Animal Ag Alliance held its annual conference in early May. Here are some random thoughts to come out of that event.
Lots of conversation about the sudden, but odd, excitement over slow growth chicken and their potential impact on the poultry industry. I listened to a panel discussion, looked at the numbers and the possibility of a devastating economic impact on production costs and the price of a pound of meat. It’s all bad news. As of today, it’s an extremely small niche and does not qualify as any kind of a movement. Maybe the anti-animal ag people will like its ability to financially cripple the poultry business.
All this talk about the strange dining habits of millennials and whatever you want to call the generation just behind them is another groundless worry. Kansas State’s Melissa Schrader says incoming students are asking more questions about food and want more variety. Not just a cup of plain yogurt for breakfast, she said, but Greek yogurt, low fat yogurt, yogurt with fruit, etc.
Yogurt, you might remember, is that funny little tub of clotted milk that your grandparents wondered about. I’ve heard it called health food for hippies but I’m of a ‘certain’ age.
About "Pollanated' food
Foodie author Michael Pollan said,“Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.” Later, he revised it to ‘grandmother.’ Your mom is next. I suppose mutton is good, kiwi fruits are bad. Pollan-isms, though, are often irrelevant.
Bothered by all those research projects that claim people want certain qualifiers such as all natural or organic on the label before they’ll buy a food product at the neighborhood grocery store?
“What people say they want for food doesn't always match what they put in their grocery carts” said Dr. Kate Barger-Weathers of Cobb Vantress. Yep. After reading 40 plus years of those surveys and then watching what really sells, I can tell you the most important thing on the label is always price. It’s first. And second. And third.
An early morning panel discussing their restaurant food choices said ‘locally grown’ and ‘organic’ were their hot button terms. Surprisingly, ‘animal welfare’ was a yawner. It’s a 'back of the line' issue said one.
What are the current demands of extremists?
For poultry, it’s reduced stocking density, enriched environment, a change in stunning methods, change in breeds, all things that will make production much more costly.
Remember what I just said about the most important quality for the consumer? Extremists know how to do what they do.
‘No Fear’ is more than an American clothing brand. It’s a suggestion from Dr. Matt Salois of Elanco. “Don’t cave immediately to animal activists,” he warned. Dr. Barger-Weathers added, “Determine what's critical, first.” before acting on extremists’ demands.
Want Words to Live By?
Heed this warning from Kansas State’s Dr. Dan Thomson: ”For every complex problem, there's a simple solution, and it's wrong."
Maybe more important, though, was this comment about sustainability from the good doc: “It's really hard for starving people to care about sustainability 100 years from now. They just care about eating tomorrow.”
More pithy commentary from Thomson: ”Environmental change will have more impact on livestock production than livestock production will have on environmental change.”
In other words, don’t worry so much about the air quality damage caused by your excessively flatulent cows.
What’s a healthy diet? Really?
“Eating cholesterol does not worsen blood cholesterol. It was a scientific mistake and they are very sorry,” said Nina Teicholz, author of the insanely controversial book, “The Big Fat Surprise.” She was speaking about the contriteness of the scientific community when she pointed out ignored research that proved saturated fats were not the supreme evil of nutrition.
She asked the audience, "Are the U.S. dietary guidelines not backed by science? Are they politically driven?" (Answer: Most likely.) “Saturated fats do not cause increased cardiovascular disease. They can raise your 'good' HDL. Cook with butter! Eat eggs!” she urged.
Buttery good scrambled eggs were on the breakfast menu both mornings.
Killing the opposition with humor, she displayed a slide that said, “I ate butter and my pants fell off." Nice statement about the weight loss benefits of a 21st century diet.
Out-sized power of rural vote
Here is an interesting comment I heard from the speaker’s platform "Rural America wants a voice. They may not be the loudest but they may be the silent majority.”
Not so, I think. After the recent presidential election, rural America shouldn’t even pretend it is being ignored. It is a false modesty. They are not a silent majority, they’ve been a minority for at least 100 years. In 2016 they became the loudest political voice in the country.