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Do Beef Producers See Consumer Concerns As White Noise?

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Are we becoming complacent in correcting misconceptions about beef?

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is a king who the gods punished for his deceitfulness by forcing him to push a huge boulder up a hill for eternity. The rock would roll back down, and he had to push it back up.

That seems like a good analogy for the task our industry faces in correcting misinformation about beef and the beef industry. After seven years of blogging about beef, I feel like I’ve covered the same ground over and over again, and repeatedly answered the same questions from consumers.

Are hormones, growth promotants and GMO feeds impacting the healthfulness of beef? Should I be worried about E. coli? Do I need to eat organic to ensure my beef is safe? Is grass-fed truly better? Should I be worried about the fat content in beef? Wouldn’t turkey or chicken be healthier? Will my environmental impact be reduced if I go meatless on Mondays? Do ranchers abuse their cattle?

The list of questions that I’ve answered over the years has been wide and varied, but it always comes down to these main concerns: safety, nutrition, preparation, animal welfare and the environment.

The fact is we need to continue to provide education in these areas at every opportunity. Sure, we may have answered these questions before, and we may feel like the ongoing concerns are almost just background noise, or not our problem. But education and outreach needs to be a big part of beef producers' job description.

 

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I was reminded of this recently when I stumbled across a heated debate on Facebook about the impacts of eating conventionally raised beef. One side adamantly believed that people would start to experience adverse side effects from eating conventionally raised beef. The other side was confident in beef as a health food, no matter how it was produced.

Upon reading the comments, I realized that much education is needed, both internally as an industry and outside of our own comfort zones, talking to consumers. Beyond that, there is absolutely no reason for one segment of beef producers to pit itself against another segment. Instead, we need to focus on selling our product to consumers by touting the benefits of beef, whether it’s organic, grass-fed or grain-finished.

Yet, time and time again, I see producers from one niche market or another fighting back and forth about which is better. Truly, if the consumer will buy the product, it’s great. As long as the beef industry will continue to provide options for consumers to choose from, then all labels should be welcome in the meat case.

Regardless of what kind of beef you produce, or which part of the beef industry chain you are a part of, consumer outreach is a must. Let’s all become more active in social media sites and in conversations at upcoming state fairs. These are great opportunities to share our beef stories. Let’s not let them pass by.

What are your thoughts on this topic? What is needed to better educate consumers about our product, its healthfulness and sustainability? Is this a job that all producers should be involved in? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 4

Mark Mulhall (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2013

Farmers and ranchers do pay attention to consumer wants and needs. In the late '70's one could walk a carcass cooler of any "Big Three" U.S. beef packer and be hard pressed to find a yield grade one or two carcass. Almost everything graded three and higher. Mrs. Meat Shopper said, "No," and cattle changed, becoming leaner. The issue is economics.

Today's producers present huge animals. A nice size box of tri tip weighs approximately 70 lbs. Most tri tip boxes off the truck on 8/16 weighed over 90 lbs. each. The meat was like coming from elephants. My mind automatically asked, "What's this about?"

Professional baseball and football is questioning what players ingest to increase production and efficiency. Isn't it logical to question why cattle, hogs and chickens have become so huge, or why Big Lick Tennessee Walking horses perform a hideous gait?

Does one think police brutality would change if a tape of the Rodney King beating had not surfaced or animal abuse at Hallmark Meat Packing Co. not been shown?

BPI brought cameras into their plant to tell the real story about "Pink Slime." Truth sets people free and is the cornerstone of the free market system, I feel. Educate people.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2013

I agree more outreach is a must. A lot of work needs to be done, and unfortunately it is like housework, it keeps needing done constantly.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2013

Consumers do need education re beef products and most of what they hear is about one of the niche products being better than mainstream beef. However beef producers also need to receive some education. Just hearing the scientists has misled us. They are a function of big business interests who fund the research and the direction of the research. Consumers have told us time and again they want something different. We tell them they can't have it because it would cost more. That is why the niche market is growing so fast.

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2013

Yes. I believe beef producers do see consumer concerns as white noise. Yes. Educate people. That includes beef producers. At the outset, I agree that feedlots are probably necessary right now in the present marketing system to meet demand, but they won't always be necessary, and they will seem less and less desirable as more beef consumers and producers alike become educated. From the 1960s through the 1990s, we sent all of our steers to feedlots after weaning. Education provided by Allan Savory and Allan Nation's publication, among others, helped us realize there was a better way. It is better for the cattle, better for the land, better for us as producers because we deal directly with the people who buy our beef. Most important, it is better for the consumers of our beef because it provides more and better nutrients and micro-nutrients, an overall leaner product with higher quality fats and fatty acids that are more digestible, in particular, the levels of CLA, Omega 3s, as well as vitamin E, beta carotene and B vitamins are significantly better when beef is all grassfed. For more details, look up Clemson University's study detailing ten health advantages of grassfed beef, by S. K. Duckett et al.
Is marketing easier for the producer? NO. Selling cattle off the farm at weaning is easier. Marketing and building markets is work. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, because direct marketing grassfed beef is better in every way. Is it more efficient? Yes, because it involves lower inputs, less transportation and far less medication, among other things. What about humane treatment? Opening a fence to allow animals to enter a new pasture is as humane as anything we can think of. The cattle are obviously eager and sometimes even joyful. Direct marketing of course, also cuts out many middle-marketers, which gives the beef industry the jitters. Middle marketers will need to consider new niches. Issues with beef quality tend to equalize with better quality forage along with forage-oriented genetics and appropriate aging and cooking methods. Mobile USDA abbatoirs for on-farm harvesting will also boost consumer confidence.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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