Monthly Archives: June 2011

Beef’s Biggest PR Problem

Beef’s Biggest PR Problem

Prior to last week’s beef tour, I believed (and am not alone in this belief) that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) were EVIL.  I had seen pictures of tens of thousands (maybe even millions…mainly joking) of cows stuffed into a tiny yard far too small to let them move.  Then I went on the beef tour and went to a CAFO.  Now, I am rethinking this position, but I still understand why I was so ready to believe that CAFOs are so bad.  Beef, like all meat producers, have a PR problem because their ultimate end is death.

I know that sounds unfair, but read on.

A Few Disclaimers

Before I go on, I want to set the stage properly.

1.  Yes, Missouri Beef did sponsor me to go on the beef tour.  However, my previous posts in regards to nearly losing my breakfast at the meat processing plant should let you know it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops.

2.  I want to a CAFO in Pratt, KS.  From going to a CAFO, I was able to compare that operation to some of the pictures of other CAFOs I’d seen.  I now believe those pictures to be misleading.

3.  I, like the beef industry itself, believe that there have historically been horrible treatment of the animals to their detriment.  We also both believe that there are cases where this continues, but that these are not rampant and are not condoned by the industry.

This post, then, is an examination of why I, and by extension others, are so willing to believe that the animal industry were villians.

Pets Are Family

But, let’s start with some statistics.

According to Doctor Dan Thomson from Kansas State (you know this has to be an important topic for me to quote a K-Stater and apologies to him if I am off 1-2% on his numbers):

  • 50% of people in the United States live alone
  • This plays into the fact that 85% of pet owners consider their pets as their children.
  • 84% would risk their lives to save their pets from bodily harm

Now, Dr. Thomson goes on to wonder what’s up with the 1% who wouldn’t risk their lives to save their children, but that’s the topic of another post.

Still, the big takeaway is that people are valuing their pets as humans and through purely anecdotal evidence, once you do that for your household pets, you start doing that for animals.

The End Product

Which leads me back to my thesis.

Right about the middle of the beef cycle, the cow has to die.  Even if the animal died of old age, it would still have to die.  All of the work before the cow dies is to ensure that it is as big, flavorful, and as high in quality as possible without sacrificing meat quality and all of the work afterwards is about handing the dead cow’s remains so they get to the table with as little fuss as possible.

But, still, the cow has to die, which means the beef industry is in the business of death and since 85% of people look at pets as people…it’s no great leap to start looking at the beef industry as essentially selling soylent green.

Fear the Slippery Slope

And I don’t think that’s fair.  I’m all for treating animals with dignity not because it leads to a better steak, but because I think as a race, humans are just better than sinking to hurting animals because they can.

But as the beef industry goes on, it’s that slippery slope–that association of killing cows to killing people– that they have to worry about.

And frankly, I am not going to ask people to stop thinking of pets, cows, birds, chickens or even snakes (I hate snakes) as people.  That’s their right.  However, I do think that we should stop vilifying people who treat their animals well just because those animals end up at a slaughterhouse.  It doesn’t do anyone any good to sling mud.  Period.

The Call to Action

So, the call to action here is to find a meat producer and talk to them.  Ask them about how they treat their animals and see the sincerity when they say they want no harm to come to them.  Even if the reason they feel that way has nothing to do with the reasons you might like.  Oh, and if you find that meat producer isn’t following industry regulations for proper beef treatment, tell the local beef council and the USDA (here are a list of USDA regulations.)

Also, stay informed about livestock raising practices.  As long as they preserve the dignity of the animal, it’s probably okay.

But also stay informed to see if generally accepted animal practices change.  If research comes out tomorrow that shows the best thing to do for steak quality is to tie a baby cow up by its hooves and beat it with barbed wire, we need to say in once voice that’s not okay.  We’ll take lesser quality meat to eliminate that type of suffering.

Oh, and if you are reading this and you’re veg*n, thank you for sticking with me.  I know this isn’t a condemnation of meat across the board, but I hope that it at least makes you consider the possibility that not all meat producers are villians.

And whether you sit down to a steak dinner today or not, enjoy!

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More on Creekstone Farms

Creekstone Farms

Okay, so I realize I should probably expand on my last blog post.  In all fairness to Creekstone Farms, the part about hurling was about me, not about them.

Tuesday was my first trip to a slaughterhouse ever and from what I hear, Creekstone Farms was as good a way to get introduced into the world of cattle harvesting as possible.  Doctor Temple Grandin, a big name is proper animal/cattle treatment, designed the plant to be as low stress for the cows as possible and to generally be as humane and sanitary as can be.

And all in all, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.  Still, I did watch cows die and I did get to see the insides of the cow far closer up than I would like.  And it was hot and smelly (not rotten smelly, but cows and their insides do have a certain odor to them) and when your nose is as strong as mine, the smell is distinct.

So, I certainly don’t want to make it out like Creekstone Farms was this awful place which mistreated the animals, harmed them, was unsanity, etc.  For all the meat I’ve eaten and for all the chickens and cows I’ve seen after the slaughter process, I’ve never seen the blow that ends the life or the animal move through the line.

Therefore, the gorge I felt a few times wasn’t Creekstone doing anything wrong.  It was about me being closer to the harvest than ever before.  In the end, it’s not something I’m going to go out and try to see/smell on a daily basis, but I can’t be too critical of the process and continue to eat meat.

