I was in attendance at the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) symposium this past week. It was also attended by medical, veterinary, government, academia and industry professionals from some 30 states and Canada. From this farm boy’s seat, the assembly of highly educated and numerously titled individuals was more than intimidating. Sorting through all the big words and terms so as to digest all this info was daunting to say the least.

I truly came away from this three-day event with one key take-home: The Meat Animal Industry Must Change Its Message and Stop Just Defending Itself!!

Here is why I say this: ( taken from the numerous speakers and attendee comments )

  • 82 percent of antibiotics used in animals have no use in humans 
  • Foodborne human illness has decreased 29 percent in the last decade 
  • Media hits on foodborne illness have increased 150 percent 
  • Consumers care about their food
    • 73 percent rely on product labels
    • 55 percent care about hormones and antibiotics
    • 66 percent read “most” labels
  • Wellness is the new hot item in food
  • Consumers are moving to the produce aisle and away from protein
  • Four in 10 consumers have lost trust in the food system
  • 22 percent of consumers think agriculture is transparent
  • Consumers have a real problem with young and cuddly and tasty and savory
  • Consumers have four basic concerns when buying food:
    • How does it taste?
    • What does it cost?
    • How do I cook it?
    • Will it kill my kids?

We need to explain that size, scale and consistency are reasons why our meat looks the same, cuts the same and cooks the same. Transparency will breed credibility. Changes in our food labels are obviously needed and yes, more veterinarian oversight for feed-grade antibiotics would seem to be beneficial. (I didn’t think I would ever say that!)

We must walk in a mother’s shoes and concentrate on delivering trust and correcting the constant confusion of our customers over “what is right/healthy/cost effective/safe/green.”

Paul Meers

The opinions expressed are those of the author.