We recently hosted New York: Food Dialogues where three panel discussions highlighted tough questions consumers have about antibiotics, biotechnology and the media, marketing and healthy food choices. Barbara Determan, an Iowa pig farmer and president of Heartland Marketing Group, shared her expertise and perspective during our panel discussion on antibiotic use in farm animals, specifically as it relates to pork production and her family farm.
 
Following the event, Barbara blogged about her experience at the New York: Food Dialogues. Here’s what she had to say:

What is a small town Iowa farmwoman doing in New York City on a panel of experts about antibiotics with a moderator from CNN? That’s exactly what I was wondering Thursday, November 15!

A few weeks ago I was asked to represent the pork industry in the New York City Food Dialogues sponsored by the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. The panel I was on centered around antibiotics in livestock, specifically pigs. Two additional panels discussing GMOs and Marketing and the Media were also a part of the day. Here are my major take-aways from the experience.

First, our consumers are woefully uneducated about food production. Now I have been aware of this for some time, but participating in the panel brought this fact home! Highly educated people have some real misconceptions and misunderstandings about where their food comes from. And to complicate matters, they don’t know where to find good information.

Second, they believe antibiotics are fed to animals (especially pigs in my panel’s case) from birth to harvest. They think the antibiotics are added for no reason and at high levels. They don’t realize the use of antibiotics come with a veterinarian’s advice and are fed on a very limited and defined basis. Explaining our practices for meat production is a tedious process, but we must do it so we don’t have those assumptions circulating. This follows he age old public relations advice of you must tell your story, because if you don’t someone else will and you won’t like that version.

Third, livestock production has changed and this group does not understand that better health, genetics, and environmental practices are the result of these changes. Modern buildings with controlled temperatures and nutrition designed for each day of the pig’s life help us provide the world’s safest food supply at a reasonable price. Efficient production does not mean bad production.

Fourth, we have to be careful not to use what I call “ag-ese”, the words that only those of us in the agriculture production business use. Our ag slang only further complicates everyone’s understanding of what we do every day. We need to stop and think what those words mean and how we need to explain to a non-agriculture population.

Fifth, some reporters really do want to learn more about our food production system and are not judgmental about that learning process. Our moderator, Ali Veshti, CNN’s Chief Business Correspondent, did an excellent job making sure all participants were involved answering questions. He asked some tough but fair questions as well as handled audience, Twitter and email questions. His genuine curiosity made it easy to explain farming practices, both crop and livestock. My favorite line from him throughout the day was, “Seedless watermelons are GMOs? I’m in! What’s the problem?”

We as agricultural producers are proud of feeding our world but that doesn’t go far when the world doesn’t understand how we produce that food. We must participate in conversations with consumers at every opportunity. I am proud of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance for starting these dialogues with both the pro and con sides represented. It’s the only way we can explain our story to others and not just ourselves.