And despite my support of plant-based diets, I don’t see myself returning to one anytime soon.


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Creekstone Farms

I didn’t hurl. That’s all I really want to say.

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At the plant, we’re going to hear a report from CattleFax…

This tickles me.


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Winfield Livestock Auction

We just left Winfield Livestock Auction. Great info, nice people, and I got a hat. Good times.

Let’s see– important takeaways from the auction house or “sale barn”:

1. Seriously, Justin Brazle was a heckuva nice guy. (Yep, I said heckuva. Deal with it.) He was definitely motivated to make money, but didn’t have the corporate business man feel. Good times.
2. He puts his auctions on the Internet for real time bidding. Take that eBay!
3. His job is to help the beef industry reduce risk.

Sadly, buying cattle is expensive (cattle are bought and sold in 50,000 pound lots.) That means that a lot of money is tied up in a shipment and a lot of money can be lost on a herd. To make matters worse, right now the market is high. If it takes a downturn, a lot of people could lose a lot of money.

Not so good times.

Now… On the way to witness a “harvest.” It’s time to watch a cow die. 🙁

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Early Morning

We had to be up at 6:15 this morning to have our bags stowed so we could be on the bus at 7:00 so we could then sit for 15 minutes. Grrr.

Not the it comes up much, but I am not a morning person. At least the restaurant serves Tazo Awake tea. Through it, I am barely functional.. Although, according to some, that makes a commie (thanks Jennifer! :))

I’ll do more of an indepth recap later, but suffice it to say we won the entree round last night (boo yeah!!!!… does anyone say boo yeah anymore?) Our dish was seared terris major steak over red wine risotto with a red wine buerre blanc with sauted vegetables finished with Tasteful Olive cinnamon pear balsamic. I think we could have given the dish a sexier name. Love steak or tender steak well done. Something…

Anyway, the important takeaway is that I made the risotto. Because I am awesome.

Today’s itenerary is very full. We’re headed to a livestock auction and then to a processing plant. Yep, today I get to see them kill a cow.

I had a light breakfast…

Okay, that’s all for now. Enjoy!

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Pratt Feeders

So, I went to my first Concentrated Animal Feed Operation and I have to say I am a bit underwhelmed. In a good way.

Muich like California, Pratt Feeders lot seems filled with happy cows. They all had space, food was plentiful, and they had access to water. There wasn’t much shade, but the breeze was nice.

I don’t know maybe I’m just tired, but that seems like the biggest takeaway. The CAFO seemed like a pretty okay place for a cow to be.

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Something that stuck with me during the tour… We had a backgrounder on the tour bus talking about what he does. (I had no idea but a backgrounder is, conceptually, an intermediate feedlot. Cows are taken to a backgrounder and fed a cheaper feed to add size.)

I found his comment interesting. After coming from hearing Gordon Stucky talk about the importance of weaning calves in a stress-free environment, we heard the backgrounder mention some of the calves who come to him are weaned on the semi from the Southeast to his ranch. Not exactly stress-free… At least the calves have a backgrounder to look after them.

Hopefully, they are a nice as some of the guys we’ve met.

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Stucky Ranch

Now leaving Stucky Ranch. Had a great lunch (courtesy of Fence Post Catering)! Guess what? It was beef! It was really good BBQ beef, beans, spicy chips, and ranch pasta salad with veggies.

During lunch, Gordon Stucky spoke about calf weaning (getting a calf off milk) and how to do it as stress-free as possible. It’s kind of touchy subject because it sounds kind of cruel, but at the same, every calf has to be weaned. For his part, Gordon does everything to make it as stress free as possible and to be as considerate of the calf as possible. He is about as far from the evil villian rancher as you can get. He’s much closer to the “Aw shucks” good ‘ol boy cowboy you might find in a romance novel. Not that he’ll ever talk to me again for saying so. And I’m kind of going off general impression here…can’t say I’ve ever read a cowboy romance novel…

But I digress.

Dr. Dan Thomson also gave a very forceful talk on the public impression of agriculture. As a vet and a policymaker, he feels criticized by certain groups and responded to some of the arguments. Without going point by point, his response generally can be summed with two of his statements.

Do cows get mistreated in the beef industry? Yes.
Is it common? No.

He was very clear that no one gets sicker over videos of cattle abuse than the industry. In general, he feels that perceptions of the industry overall is driven by the actions of a small few. He points to numerous standards, laws, and training that has come from the industry to prevent poor animal welfare.

It was a good presentation that supplied food for thought.

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McCurry Bros

Okay, so I am going to try live blogging my Pasture to Plate trip. So far, things have gotten off to a great start. If by great, I mean further revealing that I have a lot of maturing to do.

First off, everyone is really nice. The Kansas Beef folks have rolled out the red carpet and we’re even staying near about the prettiest spot in Wichita, which is not well know for it’s “pretty.”

So, thanks for that.

Also, thanks to the McCurry Bros (and wives and grandchildren.) Your land was beauitful and your knowledge of cattle production was amazing. The amount of science that goes into what you do is pretty astounding.

Which is why I hope that I was able to keep my giggling to a minimum during the conversation on cow artificial insemination and semen extraction in bulls. Those who know me will be proud of my restraint…

More later! Enjoy!

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