HEALTHY AND ENVIRONMENTAL LIP SERVICE

About a month ago, I visited the corporate headquarters for McDonald’s USA with the Illinois Beef Association. It was a really interesting visit, where I learned things like ’27 million people eat at McDonald’s Global every single day’ and ‘Around 70% of McDonald’s business is drive thru purchases.’ These facts together really say something about our society.

But here’s something else I learned that really says something about us: in surveys and while testing new products, consumers indicated that if there were a healthy option for those Happy Meals you’re buying for your kid once a week, a large majority of parents would chose that option. In practice, only 10% of parents actually buy apple dippers for their kids instead of those extremely yummy fries.

To me, that says that while American’s do genuinely want to be healthier and live better, when push comes to shove, they are mostly only giving it lip service.

I thought of this recently gained knowledge while reading Pros of Modern Beef Production in the July 19 issue of Feedstuffs. There were some really great quotes in there that are completely Facebook worthy.

Things you might consider copying and pasting to your status like:

“Contrary to the negative image often associated with modern farming, fulfilling the U.S. population’s requirement for high-quality, nutrient-rich protein while improving environmental stewardship can only be achieved by using contemporary agricultural technologies and practices.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“We have the perception that feedlots are bad and that simply isn’t true.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“Compared to beef production in 1977, Capper found that each pound of beef produced in modern systems uses 10% less feed energy, 20% fewer feedstuffs, 30% less land, 14% less water, and 9 % less fossil fuel energy.”

Still, I’m left with one important quandary. Much like McDonald’s, we’re doing exactly what the consumer has asked for by producing more meat with fewer inputs and becoming more environmentally conscious and more sustainable while still delivering a quality, safe product. Why then, is the consumer not on board?

During my visit at McDonald’s Corporate, they indicated that while menu items must meet rigorous sales quotas or they are removed from the menu, apple dippers will always remain despite their less-than-stellar performance. McDonald’s has to maintain the option that the consumer wants even if the consumer doesn’t buy simply to sustain a positive image.

Can livestock farmers do this too without going out of business?

I realize that research is showing that consumers don’t want to have to make choices. They want everything that they want and they will not be forced to put a premium on any given option. This is understandable – businesses in our country have always subscribed to the “customer’s always right” mantra.

Still, we may have finally reached a plateau where livestock farmers simply can’t offer EVERYTHING that the customer wants. If they want grass-fed beef, livestock farmers will gladly deliver it, but it’s going to cost more, there will be less of it and it’s going to take a toll on the environment. If they want beef produced with a smaller hoof print on our planet, they may have to learn to tolerate feedlots.

To which option are they simply giving lip service?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WE MUST UNITE TO ADVOCATE OUR INDUSTRY AND EDUCATE THE PUBLIC

Throughout time we have seen struggles in American Agriculture. Every segment of the American Agriculture Industry has its distinct issues. From animal rights groups to the use of genetic engineering to develop better hyrbrids, agriculture is always under scrutiny. However, a more significant and prevalent challenge exists.

When I served as the Illinois State FFA President I was always asked the question, “What is the most important issue in agriculture?” Working for the Illinois Beef Association this summer, I realize the answer is still the same: Awareness and knowledge of agriculture in the American public. As more and more people become removed from where their food supply comes from, the basic understanding of our industry slowly diminishes.

We are all in this struggle together. From the landscaper in the Chicago suburbs, the central Illinois Corn Farmer, the Beef Producer in western Illinois and the southern pork producer, we must unite together to advocate our industry and EDUCATE the public. These people are more than our customers; they are our friends, neighbors, employers and fellow human beings. Cooperation and action will be the solution to this struggle, and will ensure the future of American Agriculture for generations to come!

I invite you to read this article on BEEF Magazine that encourages us all to change our mindsets and consider the end consumer in every single one of our conversations about agriculture.

Clay Zwilling
Illinois Beef Association Summer Intern
Former FFA State President
(Follow me on IBA’s FACEBOOK page!)

WANT TO BE HEALTHY? EAT MORE FRUITS AND VEGGIES, NO MATTER HOW THEY ARE GROWN

As a mom of a one year old who’s recently started to eat table food (and she now eats everything in sight!) I paid attention when the Dirty Dozen* list hit the entire popular media list. I just as quickly dismissed it as propaganda as soon as I read through the list, but that’s because I grew up on a farm and I know what conventional agriculture is all about.

