Food Dialogues encourage producers to think about influences on American’s nutrition habits
Washington D.C. – “Today, there are not very many people who are actively engaged or have any contact in farming and how farming production practices are used,” said Craig Rowles, general manager of Elite Pork Partnership.
Rowles was one of the panelists for the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) Food Dialogues discussion, held in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 21. The discussion was aired via livestream on the internet. The topic discussed was “Nutrition: Who is shaping America’s eating habits?”
Moderator Carolyn O’Neill led the discussion between panelists Roger Clemens, Janey Thornton, Bob Haselwood, Dennis Derryck and Barbara Ruhs.
“As producers, we recognize we are the first step in that food safety process,” explained Rowles. “We have a real responsibility to handle, raise, feed and take care of these animals in a way that produces an animal that is safe to enter the food chain.”
“We are somewhat disconnected in this country to our food supply,” said Barbara Ruhs, supermarket health and nutrition expert. “We have this conception that farmers are spraying their farms and loading up animals with synthetic things, and really, at the end of the day, the farmer cares as much about what they are producing as we care about what we’re eating.”
Ruhs went on to further explain that big agricultural operations like Dole contract out to local family farmers for produce, and the term “big agriculture” needs to be reevaluated.
“We need to connect rural and the urban communities together,” said Dennis Derryck, president and founder of Corbin Hills Farms. “We have to make a link in terms of where our food comes from.”
“It’s a challenge for us to get the message out to consumers in a way that they understand that we do share the same commitment in providing an animal that was raised for meat protein in a way that meets everyone’s needs,” said Rowles.
“We care about the way we raise them too. It’s just getting that message out that’s the challenge,” he added.
Approximately 63 percent of consumers are concerned with food safety. One of those concerns is the use of antibiotics in animals.
“Antibiotics have been used as a tool to help control animal health issues in animals for a very long time,” explained Rowles. “They are approved for four principle uses – treatment, prevention, control of disease and nutritional efficiency.”
Rowles further explained that anytime an antibiotic is used, whether it is in an animal or person, there is a chance for antibiotic resistance to occur.
In the last couple of months the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a directive that asks companies who sponsor drugs that have labels for nutritional efficiency to voluntary withdraw those claims.
“To take antibiotics away from animal agriculture and think that we will now suddenly be safer is not the case. Those antibiotics, when used in appropriate fashion, are important for maintaining the health of our animals,” said Rowles.
Rowles added, “We know if producers produce a healthy animal, they will also produce a safer food product for consumers.”
Rowles predicts that in the next two to three years, the usage of drugs for nutritional efficiency will decline, if not go away, and the antibiotics the FDA is most concerned about are the ones that impact human health.
Worker safety is another very important aspect to a farm, and making sure that all workers are educated and trained is vital. Making sure that workers know about the practices they are asked to perform and how to use the equipment the job requires is essential to operations.
“When our workers are using products on our pigs, we make sure they are properly trained in using correct protective safety gear, and we make sure that everything is stored properly and recorded,” said Rowles.
Rowles added, “There is an education process that is continuously going on at our farm to try and improve the processes that we use.”
Producers can also use management practices, such as no-till operations where a crop is planted into the previous crops residue, to make improvements.
“We disturb that residue as little as possible because when we plant a little bit of that residue is going to be disturbed,” said Bob Haselwood, owner and farmer of Haselwood Farms. “We have been no-tilling for about 15 years, and one of the things I’ve noticed over the years is a larger earthworm population in our soil.”
He added, “Actually the earthworms are doing the tilling for us now. As they crawl up and down, they are taking the residue back down in the soil.”
Haselwood also commented that using no tilling practices has reduced his erosion problems, and when using crop protection products, Haselwood highly cautions to read all the labels on all of the products.
“Everything has a label and read the label,” warned Haselwood.
“We are all trying to do a better job tomorrow than we did today, and hopefully the next day we’ll do a better job again,” said Rowles. “It’s a continuous process of improvement.”