As the season shifts from summer to fall, our nation’s farmers are working hard to make a new autumn harvest available to consumers. While I think we certainly all appreciate the flavors of fall as they arrive, it’s a good reminder to look at our food supply and how food ends up on our tables. I was recently invited to join 20 other dietitians and representatives from the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance on a tour of two of Iowa’s largest producers of pork and corn and soybean seed, Iowa Select and DuPont Pioneer, to receive a little education on where our nation’s food comes from.
Iowa Select Farms – Animal Welfare a Priority
The first farm that we visited was one of the Iowa Select breed-to-wean farms. One thing that was apparent from this visit is that Iowa Select takes the welfare of their pigs very seriously. In order to protect the health of the pigs, each of us had to shower in, including washing our hair, then continue to “the clean side” (the inside of the farm) with none of our belongings or outside items. We were provided with clothing and shoes, all the way down to undergarments—all to protect the pigs. Then we repeated the showering procedure on the way out. The animal welfare commitment didn’t stop there. Iowa Select just invested $3 million for an innovative air filtration system to protect the animals from airborne swine viruses. The pigs are housed comfortably in a temperature-controlled environment where they are kept safe from harsh winters, disease, and even each other. Iowa Select also customizes each pig’s nutrition based on its life stage and individual needs, taking special care to encourage growth of small or sick piglets. I could tell that each individual in this privately-owned farm truly loves his or her job and is passionate about farming.
DuPont Pioneer – Biotechnology Improves Nutrition
Our second stop in farm country was at DuPont Pioneer, one of the leaders in producing a sustainable food supply for the world’s increasing population, while also supporting farmers’ livelihoods and environmental stewardship. We were able to see first-hand the innovative greenhouses and take a look at the process of biotechnology in the lab. Discussed during the tour was one of Pioneer’s products, high-oleic soybean oil, which provides shelf stability without hydrogenation, which is exciting in the nutrition industry. Even though I already view it as a positive thing, the visit to DuPont Pioneer put me at ease even more with the practices of biotechnology.
One of the biggest takeaways from this amazing learning experience is that so much care goes into producing our nation’s food, and that so much is being done to maintain and advance a sustainable food supply. The fact that these companies are global in scale and use methods that many consumers do not understand does not make them bad or scary. It enables them to use the best technology, like the air filtration system at Iowa Select and the temperature-controlled greenhouses at DuPont Pioneer, to promote a healthy and reliable food supply. Each product must go through rigorous testing before it is approved for consumption, and so much is being done to maintain healthy animals and prevent illness so that farmers only have to use antibiotics sparingly. Their biggest concern, just like many of ours, is safe, high-quality food.
As Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) increasingly become the trusted sources of food and nutrition advice, it’s important for us to have the answers to many questions our clients have concerning food, such as animal welfare, biotechnology, antibiotic and pesticide use, and environmental sustainability. As professionals who rely on scientific evidence for our practice, we need to be the ones to fight the constant fear-mongering and work to educate the public so that they can be at ease and make informed decisions. This experience has made me more comfortable answering these questions and making consumers feel confident about how their food is grown and raised.