Consumer misinformation runs amokWritten by Jennifer Womack
Casper — Misinformation about American agriculture is running amok among consumers. Proof lays just a power button away on your television or your radio. It’s also been frequenting the nation’s mainstream newspapers on subjects ranging from beef safety to animal handling practices.
Dr. Greg Quakenbush, DVM, Director of Beef Veterinary Operations for Pfizer Animal Health, says it’s time to dispel the myths and spread fact-based information backed by numbers. He says it’s an effort that needs to start fairly close to home.
“Too many cattlemen don’t know the truth about the very issues that affect their industry,” says Quakenbush. He was in Casper for the Range Beef Cow Symposium early December and armed a group of the region’s ranchers with some fairly startling statistics.
“There’s a tremendous lie out there about hormones,” says Quakenbush noting the notion that implanted beef is bad for one’s health. “All meat contains hormones,” he counters. “When somebody says they want hormone-free meat, they don’t know what they’re talking about as it does not exist. ”
A four-ounce serving of beef from cattle that haven’t been implanted contains 1.2 nanograms of estrogen, he says. Comparatively, a four-ounce serving of beef from an animal that has been implanted contains 1.6 nanograms. A four-ounce serving of raw cabbage? He answers — 2700 nanograms.
“Most vegetables contain estrogenic compounds,” says Quakenbush. “It is a naturally occurring component.. The amount that is in beef, implanted or not, is so insignificant that one would have to consume 125,000 pounds of beef to ingest the amount of estrogen included in one birth control pill. “When we see the truth, we have to ask, ‘What are people worried about?’”
In preparing his information Quakenbush typed “beef” and “hormone” into the Google search engine. After reading the articles outlined on the first 10 pages of search results, he says he’d only found three out of 100 articles that even mentioned the facts.
A similar situation, says Quakenbush, exists among consumers misinformed about antibiotic use in cattle. While quality stewardship with antibiotic usage is important, he says there has been a great deal of unnecessary fear.
“The concern of resistance,” he explains, “is that because of fears that the administration of an antibiotic to cattle, a bacteria becomes resistant and rides on the meat all the way through processing, shipping and cooking to the plate of the consumer. The consumer eats the meat, picks up the bug, and then possibly becomes fatally ill due to this bacteria and the inability of antibiotics to work. This scenario is a long chain of events with many variables that would require among other things, that the meat was improperly cooked.” The chance of that happening, he says, has been reported to be extremely remote. An individual’s chance of getting hit by lightning is much greater.
The benefits to humans of antibiotic use in cattle, says Quakenbush, deserves equal consideration. Quakenbush says there are researchers who estimate that the termination of certain antibiotics in livestock would result in many times more human cases of disease than it would prevent. “Decisions regarding antibiotic usage in livestock should consider all aspects of the impact of antibiotics because animal health has a large impact on human health,” says Quakenbush.
BSE is yet another example of exaggerated concerns that are not based on facts. “Do you know what the risk of mad cow disease is in the U.S.?” asks Quakenbush. “Essentially zero.” He emphasizes that no one who has lived exclusively in the United States has died from this disease. Worldwide there have been fewer than 200 deaths, making it a very small threat.
“It’s important to keep the risk in perspective.,” he says. “We have more people die from peanut allergies.”
Technology is another area where Quakenbush says reality isn’t often enough linked with the stories being told on Main Street, America. “By the year 2050, the world will require a minimum of two times the amount of food we now have,” he says. Meeting that goal is going to take technology and modern tools, he says.
Quakenbush points to the advances already made utilizing the tools available to add efficiency. For example, the United States now produces 440 percent more milk than in the 1940s, but with 21 percent of the cowherd. The beef cowherd today is half its historic size, but beef production has remained constant. A growing population can’t be fed with agricultural practices from the 1940s, he points out.
“It’s phenomenal,” says Quakenbush. “We use implants, ionophores, antibiotics, parasiticides, genetics and nutritional science. We use all those technologies and look what it has done for us. If we didn’t have those technologies in place today it would require 450 million more acres and 83 million more cattle to meet today’s food demands.”