Amongst numerous vehicle reviews, a breakdown of which toilet paper is going to give you the most bang for your buck, pros and cons of switching to solar power, and an enlightening article on what type of light bulb to purchase, was a cover story for the October Consumer Reports that aimed to put a big black eye on the beef industry.
“WANTED: SAFE BEEF Bacteria-tainted ground beef remains a major source of serious illness in the U.S. We know how to make the system better. What’s holding us back?”
Flipping through the eight-page spread (in publishing, eight pages is a huge deal), I sharpened my knives to skin through the, “How Safe is Your Beef?” report and write a rebuttal. But as I began to read through the piece a second time around with a yellow highlighter, something stopped me dead in my tracks.
Page 26, opening photo caption, “A MODEL EXAMPLE Cows at Georgia’s Fort Creek Farm are raised on grass and not fed antibiotics.” This was featured with a full page photo of a red baldy cow with a runny left eye. Her number: 301.
While the article itself was focused primarily on food safety and the dangers of E.coli 0157 in beef, we need to focus on Cow Number 301.
Every operation is different and there is no one-stop-shop for consumers hungry for beef, making the featured producer’s business valuable to the diverse beef market – the problem is not with them. The problem is with how Consumer Reports consistently carried a message throughout the article that unfairly weighed conventionally raised beef in comparison to grass-fed, and organic beef – with a close up shot of a cow in physical discomfort as the lead in photo to an article that preaches antibiotic free practices as king for the animal’s welfare and for the consumer’s burger.
Ironic much? To anyone who has ever doctored sick cattle, seen a slightly agitated eye quickly progress into a bad case of pinkeye and diligently worked alongside their veterinarian to make a health program for the welfare of their herd, the answer is, "Yes."
Flipping to page 28, Consumer Reports defines sustainably raised beef as, “At minimum, sustainably produced beef was raised without antibiotics. Even better are organic and grass-fed methods.” This is then followed up by a quote on page 30 by a rancher who produces grass-fed beef, “Conventional cattle reach 1,200-plus pounds in 16 to 18 months. On our farm, it takes 20 to 22 months to raise an 1,100-pound animal, which is what we consider slaughter weight.”
What happened to, “producing more with less,” as a main key point to sustainability?
And unfortunately, beef consumers are now caught in the crosshairs. Strike that, all consumers are now caught in the crosshairs because the same story with different characters is being played out in all of agriculture. Pork, dairy, poultry, produce, crops – no one is immune.
This stretches further than Consumer Reports. Google, “antibiotics in meat.” What shows up? A recent report card by Friends of the Earth called, “Chain Reaction: How top restaurants rate on reducing use of antibiotics in their meat supply.” And it’s complete with a take action center at the bottom incase inspired readers want to call Subway and give a call center rep an earful about the use of antibiotics in meat.
When high caliber, trusted organizations like Consumer Reports and national news sources are picking up and turning out shaky information, it’s a problem.
Consumers have to be confused. But where are they going to get answers to their questions?
This is where you come in.
If you own livestock or somehow make your living off of the livestock industry, you have an obligation to be a messenger of clear information to the people making it possible for you to do what you do every day.
You don’t have to be a blogger or active on social media to be a spokesperson for agriculture – this day of age, the power of personal conversation is immense in a world glued to digital screens. Step out of your comfort zone and talk the shopper at the meat counter while you’re getting groceries, make small talk with the stranger next to you on the airplane, volunteer to be a guest speaker at local club meetings or schools – just talk to people, put a face to the industry. Be sincere and thoughtful about what you say. Equally as important, engage and listen to their story.
At the end of the day, no one is going to know about the orphan calf you saved by grafting it onto a different cow, the ice you chopped every day in the dead of winter to water your livestock, the scientifically proven protocols you followed, and how you worked with veterinarians to provide your livestock health protocols for their welfare – without compromising consumer’s safety.
That way when another Cow Number 301 comes around, consumer's will have a firm understanding that it is safe for her to receive humane treatment and still remain in the food supply.