By Dr. Chad Carr
Recently, I received an email from a colleague’s daughter who attends a local public middle school. She shared that an activist from an overt anti-animal agriculture org was allowed to give a presentation in her Spanish class during school hours. The presentation represented the speaker’s biased and radical anti-animal agenda.
Initially, I was mad. My mind ran to what I would do if this happened in my 7-year-old’s first grade public school. The activist’s org is well-organized and well-funded. They depicted biased and false information to these future consumers at a very vulnerable and impressionable time of development. My emotions soon changed from anger to guilt. I realized I was not doing my job as an Extension specialist. I vowed to more effectively fill this need.
Those students are children of the average American adult. Their parents are at least three generations removed from production agriculture. They have some distrust of science, but don’t know who or what to believe. They also have a growing interest in “knowing where their food comes from,” which is a positive. Many believe what the popular media, an activist group, or a mommy blogger tells them through social media.
I am trained as a scientist. Some consumers will value my experiences and believe I am giving them unbiased information. But probably more so than me, consumers trust you, the people producing the food, and your connection with the land and animals. Social science suggests that consumer trust is increased even more if the farmer or rancher states their confidence in feeding the food they produce to their families.
In my opinion, a big component of what Extension will likely become, particularly for largely integrated commodities such as U.S. pork production, will be third-party consumer education. As an Extension educator, I pledge to focus more on transparent, clear and accurate communication tools with limited jargon to help you deliver compelling facts directly to consumers.
It is good to have your own opinion, but not your own facts. In the developing world, animal-sourced foods provide more and higher quality protein than plants. Livestock are “upcyclers” and meat provides more bioavailable iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and B12, which are often deficient among poor and vulnerable populations. Animal-sourced food consumption can increase the growth, nutritional status, cognitive development, test scores, and health status of children, particularly infants under the age of two. In the developed world, meat in the diet has an opportunity to be a part of solving the obesity crisis, as it is a nutrient-dense food which imparts satiety and with some carbohydrate restriction, helps to minimize insulin insensitivity.
Currently, there are legislative wheels being put in motion in Florida to hopefully curtail this kind of activist activity in our schools. I promise to fulfill the Extension mission to provide succinct information concerning the humane production of sustainable and wholesome meat products to help us all better communicate facts to consumers, whether they be 7 or 77.
Dr. Chad Carr grew up on a diversified livestock operation including Hampshire hogs and commercial beef cattle in middle Tennessee. He received his bachelor's and master’s degrees at Oklahoma State University and went on to obtain his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri. He is a meat Extension specialist at the University of Florida. Chad and his wife, Cathy, have two daughters. They like to travel, attend sporting events and show pigs.
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