Not everyone is that lucky.

Naturally, I was excited when the Alliance for Food and Farming released their new report and website last week. As opposed to the “science” the Environmental Working Group (EWG) utilized when creating their Dirty Dozen list, this is real science conducted by real experts – nutritionists, toxicologists, and risk assessors – and they say that organic produce is no healthier or safer than conventionally grown produce.

At safefruitsandveggies.com, they offer the time tested truth that if you want to be healthier, the key is to eat more fruits and veggies. It doesn’t matter if they are organic or conventional because each offers the exact same nutritional content. In fact, the report criticizes the Dirty Dozen for making it harder for the American public to consume the proper amount of fruits and veggies each day because consumers are scared and confused about what is safe to purchase.

The report also says that my one-year-old would have to consume hundreds of servings of conventional fruits and veggies in a single day in order to have any measurable effect from pesticides. And that’s only if I don’t wash the produce because the FDA says that rinsing fruits and veggies under cold or warm water removes any traces of pesticides that might remain.

My thoughts? Let’s stick with common sense. If you want to be healthy, eat a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Wash them before you eat them. Aren’t these the things that our mom’s and grandma’s taught us when we were growing up?

That’s certainly what I’m teaching my daughter.

*I did consider linking to the Dirty Dozen list so that you can see what it’s all about if you haven’t heard of it. Then, I read that the EWG says that buying organic as much as you can is not only better for you, but shows that you support decreased soil erosion, safer water supplies, and protecting wildlife. Since conventional farmers actually do some of these BETTER than organic and certainly are as conscious as organic farmers of all, I just couldn’t give them a link in my story. I hope you’ll understand.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

HONORING THOSE WHO MOBILIZE TO FEED THE WORLD

Farmers feed the world, but growing food is only one part of the hunger equation. Once food is harvested, it must make its way to consumers, whether they shop at the local roadside stand or at grocery stores on the other side of the planet.

Success requires effective channels of distribution–everything from competitive markets to sound infrastructure to free-trade agreements. Yet sometimes it also depends on the heroic efforts of humanitarians.

This year’s World Food Prize recognizes a pair of grassroots warriors who have made it their mission to fight hunger through charity. David Beckmann of Bread for the World and Jo Luck of Heifer International will share a $250,000 award for advances in food production. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over the announcement on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Beckmann and Luck will formally accept their honors this October at an annual conference in Des Moines.

The World Food Prize usually goes to research scientists or more rarely to public officials. As leading members of non-governmental organizations, Beckmann and Luck are different kinds of laureates–but they’re also critically important partners in the ongoing struggle to feed impoverished people. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that 1 billion people suffer from chronic hunger.

Nebraska native Beckmann is a Lutheran pastor who has led the Washington, D.C.-based Bread for the World since 1991. His Christian organization mobilizes activists on behalf of the hungry. Under his leadership, more than 72,000 active members who represent 5,000 local church congregations have leveraged the volunteer efforts of more than a million people. They’ve rallied public support behind increasing U.S. efforts to reduce hunger and fund development efforts in poor countries.

“Bread’s army of citizen advocates has engaged an ever-expanding network of concerned people urging support for legislation to change the policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist,” says a statement released by organizers of the World Food Prize.

Jo Luck of Arkansas became CEO of Heifer International in 1992. From its offices in Little Rock, she took a group with about 20,000 supporters and a budget of $7 million and turned it into a $130 million organization with half a million backers as well as a global presence. Last year, Heifer International supplied food to more than 1.5 million needy people around the world. Earlier this year, she stepped down as Heifer’s CEO but will remain president until 2011.

“A strong impact of Jo Luck’s legacy as the leader of Heifer is the binding together of people emotionally and economically, enabling them to envision and create a better life for themselves and their children,” says a World Food Prize release.

In addition to sharing our food and resources with the less fortunate, we must share our knowledge as well. Clinton made this point explicitly at the State Department: “Using science to feed the world is not only an imperative–it is a thrilling opportunity.”

