Questions for a Beef Farmer

09.20.12

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with food and our food supply. I spent many years vegan (I recommend that to NO ONE) and many more than that vegetarian (it’s a less awful existence). I’ve personally reconciled my carnivorous ethical dilemmas by eating only organic and humanely farmed meat and dairy products whenever possible and by not wasting meat that an animal died for. With that being said, any time a farmer is willing to talk with me I have a zillion questions. I hope you enjoy this interview with Mike Haley who seems to be a really nice guy. 

Pink Slime: Everyone’s obsessed with pink slime these days. What is it? (besides a catchy name?)

Pink Slime is the phrase that is used by many to describe (in my opinion incorrectly) the meat product Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). What is LFTB? When beef is butchered there are several fatty cuts that contain small amounts of valuable meat. Traditionally these cuts would be mixed into a fatty blend of hamburger but with the increased demand for lean beef a process was developed to remove the fat from the beef resulting in a lean and finely textured beef product.

What sort of ammonia is used in beef processing? Is it the stuff you find under the kitchen sink? How long has it been used?

Its a food grade ammonia gas, so it is different than the cleaner found under the kitchen sink. Ammonia has been used as a processing aid in several types of foods and was approved in 1974 by the USDA. It’s use is as an intervention to help prevent accidental spread of food borne illnesses just as many use salad rinses or sprays at home. Safety interventions are made in many steps, for beef there are several different interventions that are common like citric acid.

I’ve seen cattle graze and only because of that I know that they are supposed to eat grass and hay. I’m a total city slicker. Is beef better tasting when it’s grass fed?

We raise beef cows (different than dairy) and their calves on our farm. Like almost all beef cattlemen our cows graze on grass and hay the majority of the time as its too easy for them to get to fat on grain. Normally about 205 days after birth calves are weaned from their mom, the cow, and they normally remain on a grass pasture until they reach a point where it’s hard for them to continue gaining weight from grass alone. Some producers do leave their steers on grass all the way to their finish weight, but on our farm this would take more time, money, water and other resources so instead we move them to a feeding pen where they eat a richer diet of grain and hay. As far as taste, there is a difference in both taste and texture and I prefer meat finished on corn, but that’s a personal preference that is best left up to each individual.

Why are antibiotics used in cattle feed?

Antibiotics are very expensive to use, on our farm we use antibiotics to treat an animal when they are sick. It is important to detect and treat sick animals appropriately as their health can decline quickly and even spread disease to other animals in the pasture or barn. Occasionally during times that calves may be experiencing extra stress (during extreme shifts in the weather or at weaning) and an individual calf becomes ill we will make the decision to subtherapeutically treat other calves they are in contact with to prevent disease from spreading rampantly through our herd.

Contrary to popular belief antibiotic use in beef is limited to prevent or control disease, cattlemen have a set of quality assurance guidelines that they are expected to adhere to that state antibiotic use should not be used if the primary intent is to improve performance.

Do you farm organic beef? If so why or why not?

No we do not feed organic beef on our farm as it’s not a good fit for us nor does it seem to be a priority of our beef customers. We have several neighbors that do raise organic or grass finished beef. Their farms are different than mine and their customers are looking for something different than mine. I often find conversations with my neighbors fascinating as we both learn from each other’s operations and at times find ways to implement changes on our farms that would have never have been thought about if it were not for diversification within agriculture and our individual farms.

How do you feel when you send the cattle to slaughter? Do they ever become like pets to you? (I know you’re going to laugh at that one but I’m from LA and we watch a lot of movies)

It’s always neat to watch each group of steers grow up, and yes it can be hard at times when they head to slaughter. However I am able to do this knowing that I provided the best care I could for each animal in my care while on our farm.

What size is a serving of beef?

3 ounces, that’s about the size of a deck of cards.

 

Mike Haley farms alongside his father Steve and wife Pam in Ohio, where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle. He is passionate about sharing information about agriculture with others. He is active in online conversations and can be found at http://haley-farms.comhttp://justfarmers.biz and on Twitter @farmerhaley.

Cow photo with permission from Ray-Lin Dairy (tons of great photos here)

 

How Do Bloggers Know When a Publicist is a Liar?

08.3.12

This morning I noticed an interesting piece at the Edelman Blog about Ryan Holiday’s Book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. I’ve not read the book. I know that he pulled a stunt with one of the journo sites earlier this month so I was curious as to what the content might be and when Edelman wrote this:

 Holiday begins by describing “a scam called trading up the chain. I can turn nothing into something by placing a story with a small blog that has very low standards, which then becomes a story for a larger blog and that in turn for a story by larger media outlets.” Holiday’s media landscape begins with small hyper-local websites that are understaffed and traffic-starved. He then moves the story on to the online versions of legacy media, sister sites such as Mainstreet.com, which update often but have less editorial oversight. Finally one gets to the national media. Holiday contends, “This takes less direct pushing and a lot more massaging…the smaller sites will submit your articles to news aggregator sites like Digg…mass media monitors the aggregators for story ideas and cover what is trending there.” He suggests reverse-engineering a story path; knowing that mediabistro and Gawker are heavily read by the “New York Media” set, you “craft your story for those sites.”

