Most American’s have never been to a dairy farm. They haven’t had the opportunity to walk through a freestall barn, smell a handful of fresh cattle feed, seen the inside of a milking parlor, or pet a calf in her hutch.
Everyone eats and many people want to know where their food came from. They have questions about farm animals. Are they inside or outside? What size are their pens? What do they eat? Are they treated with antibiotics? Are they supplemented with hormones? Are they comfortable?
People are searching for information about animal agriculture and food production. This can be found on the Internet, in books, movies or news sources. What type of information will they find?
Self-proclaimed animal rights groups tell the story of animal agriculture by explaining how “factory farm” abuse animals. They paint a picture of poor living conditions with sick animals consuming “unnatural” diets. Groups like the Humane Society of the U.S., Mercy for Animals, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and PETA are organized and well funded. Their agenda is promoting a vegan diet and their strategy is using inaccurate information to guilt, scare or legislate people into this lifestyle. Their websites are full of incorrect information about animal agriculture. But it’s very professionally packaged and sounds legitimate. Is this where people should learn about farm animals?
Books and movies tell the story of “industrial agriculture” producing poor quality, cheap food which is the source of human health problems and harmful to the environment. Food Inc., Fast Food Nation, King Corn and Forks Over Knives claim “industrial agriculture” is growing mediocre food that causes obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Forks Over Knives claims if you eat any animal products, you will develop cancer, heart disease, diabetes or other health complications. Is this were people should learn about food and agriculture? Here are some messages from these sources:
The agriculture industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating because you may not want to eat it.
The meat, dairy, eggs and grains being produced are packed with dangerous chemicals. The industrial food system is causing health problems in the U.S.
The feed lots must feed antibiotics due to poor health of cattle from being confined and fed corn.
Large, industrial farms are harming people, animals and the environment.
Inexpensive food is unhealthy. Expensive organic and “natural” food produced on small farms is more nutritious.
Confined cattle are feed corn which forces them to eat more and would kill them in 6 months if they weren’t slaughtered.
I watched several movies which claim to tell the story of U.S. agriculture and food production. They took the noble story of agriculture and twisted it into a negative tale. I wrote two blogs summarizing my take on them;
Forks Over Knives Claims Eat Vegan or Die
Food, Inc. or Black Sheet?
We in agriculture have a responsibility to tell the true story of American farmers and the nutritious food we produce. The story of family farms, love for animals, strong values, pride in producing a quality product, and commitment to community. Tell your story from the heart. Tell it in a blog, on Facebook, in a letter to your local newspaper, in line at the grocery store, or wherever someone will listen. People are interested in learning what is happening on your farm.
Consumer trends point to these key issues when choosing food products; 1) what are the health benefits of this product, 2) were environmentally friendly production methods used to grow it, 3) are the animals who produced this milk, meat and eggs comfortable and treated well, and 4) are my food dollars supporting a family farm. How do consumers know if a product is meeting their standards? They learn it through social media, advertisements, books, movies, magazines, talk shows, news media, and labels on the package.
Dairy products are nutritious and dairy cows are treated well, so we must convey this positive message. It must be delivered by dairy producers, milk processors, scientists, professors, and nutrition professionals. We can’t take for granted that people know milk is nutritious. We must market the health benefits of dairy.
Our partners, food processors and companies who sell products to farmers, have a responsibility to support and assist farmers in their efforts. We are a small part of the population so we must join together to have a loud voice.
Tell your story or someone will tell it for you and it probably won’t be accurate.