Norman Borlaug certainly understood this sentiment. The “Father of the Green Revolution,” who died last year at the age of 95, founded the World Food Prize in 1986. His efforts to improve crop varieties as well as access to fertilizer and pesticides have allowed farmers to feed untold numbers of people who otherwise would not have had enough to eat.

As we transition from the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution, (with Borlaug’s support), we’ll need to share our science and technology with people in developing countries. If we’re to realize the goals of groups such as Bread for Life and Heifer International and truly eradicate hunger, then we’ll have to make sure that farmers in nations with poor food security have the ability to take advantage of the world’s most promising agricultural methods.

One of them is biotechnology. Millions of farmers already make use of it–but millions more could still benefit.

This is the very best kind of humanitarianism: helping people help themselves grow the food they need.

Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer
                        Council of Advisors Emeritus for the World Food Prize Foundation and
                        Chair of Truth About Trade & Technology

FOOD POLICY, NOT FOOD PRODUCTION, CAUSES WORLD HUNGER

Assuming most of you are corn farmers or have an interest in producing corn, it’s no secret that corn prices are significantly lower than the high we saw in 2008. In fact, right now, corn is barely $3 when 2008 prices were $7.

Other prices were high in 2008 – wheat was around $6.50 when it’s now $4.30. Freight was extremely high compared to what we see today.

Yet, according to this article, food costs are so extremely high that poorer countries have hungry citizens in droves.

“With food costing up to 70 percent of family income in the poorest countries, rising prices are squeezing household budgets and threatening to worsen malnutrition, while inflation stays moderate in the United States and Europe,” Joe McDonald, author, says.

We need to fix world trade. Market distortions obviously exist that prevent food from flowing into regions of the world when it makes economic sense. We have corn in the US. In fact, carryout of world grains are steadily increasing, so I see little reason for the bag of flour to cost three times what it did two years ago, as a Pakistani mother of five mentions in the article.

In addition, media and humanitarian efforts are consistently calling on corn farmers for increased productivity even as the elitists in the US pursue policies that will stagnate productivity or even cause it to decline. Obviously these people need food and a food policy that focuses around lower productivity doesn’t make sense.

The food is there and it’s less expensive than it has been in recent times, but due to artificial trade barriers, and to some extent the overall economy, the people who need the food can’t get the food.

Prices, policies, and productivity – they are things we seriously need to consider if we are to tackle the growing world hunger problem.
Rodney M. Weinzierl, Executive Director,
ICGA/ICMB

ORGANIC, FREE RANGE, LOCALLY GROWN AND OTHER HYPE

Although it comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me personally, I tend to be fairly opinionated.

I enjoy a good debate, especially when I’m armed with the knowledge that will enable me to win. I love the feeling of always having the retort that completely derails my competitor’s argument, of having the last word. And, of course, I feel so completely over-educated about the organic and locally grown movements, that I will argue which is better (organic vs. conventional) all day, every day and never tire.

In fact, I have. Maybe “argue” is too strong a word here, but the folks at my church probably steer a conversation away from these topics at all costs. My Facebook friends are likely sick to death of me providing links and other information about organic vs. conventional produce. Now, I must air my thoughts here.

While I always start a conversation with the fact that consumers have a choice and should be able to purchase whatever sort of food they want, I quickly turn it to the fact that I want them to really UNDERSTAND their choices. Because I believe they are being jaded by the media and popular journalists (ie, Michael Pollan) into an emotional response to their food choices instead of a scientific one.

This article by Tamar Haspel really drives the point home and I couldn’t have been happier to read it.

Haspel and her husband raise chickens and really wanted to believe that their fresh, locally grown, free range eggs taste better. They went the scientific route – engaged their friends to come over for a taste test – and came up with some interesting results. Read for yourself because I really don’t want to ruin her lovely experiment and wonderful writing by telling you what happens.

While this likely won’t change their purchasing decisions (Why would Haspel buy eggs when she has free eggs in her backyard!?) the information she’s discovered will likely put her decision in context. Does she eat home grown eggs? Yes. Does she think they are the ONLY eggs? Nope.

This is what I wish for the elite in America (the ones that can afford these high priced options) that believe organic and locally grown foods are the ONLY choices for better health and taste. Context to your choices is so important. Is a locally grown tomato from your neighbor’s garden better in your salad? Probably. Is it the ONLY choice? Nope.

Should it be the only choice? Not by a long shot.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director