A lightbulb went on over my head. In fact it was accompanied by dinging sounds and colored lights. I realized (not for the first time) that Mom Bloggers in particular are targeted by trust me liars every day.

Most often it’s fairly benign with folks being duped into thinking that a product performs differently than it does. Recently the Corn Refiners had a group of Mom Bloggers believing that “Corn Sugar” (the new name for High Fructose Corn Syrup) is somehow good for you… or at least not bad. America’s waistline suggests otherwise but we don’t need to have that debate today. The Corn Refiners succeeded in making a small group of smart women look gullible and untrustworthy. When the two groups of people (bloggers and publicists) walked into that room one of them had a plan.

Yesterday quite a few parenting bloggers got the following email from the kids at O’Malley Hansen Communications:

Hi, [redacted]:

I am contacting you on behalf of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI).

I’d love to discuss an initiative/project we’d be thrilled to have you be a part of. Given your expertise and platform, we’re really confident you would be a perfect fit for an educational (yet entertaining) video project regarding modern farming practices and consumer concerns. I am happy to share more information/discuss your potential involvement further at your convenience.

Essentially, we’re seeking a “consumer representative” to ask experts questions about modern farming and GM crops/food. The video will not be scripted and we hope to simply create a discussion between you and a specific expert.

Please feel free to give me a call or let me know when a good time is to chat. This should be a really interesting project that has a significant impact. You will have an opportunity to represent thousands of consumers/moms with families to feed and ask important questions about farming, food supply, etc.

Specifically, we want you to ask questions regarding the nutrtional implications.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

314.xxx.xxxx

Modern farming! Why yes, who doesn’t have questions about that? It’s not like you drive past a red barn and see pigs rolling around in muck anymore. Farming has become industrial and our food looks different now than it did just a few years ago. Why? Well because folks like Monsanto make products like roundup to kill weeds. The problem with killing weeds is that it also kills plants you want to grow. The solution? Well, you can create new plants in a laboratory (which should NOT be confused with creating a hybrid) with altered RNA that will not be affected when toxins like RoundUp are sprayed over the fields.

Another cool things that scientists can do with crops is to sterilize them. These alterations in plants create Genetically Modified Organisms. Much has been written about GMOs. On the softer side of the news they tend to bankrupt farmers. You see the soy and corn they buy can’t produce seeds so the farmers are beholden to the scientists that create the seeds each year. This is not sustainable.

The Atlantic has a nice article about some of the dangers of genetically modified foods. If you don’t feel like reading it I’ll give you part of the punchline: cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and infertility.

So what does this have to do with  O’Malley Hansen Communications, The Center for Food Integrity and  Trust Me, I’m Lying?

Well, if I connect the dots appropriately I see that O’Malley Hansen Communications is inviting mom bloggers to be on camera asking scientists questions about farming on behalf of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI). Why wouldn’t they ask a FARMER about farming? Well, because farmers can’t answer questions about RNA and food safety and farmers are probably terrified of CFI because the members of CFI include giants like Monsanto that can make a farm disappear. Having a blogger ask the questions may look like an endorsement to the casual viewer. Mommy endorses GMOs! PR wins… health loses.

This is all very curious timing. Here in California we’ve put Prop 37 on the Ballot. Prop 37 would require packaged foods that contain GMOs to be labeled as such. KPCC has a list of folks who have donated money for and against Prop 37. There’s a bit of overlap between the two lists with Bimbo bakeries being the one with the largest overlap donation at $17,783.28. The CFI can’t help the con side without some level of disclosure so I’m sure that one has nothing to do with the other. I’m CERTAIN getting a news story placed about how GMOs are safe has nothing to do with the fact that Prop 37 has huge support here in California and no one is saying you can’t have GMOs, all they want is for consumers to know where they are.

Moms, what I’m telling you is that this isn’t a coincidence. Do NOT go on camera with a scientist to talk about food. Ask a farmer that doesn’t have a publicist. Promise them anonymity and get a real story. If you love your children (and I know you do) you won’t ignore the fact that $1,186,000 has been spent by The Council for Biotechnology Information, The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Dupont, and BASF Plant Science to prevent YOU THE CONSUMER from knowing when a Genetically Modified Organism is in your food.

If it didn’t matter would they spend the money?

Everyone knows that the moms matter. It’s an election year ladies, let’s stay smart and learn from Ryan Holiday about the publicists who are liars.

If you’d like to join the grass roots campaign to Label GMOs please go to CaRightToKnow.org and pledge your support. We need you.