Food Dialogues Blog

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Meat Processing and Sustainability

Farming and food impacts our lives in ways many fail to realize. From planting seeds, soil and crop health, to water usage and raising farm animals, all of these affect our health, our families and the world around us.

As consumers learn more about food production and practices, sustainability is increasingly becoming a top concern. Particularly the sustainability of meat production. Many health “gurus” tout the perceived benefits of a plant-based diet, but I’m going to tell you how farmers and scientists are innovating systems to responsibly raise and produce meat in the most humane and environmentally friendly way.

Plant-based foods have tremendous benefits that are essential for good health and disease prevention, including: phytochemicals, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. But, as a Registered Dietitian, I also see the nutritional benefits of incorporating beef, pork and poultry into a healthy, balanced diet.

Recently, meat consumption has become the scapegoat for health issues like obesity and diabetes which plague the population. Additionally, meat production is often said to be environmentally unsustainable. What the naysayers fail to account for is that meat is an abundant source of high biological value protein. This is important because this means meat has all of the essential amino acids the body needs for tissue repair and Immune system maintenance. These food choices are rich sources of iron, selenium and zinc and are necessary yet deficient in the diets of a large portion of the population. Meat also contains a healthy dose of vitamin B12, which is another reason I highly recommend most people include some in their weekly menu. This important vitamin is not readily available in plant based foods and without meat in the diet, in many cases, supplementation is necessary.

What about sustainability?
Farmers, ranchers and their associations are spending millions annually in the development of advanced farming techniques to improve sustainability and efficiency. They are committed to the responsible viability of their industry. Modern farmers are harnessing technology to fully embrace sustainable practices. Just as a modern phone is a smart phone, today’s farmers are SMART Farming. . For example, SMART Farm innovations allow farmers to utilize automated systems that monitor and control barn climates to keep animals comfortable and safe. These advances allow farmers to open or close curtains automatically and control heating and cooling systems in response to temperature changes outside. They are alerted via smartphone or tablet if the temperature becomes too hot or cold. If the weather is warm, with the touch of a button, farmers can trigger misting mechanisms, which help cool down the animals. The flooring in the barn is also designed to keep the barns clean and manure collection easy. These advanced technologies save time, energy and resources, that in turn, preserve the environment.

Fresh water is always available and animals are fed through a closely monitored, automatic system. An animal’s feed is carefully portioned, calculated and customized based on veterinary guidance. Farmers monitor closely how much an animal eats and drinks, because changes in their consumption levels could indicate they are sick and need veterinary care. These common practices also eliminate waste by administering high quality digestible food, which not only benefits the animal, but also indirectly preserves the environment.

Animal manure is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and is reused on the crops. This waste is collected from the barn floors, injected into the soil and used as a natural, organic fertilizer. This practice reduces wastewater runoff and controls odor. These are just a few examples of how farmers and ranchers who raise livestock minimize their environmental impact.

When I learned about SMART Farming and how our nation’s farmers and ranchers are working diligently to implement and use technology, I was very excited to share this information. Today’s farmers’ level of commitment to sustainability, efficiency and new technology to improve the health and treatment of livestock will benefit us all now and in the future.

To read more from Kim, please visit NutritionPro Consulting.

Kim Melton is part of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance’s Digital Voices Council. All opinions expressed are the writer’s own. Funded by one or more checkoff programs.