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