CSU professors: Ag needs to better communicate its message
Jan 30, 2013 (Greeley Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Dale Woerner can sum up the efficiency of today's U.S. beef industry by repeatedly using one number.
Compared to 30 years ago, he says, the industry is producing 30 percent more beef while using 30 percent less resources and 30 percent less cattle than it did three decades ago.
His audience at the Colorado Farm Show on Tuesday seemed surprised by the stat, which led Woerner -- a professor of meat safety and meat quality specialist at Colorado State University -- to ask the crowd, "Why doesn't the general public know that "
Woerner's simple explanation: the beef industry and agriculture in general does not communicate its positive message to the public.
Woerner, joined by fellow CSU professor and food-safety specialist Larry Goodridge, led a segment at the farm show titled "Is Media Ruining Agriculture "
Instead of going after the media for giving "pink slime" and genetically modified organisms a bad name, the two said much of the blame goes back to the industry.
They encouraged farmers, ranchers and others to be proactive in spreading their message of efficient production, quality, animal welfare and safety to the media, and using the scientific data that's out there to help tell their story.
The industry often waits until there's a crisis to try telling its story, Goodridge and Woerner said.
Woerner took time to discuss during the session how "pink slime" -- or "lean, finely textured beef," as its called in the beef industry -- had been in existence for about 30 years before last year's uproar over the product.
Ground beef containing the low-cost filler -- made from fatty meat scraps that are heated to remove most of the fat, then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria -- has always met the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food safety standards, but has disappeared from many major chain grocery stores.
The beef industry didn't talk about its safety, or how the process helps get the most food from a cattle carcass, until it was already on the defense.
In general, Woerner said the beef industry must stress the message that's been a focus of his research: Beef is a healthy choice.
Woerner has led research efforts at CSU that have explored the health benefits of beef and examined cattle carcasses to discover ways of producing leaner and smaller beef cuts that might appeal to the growing number of Americans seeking healthier options -- helping keep the beef industry from losing more of its share in the domestic market.
Beef demand in the United States is only about half of what it was in the 1980s.
Among the issues facing the beef industry is that some claim young girls are maturing faster today because of the hormones used in beef production.
Woerner said Tuesday the beef industry needs to point to the scientific data that shows there are only 1.9 nanograms of estrogen in 3 ounces of beef produced with hormone injections.
A woman already has 480,000 nanograms of estrogen in her body.
Woerner also discussed Tuesday that, while red-meat consumption has been linked to heart disease, beef -- when consumed in healthy portions -- offers a wealth of nutritional value.
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association ranked beef as the No. 1 source of protein, zinc and vitamin B-12. Iron, too, is plentiful in beef, Woerner added, noting that research has shown many young women and elderly people are iron-deficient.
"There's a lot of scientific data out there that shows we're doing a good thing," Woerner said. "We need to communicate that better."
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