CP Editorial: Consumers need better understanding of meat production

The battle to produce enough food for the planet’s growing population is being fought by U.S. farmers every day. And if the challenges presented by weather and markets weren’t enough, farmers also have to deal with a population that does not understand the work to which they have devoted their lives.

We often hear the phrase, “people today don’t know where their food comes from.” While that might not be true of all consumers, there is a large segment of the population that has little understanding of the specifics of food production. And when uneducated or misinformed people are creating laws, drafting policies and making purchasing decisions on agricultural issues without understanding the impact, this creates a problem for the U.S. farmer.

For instance, Food Safety Magazine singles out antibiotics as one of the biggest issues facing the meat industry. Many people believe that antibiotics are bad for the animal that will one day go to slaughter, while others seem to think that these antibiotics are used to make livestock grow faster with less nutrients and feedstuff.

True, antibiotics have been used for this purpose. But science is always evolving, and we now realize there can be some problems with overuse of antibiotics. Upon recognizing this, more producers have started to use antibiotics only when necessary.

My family produces high quality Black Angus beef, and while we would never do anything to potentially harm consumers, we do use antibiotics when needed. There are rules in place that regulate how long you must wait before an animal can go to slaughter after receiving a certain dosage. Animal Smart has published a time line on their website for different doses of antibiotics, ranging from two weeks to six months. Antibiotics are used in the best interest of the human consuming the meat and the livestock. If the animals are sick, they cannot produce to their full potential.

Another issue facing the meat market industry is the idea that animals are mistreated in the slaughterhouses. Some people do not understand how mistreating and abusing an animal would impact a slaughterhouse. Research shows that careful handling of cattle and hogs will lead to higher quality meat.

When an animal is struck, it causes the meat to be bloodshot, much like a bruise on a human, making the meat unusable. This is one reason road kill animals are typically left after cars hit them. If a slaughterhouse were to beat the animals before they went to slaughter, more meat would be thrown out and unsalvageable. Throwing out meat is like washing dollar bills down the drain. There is no way to prevent or reverse bloodshot meat other than humane treatment, making this incentive much bigger for meat processors.

From my personal experience of working in a slaughterhouse, you can always tell when an animal has not been loaded well or has been loaded by an inpatient farmer. Many of these farmers did not realize what they were doing by rushing or stressing the animal. When we made them aware of the consequences, they would change their actions in order to prevent meat loss and improve quality.

The biggest issue here is the consumers’ lack of understanding of food production. There is a disconnect between food consumers and the agriculture industry. To be an informed consumer you must educate yourself on how the process works.

Kendra Elder

About the Author Kendra Elder

Hello! I'm Kendra Elder, a University of Missouri freshman majoring in science and ag journalism. I am from southeast Missouri. In high school I was active in FFA and the National Beta Club where I served as a state officer. I am now is a member of Ag Communicators of Tomorrow. In the future, I hopes to start a career in advertising and start a cattle farm of my own.