Cassie Payne doesn’t come from a farm background; she grew up in Dallas, TX, and her studies led her to become a high school teacher in New York City. Conversations with fellow urbanites about food and where it came from fueled her desire to pursue the real truth. So, she went back to school at Texas A&M to study animal science, where she hoped to learn the real truth about her food and the farmers behind it.
“People want a face, and they want a relationship with farmers. Today’s consumers think that if food can make us live, grow, stay healthy or get sick. They need to hear their food’s story; 98% of Americans are three generations removed from the farm,” says Payne.
Unfortunately, consumers are paying and trusting the popular literature and film industries for this information. Hollywood and the media have fed the hype of sensational food myths and perceived evils in food production.
The least understood suspect is the easiest target, and ranchers are easy to blame. When living and working in New York City, Payne was a firm believer in Michael Pollan’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Eric Schlosser’s documentary film, Food, Inc. However, her studies in Texas quickly changed her point of view.
While there, she learned a few important things, which I've summed up from her webinar in bullet points for easy reference.
Sustainability: Modern beef production uses less land and economically supports 75% of wildlife. Grass-finishing beef would require 60 million additional acres under cultivation. Yet, the entire beef industry is more sustainable than ever before. We now use 30% less land; 13% fewer cattle, and 20% less feed than in 1977.
Nutrition: Beef is nutrient dense, offering more protein for fewer calories. One 3-oz. serving of lean beef has 180 calories and provides 25 grams of protein. To get that same amount of protein, a person would need to consume one cup of raw tofu at 236 calories, three cups of black beans at 374 calories, and seven tablespoons of peanut butter at 670 calories.
Hormones and Antibiotics: The use of synthetic hormones improves the feed efficiency of cattle by 20% and these products are metabolized by cattle into lean muscle. Meanwhile, the use of subtherapeutic antibiotics increases efficiency by 10-17% while reducing methane emissions. Neither hormones nor antibiotics have any effect on human health. There is 77 times more estrogen in one egg than there is in a portion of implanted beef. Cabbage is even more pronounced, having 200 times more estrogen than beef from an implanted steer.
“The science behind modern methods of food production justified much of today’s agricultural practices for its economic, environmental and social sustainability. I credit the beef industry for its environmental stewardship in the production of healthful foods. Food production is inherently personal and ethical, and therefore controversial. The exaggerations of Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan may be exposed by their own followers if they entice people like me to find out the truth for themselves,” concluded Payne.
In your conversations with consumers, what issues do they have with farmers and ranchers and how have you responded? Check out Payne's blog, Food Think Forum, for additional reads on food myths she tackles. For information on how to share your story, link to Producers Must Promote To Consumers. You can also check out BEEF magazine’s Earth Day page for other environmental information.
Also, pass along this summer grilling video to friends and family and try a new beef recipe today! Boosting beef demand is a critical component of producer success; do your part and spread the good word!