have no problem with someone choosing to be a vegetarian or vegan for personal reasons. I may not agree, but I can understand their choice. What I take issue with is the attempt to restrict animal production for food for those who choose to eat meat, especially when they are basing their decision on misinformation and outright falsehoods.

As far as Ms. Reising’s motives for becoming a vegetarian because of the negative environmental effects, well a little fact she seemed to overlook (that was put out by the EPA, the very organization she is blogging for!) is that the entire U.S. ag sector contributed only 6.4% of total U.S. green house gas (GHG) emissions in 2006. That includes meat production… and that 6.4% is for the ENTIRE U.S. ag sector! Additionally, conventional beef generates 40% LESS GHG emissions and uses 2/3’s less land than beef produced using organic and grass-fed production systems.

And for the argument of “Grain and corn grown for animal feed instead of addressing world hunger,” only 1% of all the corn grown in the U.S. is sweet corn to be consumed by humans. The rest of the corn is used for livestock feed, ethanol and other uses. We cannot grow crops in all areas (those areas are great for raising dairy and beef cattle though, which means we can get valuable protein feed from land that can only be used for growing grass and weeds). And in the areas we do grow corn, the quality is not always good enough to be consumed by humans. Thus, we are helping world hunger by feeding this grain to livestock and producing other uses for corn (corn starch, corn syrup, biodegradable plastic, etc.) to allow for more food products that are affordable.

I come from a family farm where we raise beef cattle as well as corn, soybeans and alfalfa and I’m not ashamed of that. We treat the land and animals with respect and love. I would wager a year’s salary that even though we are not vegetarians, we show more respect to animals AND the earth than those who choose not to consume meat. If you feel the same way, go comment on this blog and let your thoughts be heard.

By: Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant