Monday, December 31, 2012

Having the beef conversation part two

Myth and Fact

Last time I wrote about having the beef conversation with consumers. I recommended that potential beef advocates be sure of their facts, for an uninformed answer can do more harm than good. I used LFTB (Lean Finely Textured Beef), or pink slime as an example. LFTB is sometimes called Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT). So this time let’s talk about some myths and facts.

The LTFB/pink slime story is extremely important to beef producers and the beef industry specifically, and to the entire food sector in general. The story is just as important to consumers. You would be hard pressed to find a single consumer who hasn’t heard about pink slime.

The term pink slime was coined by microbiologist Dr. Gerald Zirnsteinmay in a 2002 e-mail. It began to gain world-wide traction when British celebrity chef and food activist Jamie Oliver campaigned against the product in early 2011.

In March, 2012 Time magazine reported, “It’s unhealthy enough to earn a ban from fast-food giants McDonald’s and Taco Bell, and it’s banned for human consumption in the U.K. But is the notorious “pink slime” beef good enough for your children, to be served up in their school lunches?” Such slanted and opinion-loaded phrasing is representative of the way the rest of the major media reported on the subject.

Even the Nebraska Farmers Union (NFU), characteristically long on propaganda and short on fact, weighed in. Their message? Seventy percent of ground beef is pink slime. Pink slime consists of waste beef trimmings formerly used mainly for pet food and cooking oil. Pink slime is treated with poisonous ammonia. Pink slime is not fresh ground beef but a cheap waste product. The USDA official who signed off on the process in the 1980’s was an unethical scientist.

The major media clearly misrepresented the facts. In many, perhaps most, cases, outright fabrications were presented as objective news. The story resonated with today’s so-called “foodies,” – consumers who are extremely interested in where and how their food is produced. Many foodies wrote newspaper, magazine, internet articles and blog posts on the subject, and a few television personalities devoted entire shows to pink slime.

The story went viral. Only a very few of  those internet postings were objectively factual or acknowledged the existence of other viewpoints. The major media/internet consensus was that pink slime is poisoned food and that it directly threatens the health of consumers. “Innocent schoolchildren” were said to be particularly at risk, with the USDA “force-feeding” pink slime in school lunches.

Jamie Oliver, a British chef and star of several popular food shows, presented a particularly disturbing pink slime segment on his show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” Oliver, a natural and consummate showman, demonstrated how pink slime is “really” made. He threw beef trimmings into a front loading washing machine to demonstrate the centrifuging process, creating an ugly smeared mess on the glass door of the machine. After removing the trimmings to a plastic container, he added household ammonia cleanser and water, then drained and ground the soapy mess. During the demonstration he suggested that the USDA had secretly approved LFTB, and just as secretly forced the product into schools, retail markets, and restaurants.

These beef trimmings are the precursor to Lean, Finely Textured Beef or LFTB. Such trimmings are spun in a heated centrifuge to separate the lean meat from the fat. Click on the picture for a larger image.

To be fair, Oliver carefully chose his words, leaving plenty of room to argue that he hadn’t actually lied, had only implied. At one point he did admit that he didn’t know the exact process, but “imagined” that his demonstration was accurate.

Implications, cherry-picked details, and out-of-context remarks are common tactics used in the ongoing pink slime saga. Many, including passionate activists, are simply trying as hard as they can make a convincing argument. Few of these people are intentionally lying.

But others, particularly in the major media, consciously and intentionally load their headlines, stories and segments with misleading and manipulated information. As an example, Alex Johnson of MSNBC said that ammonium hydroxide is “…an ingredient in fertilizers, household cleaners and some roll-your-own explosives.”

You can use this very tactic to turn the table in your own beef advocacy efforts, but you must include all the facts and provide useful context.

For instance, you might mention that a bacon cheeseburger contains dihydrogen mono-oxide, a molecular compound made up of explosive and fire-accelerating elements. That if accidentally inhaled, only a few ounces of the compound will be immediately fatal. Dihydrogen mono-oxide is H2O, or water. Molecular water contains two hydrogen (an explosive gas) atoms and an oxygen (part of the fire triangle) atom.

In addition to dihydrogen mono-oxide, a bacon cheeseburger contains NaCl, another molecular compound. NaCl combines sodium, a reactive metal that explodes on contact with water, and chlorine, the poisonous gas used to such terrible effect in World War One. As a molecular compound though, NaCl is simply table salt.

This prepackaged ground beef contains sodium chloride. Click on the picture for a larger image.

Water and salt are essential to every form of life on the planet. If for some reason you can’t get water, you will die. The same is true for salt.

Back on the internet front, a Texas mom, Bettina Siegel, was prompted to complain directly to Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. She started an on-line petition drive to remove LFTB from school lunch programs, and the petition quickly garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures. In writing to Vilsack, Siegel wrote, “We care deeply about our children’s health and ask that you and the USDA immediately put a stop to the use of pink slime in the National School Lunch Program.”

The wave of misrepresentations and misreporting about LTFB has prompted a bit of a backlash. Beef Products International, or BPI, has sued ABC and others for slanderous reporting. In a separate action in Nebraska, Bettina Siegel, along with ABC News, Jim Avila, Diane Sawyer and Jamie Oliver have been sued by former BPI employee Bruce Smith. Smith, who was an environmental health and safety officer at BPI lost his job when the company shut down LFTB production.

The concern that activists and many consumers have about LFTB are twofold. Firstly, they claim that the product is made from “inedible” beef trimmings which are loaded with deadly bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli. The trimmings, so the story goes, are fit only for pet food.

Secondly, the activists allege that ammonia is mixed with the beef to kill the bacteria. The activists agree that ammonia is an effective bacteriostat, but allege that it poisons consumers who consume the product, particularly innocent schoolchildren.

Not all consumers are convicted activists. Many are simply concerned about the validity of the anti-LFTB argument. This is where a well informed beef advocate can make a real difference; allaying consumer fears and restoring or reaffirming their confidence in our safe, nutritious, abundant and inexpensive product.

So here are some facts.

  • LFTB in NOT an inedible waste product. No food processing technique can make inedible food edible.

  • LFTB is made from the trimmings that remain after excess fat has been removed from steaks and roasts. The trimmings contain both fat and lean beef, but not even the most skillful meat cutter can separate the two with knife work.

  • To remove the fat, trimmings are spun in a heated centrifuge. The liquid and semi-liquid fat is siphoned off and used to make other food- and non-food products. Once the fat has been separated, the remaining lean beef is treated with aqueous (liquid) or gaseous food grade ammonium hydroxide. This slightly lowers the pH of the product, making it a very tough environment for bacterial survival. The entire process of making LFTB is strictly controlled and constantly monitored by USDA inspectors.

  • Treatment with ammonium hydroxide changes the color of the beef from deep red to a pinkish hue. The color change is a simple chemical process and is no different from the color changes caused by other meat curing processes. Think of corned beef, ham, sausages, etc.

  • The process of curing meat has been going on for longer than our recorded history. Other curing agents include smoke, sugar, sodium nitrite, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride (table salt).

  • Since LFTB recaptures lean beef and adds to the overall beef supply, it also helps to lower beef prices for the consumer.

  • It is true that many food animal byproducts, such as organ tissue, connective tissue, bone meal, beyond-shelf-life retail meat, and prior to the advent of the LFTB process, fatty meat trimmings, went into pet food. There was simply no economical way to recover the lean meat. But meat trimmings were never inedible or a waste product.

  • LFTB has been approved and widely consumed since the mid-1980’s and is an FDA/USDA approved safe and nutritious meat product. The dreaded pink slime has been consumed by countless millions with no record of ill effect.

  • Far from being an unnatural chemical, ammonia is a nitrogen compound which occurs in all foods. A bacon cheeseburger made with LFTB contains a total of  232 milligrams of ammonia. The bun contains 50 mg, the bacon 16 mg, the condiments 50 mg, and the cheese 76 mg. The LFTB adds only 40 mg to the burger, about 17 percent of the total.

Those are some facts you can arm yourself with if you choose to accept the challenge of beef advocacy. The Beef Checkoff folks recommend, in their guide to having the beef conversation, that advocates be polite and courteous and non-defensive. Most consumers are looking for facts and reassurance. Few are looking for an argument.

Last week I e-mailed Bettina Siegel and she promptly responded. I didn’t ask her permission to share our correspondence, so I’ll only say that our exchange was cordial and respectful. She and I may disagree on the subject, but I admire her determination and commitment.

I’m also a great fan of Jamie Oliver’s early television shows. He’s clearly a skilled and competent chef and has a great television personality. He’s passionate about food. And even though he’s introduced misinformed and biased activism into his more recent efforts, he does present a lot of very good information about food.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Having the beef conversation

In case you missed it, the Beef Checkoff recently released a handy pocket guide to having the beef conversation with non-beef producing and or non/agricultural producing consumers. You can download a copy here or the .pdf version directly.

If you don’t have access to a computer contact the Beef Board at 303-220-9890.

Kimball, Nebraska residents line up for the annual Farmers’ Day hamburger feed last September. The hamburgers came from locally sourced beef. Celebrations such as Farmers’ Day provide producers an opportunity to share a “beef conversation” with consumers. Click the picture for a larger image.

 The guide is a tool to help beef producers have a positive and informational food animal conversation with consumers. Producers should first study the guide and become familiar with the suggestions for having a positive conversation. These are skills that few farmers and ranchers practice routinely. The guide can be printed in a pocket-sized format, allowing producers to keep one close at hand in most situations, should they choose to do so. You never know when the beef conversation opportunity might pop up.

I had the opportunity the other day when I picked up my niece and her fiancé at the Denver airport. The couple are from California and just beginning their post-college careers in teaching and law.

They’re both bright kids. Within 10 minutes of the two-and-a-half hour car ride home, each was probing my knowledge of food in general and beef in particular. They began the conversation, which wasn’t covered in the guide, but which might be rather less than unusual these days when so much food information is so easily available.

It was a good conversation and I was able to address a few of their  slightly skewed misconceptions about beef in general and food animal production specifically. As I explained taurine and other nutritionally essential free amino acids (see last week’s column), I realized that my niece was checking my facts via her smart phone. That’s something to keep in mind. Technology-savvy consumers can fact check you nearly instantly these days! The flow of the conversation didn’t allow me to use the checkoff guide as a checklist, but having studied the guide helped me keep up my end of an effective conversation. Like any tool, the guide only works if you use it and use it correctly. The guide makes excellent points and covers topics that are important to consumers.

The first point the guide makes is to simply have a conversation. Don’t give a lecture. Few of us enjoy being lectured to, whether we’re producers or consumers. Listen to the questions, acknowledging that you understand the consumer’s question or concern. Repeating the question back is often a good way to demonstrate your understanding.

Some of the questions asked and concerns raised may be based on a faulty understanding of what we do an how we do it. To your mind, those questions may sound accusatory. Occasionally they will be bluntly accusatory. Don’t let this put you on the defensive. Once you shift from having a conversation to defending a position, you have entered the ugly and unprofitable realm of argument. You both lose, and you’ve let down the side.

The guide advises producers to use the mnemonic E.A.S.E. Engage. Acknowledge. Share. Earn Trust.

ENGAGE consumers in everyday situations. At the market, at a town barbeque, at a farmers’ market, and on the internet through social media and the comments section of ag-related on-line news stories and opinion pieces.

ACKNOWLEDGE consumer questions and concerns. Remember that for many – perhaps even most – consumers, beef production is a great unknown. Their lack of knowledge usually comes from lack of experience. You are quite probably as ignorant of  the details and nuances of their job as they are of yours.

Consumers questions and comments are just that – questions and comments. Most are not meant to criticize you personally. But behind every question and critique lie real concerns about food quality, safety, and humane treatment of livestock. Such concerns are completely appropriate. We all have to eat to survive, and we all eat the same food. Consumers have seen and read some awful things about food and food production. Unfortunately, some of the bad things have been true. Be willing to forthrightly admit that some of those bad things have happened. Be prepared to explain how the industry is addressing those things and constantly striving to improve.

Not all of the information consumers have seen and read is true, however. Be prepared to point out the misconceptions and to explain why they are wrong. Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB or more popularly “pink slime”) is a good example. If you understand what LFTB is and how it’s processed, you can speak with confidence on the subject. But be careful. If you don’t know, or are only “pretty sure” you know, the real story on LFTB your best answer might be, “I don’t know. Can I check up on that and get back to you?” Don’t forget that today’s consumer can quickly check your facts.

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you” is probably the best answer to use when you don’t completely understand any question. When it comes to processing beef, most of us are nearly as much in the dark as the consumer. How many of us have visited slaughterhouses and watched the process?

The guide says to remember the three C’s: We CARE about the same issues you do (we all eat the same food); We’re CAPABLE of humanely raising food animals while caring for the environment; we’re CONTINUOUSLY improving our operations to produce better beef and meet consumer expectations and demands.

Once you’ve answered questions and concerns, ask the consumer if you can SHARE your point of view. Here’s where, without being pushy and without lecturing, you can share your experience regarding the questions and concerns you’ve discussed. This is simply telling your story. Don’t be too long-winded, and try to leave out as much jargon as possible. Be ready to answer politely and in appropriate detail questions about topics that seem self-evident to you. Those things may not be common knowledge to the consumer. “What’s a heifer, I thought only steers became beef.” Why do you give sick animals antibiotics, everybody knows that’s dangerous for consumers.” etc. Don’t take a condescending tone with the consumer, and don’t assume the person you’re talking with has a completely flawed understanding of production agriculture.

EARN TRUST. If you can’t earn the consumer’s trust, you’ve wasted the time of both parties, and you’ve probably damaged the food animal cause. You may have caused an open mind to permanently snap shut against food animal production.

So turn your defense mechanism off. Don’t take questions or concerns personally. If you can’t do this, leave the job for someone who can. But remember, there are very few beef producers and more than 312 million U.S. consumers. It’s in your best interest to train yourself to be non-defensive, affable, friendly, and approachable. The food animal industry as a whole is vital, and more important than any single producer.

Respect the consumer. This should go without saying. Every human being deserves to be treated with basic respect. Remember that the consumer you are talking to is considering whether to buy your product.

Americans are at liberty to choose the foods they eat and the lifestyles they live. Even a strict vegan or an anti-meat activist, each of whom have likely made up their minds on the subject and aren’t about to change, will remember that you were polite and respectful. And that attitude might be just enough to open some closed minds.

When sharing your story, if you’re so inclined, consider offering the consumer a tour of your operation. There’s a lot involved in such a venture, so think it through before you make the offer.

There’s more information and more tips in the guide. I suggest you download or otherwise obtain a copy, study it, carry it with you, and when the opportunity comes up, take up the challenge of being a beef advocate. Helping consumers understand our expertise, commitment to quality, and our shared concern about the quality of food we provide to everyone – both consumers and ourselves – may be one of the most critical things we can do to survive in the coming years.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Context and perspective

Last week’s events in Connecticut are well known; there’s no need for me to recite them.

Only a few weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, chastised middle Americans, telling us that we’re becoming irrelevant.

In this case, middle Americans who practice agriculture have something very relevant to offer. Context. Farmers and ranchers live in constant contact with nature’s reality. Ironically, they have far more experience with the workings of the real world – with life and death and perspective – than the more than 95 percent of Americans who live in the artificial constructs of urban and suburban settings.

Tragic as the deaths in Connecticut were, something perhaps more tragic has been happening since the advent of the 24/7 news cycle.

Hundreds of millions of Americans spent all or most of the day last week glued to their televisions and/or computers, drawn to the awfulness of the situation like a moth to a flame. This is simply human nature. It is also human nature to, at some point, put the thinking part of the brain back in charge, to let reason cast a net of reality over jumbled emotion. Reason seems to come easily to those who live close to nature. For those living in artificial environments, perhaps finding reason – or allowing reason to take charge – is more difficult.

In the wake of every tragedy, all people ask the “why” question. Asking why is human nature. Ironically, it’s an unanswerable question.

Neither the television, nor the internet, nor the thousands of talking heads and experts covering the tragedy were able to tell you why. No one can tell you why. Not even the perpetrators. Because the question isn’t “why did it happen?”, it’s “why didn’t it not happen?”

Asking the question led the major media to behave less than professionally, according to their own code of ethics. The code first published in 1926, is available on-line at

The trap that the major media placed itself in was that they didn’t simply report the news. They propagandized this tragedy and leveraged it into an attack on an inanimate object. The gun. And by extension, into an attack on gun owners. The major media have been united on the topic of strict gun control for more than a half-century. The simple form of their argument that such tragedies wouldn’t happen if there were no guns.

The major media also advanced the notion that certain segments of society are more prone than other segments of society to perpetuate violence. This is simple bigotry. The fact is that mass murderers come from every segment of society; from every race, gender, job category, education level.

To be fair, major media is entertainment. Entertainment is funded by advertising. Advertisers spend ad dollars where they will give the highest return on investment. A nation locked in 24/7 to the designated tragedy of the week sees a lot of commercials.

Mankind wears only the thinnest skin of civilization. Most Americans, having never lived anywhere else or traveled to non-modern overseas destinations, don’t understand this. Civilization is by definition a group of people who voluntarily agree to work and live together under the aegis of a set of rules. Rules which generally prohibit murder, rape, assault, theft, etc.

It doesn’t take individuals or groups very long to strip themselves of the trapping of civilization.

Throughout history, men and women have knowingly and intentionally violated the rules of civilization. Every American who has ever “sped up to beat the yellow” has done so. So has every murderer, rapist, and thief.

Quite often entire nations have violated the rules of civilization. Think of the Balkans, the Horn of Africa, Cambodia. Think of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Only last year, in July, 2011, a Norwegian killed 77 people, 60 of them children. He did this in a country with perhaps the most stringent gun laws in Europe.

An incomplete Wikipedia5 list of world wide mass killings (defined as six or more killed by a single individual) since 1909 includes the following:

Number killed
Africa/Middle East
Oceania/Maritime Southeast Asia
Educational Settings4
Hate Crimes1
Home Intruders2
U.S. Famlicides
European Famlicides
Famlicides – Other

1 Hate Crimes are not defined.
2 Home Intruders also include cases of homeowners defending themselves.
3 Americas includes ALL of the Americas; South, Central, and North.
4 Educational Settings include schools and learning institutions in 10 countries.
5 Wikipedia is not a very reliable source. The World Health Organization, an arm of the United Nations, which keeps more voluminous records but whose reports are never released less than four years after the data were collected, is somewhat more reliable but not entirely reliable. The Wikipedia source was selected based  ease of use, though the data are admidedly incomplete and less than completely reliable.

The composition of the list seems to imply that all killings on their list, with the exception of those by vehicle, grenade and other, were committed with firearms. I’m sure that the majority were, yet there have been other forms of mass murder committed since 1909, including the practice of stoning, the machete murders in Rwanda, etc.

Now for some perspective.

As I noted, the list is incomplete. If we assume that all the listed mass killings occurred in a single year, and if we multiply the total by 10, and divide into the global population, we get a mass murder rate of about 1.8 millionths of one percent (0.0000018). Most mortality rate figures are expressed as a fraction of a uniform 100,000 person cohort. Expressed in this fashion, the mass murder rate listed by Wikipedia, occurring in a single year and multiplied by 10 gives a rate of 0.018 deaths per 100,000, about one fifty-fifth of a death.

As we noted above, each untimely death is a tragedy. One fifty-fifth of a single death per 100,000, spread across the entire population of the seven billion humans who inhabit the Earth, lends valuable perspective. Though the 24/7 information cycle provides widespread and pervasive coverage of such events, they are, in fact, vanishingly rare. Nor are they a new phenomenon. The list only goes back to 1909. Humans have been committing mass murder – including the murder of children – throughout recorded history.

As a comparison to the above, the U.S. age-adjusted death rate from all causes is 758.3:100,000. Seven Hundred fifty-eight Americans of every 100,000 can be expected to die in the course of a calendar year (Deaths: Final Data for 2008 (most recent available); National Vital Statistics Reports; Vol. 59, No. 10; published Dec. 7, 2011).

Here is the ranking of the top 15 causes of death in the U.S. from the above report:

Number of deaths/percentage of all deaths
Heart Disease
616,828/25 percent
565,469/22.9 percent
141,090/5.7 percent
134,148/5.4 percent
121,902/4.9 percent
Alzheimer’s Disease
82.435/3.3 percent
70,553/2.9 percent
56,284/2.3 percent
Kidney Disease
48,237/2.0 percent
36,035/1.5 percent
35,927/1.5 percent
Chronic Liver Disease
29,963/1.2 percent
25,742/1.0 percent
Parkinson’s Disease
20,438/0.8 percent
17,826/0.7 percent
All other causes
469,062/19 percent

We all know that humans are mortal. None of us will live forever.

But since we’re discussing a particularly tragic circumstance, let’s provide some rather more specific context.

Another form of untimely death, one in which the perpetrator also intentionally violates the rules of civilization, is drunk or impaired driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37,261 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2008. This number falls in between Kidney Disease and Suicide on the chart above and represents just over 1.5 percent of all deaths.

Of the total number of driving fatalities, 11,773 were caused by alcohol. Thirty-two (and a quarter) people die in America each day as a result of drunk driving. Many of the dead were not intoxicated, and were, in that sense at least, innocent. Many were children. Many were pedestrians. Many intoxicated drivers survived crashes in which others died.

The point of this piece is not to pick a side and convince others of the rightness of that side.

The point is to remind people that they’ve got both a thinking brain and an emotional brain. People are only rational and civilized when their thinking brain is in charge. Only the thinking brain can decide to turn off the television when enough information becomes too much information.

People are also extremely vulnerable to being taken advantage of when their emotional brain is running the show. It doesn’t take much digging through history to see the horrible consequences which have always followed.

You alone decide which brain is in charge.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Low stress, high stress

We shipped calves last week, and the process provided an opportunity to observe how cattle react to both low stress and high stress handling.

The calves were weaned at 120 days and turned out on a former CRP pasture which ad been hayed once but not grazed for more than 10 years. On shipping day they were 240 days old and had been separated from mama for a full half of their lives.

I used a low stress approach to moving the calves from pasture to corral. As most cow-calf producers know from experience, moving weaned calves can quickly become a rodeo. But the low stress approach of using positional pressure, going slow enough to avoid  any hint of flight response, and practicing the rules of stop worked remarkably well. The calves entered the corral bright eyed, curious, relaxed and calm.

Then the truck driver arrived. Though clearly curious about the arrival of the truck, the calves remained calm and relaxed. But their behavior changed immediately upon the approach of the driver. He strode quickly toward the pen, swinging his hot shot, loudly shouting a greeting and clearly intent on quickly loading the calves come hell or high water.

The calves didn’t like the driver one bit, and as it turned out, for good reason. They jumped up and crowded into the farthest corner of the corral, snorting, eyes rolling, seeking an avenue of escape.

This reaction is worth taking note of. The calves weren’t bothered by the big, noisy truck arriving and beep-beep-beeping up to the chute only 50 feet away. But they reacted immediately to the driver, and well before he entered the pen.

A low stress handler must learn to “read” the responses of the cattle he or she is working. Experience teaches when and how to move, when to pause, and when to back off. These things can be taught in a classroom or described on paper, which is great. Add experience to those learned concepts and low stress handlers are born.

Just as we can “read” cattle behavior, cattle instinctively read our behavior. There’s a lot of evidence, including the event I’m describing, that supports the notion that cattle can sense our emotional state of mind. If we’re angry, impatient, or agitated, the cattle pick up on it. They are instinctively quite thorough in assessing potential threats.

As our truck driver approached the pen of calves, they assessed him as a potential threat and became agitated, bunching in the corner of the corral. Once he entered the pen, the driver moved directly and aggressively toward the calves, yelling and waving his arms and cattle prod. The driver clearly wanted to move the calves but he was standing between them and the gate! They had no place to go and were being threatened by a fast, noisy threat. With no avenue of escape, they reacted by panicking in place.

This is the classic starting point for a bad outcome. When cattle are in a confined panic situation, they naturally produce fight and flight hormones. With, a constant noisy threat present, no place to run to and no physically attacking predator to fight, hormone levels build to very high levels in the animals’ blood stream. This is one aspect of physiologic stress. Those hormones shut down and empty the gut and supercharge the muscles for fight or flight. Maintaining high stress levels in a confined area requires the expenditure of a great deal of energy. It is an exhausting, draining experience for the animal.

If the stressed animals are going directly to slaughter, they will be dark cutters, their muscle tissue overfilled with blood and adrenalin and unpalatable. Dark cutters are deeply discounted and usually end up as pet food.

If the stressed animals are going to a feedlot, perhaps via a sale barn, stress-induced exhaustion will lower their resistance to the novel pathogens they meet along the way. Some will get sick, and some of the sick ones will die. Sick or not, their digestive system will remain shut down until well after their stress levels have subsided. In an industry that relies on daily weight gain, stressed calves will experience daily weight loss for days or even weeks. Some of the most stressed will become “poor doers” and will never approach their natural fleshing potential.

To compound matters, our driver seemed to lack even a hint of cow-sense. He yelled. He waved his arms wildly. He kicked and punched. He constantly zapped every calf he was close enough to reach with his highly prized hot shot. At one point toward the end of the process, he finally left the pen to close the trailer door on the last calf. He must have been bored though, because he began poking his hot shot through the chute slats and zapping calves on the nose as they approached the chute! He single-handedly turned a pen of calm, quiet calves into a truck load of terrified, highly stressed animals.

In the driver’s defense, he’d clearly never been trained correctly, if at all. I suspect he learned his trade in the famous monkey-see, monkey-do school of higher education. He was a nice kid, personable and clean, clearly wanted to do a good job, and wasn’t afraid to get dirty. These are good things. But he was also impatient and wanted to get on the road, where a “real” truck driver belongs. Though he didn’t say so, his entire approach to loading the calves made it clear that he found working with cattle an unpleasant but necessary part of his job.

The industry is working hard to adopt low-stress and humane cattle handling and slaughter techniques. Producers are doing the same. But the transportation sector of the industry needs to get a handle on the way they operate. Had a PETA, HSUS, or other anti-ag activist been present with a video phone, our truck driver would have made the evening news.

Neither producers nor the industry as a whole can afford to allow high stress or cruel treatment of livestock. As producers of the calves in question, we took a significant financial hit in this case, about $3,000.

But we’re not without our own part of the blame. As a starting point, that driver should have been banished to the truck without his hot shot. Ideally he would have been monitored as he manipulated the calves in the trailer and reconfigured the internal panels. Any non-compliance with our instructions should have meant his immediate departure with an empty truck.

We also allowed ourselves to be swayed by the pressure to get the job done. The sale was scheduled for the next morning, and it was a big sale. In retrospect, I doubt we’d have lost $3,000 if we’d asked for another driver and waited a week.

We’ve had similar problems with local trucking companies in the past. We made it pretty clear to these companies that inappropriate driver behavior was not acceptable. Funny how well that worked.

We’ve now decided to exercise the “nuclear option.” We’re still drafting the loading plan, which trucking companies will have to sign off on. In addition to a mandatory formal briefing before any work begins, it will include a “no hot shot” provision and a scale of fines for inducing stress or mistreating livestock. We’ll have to video each evolution as well.

Cattle are not human beings. Most of those who read this column understand that. Even an anti-ag, pro animal rights activist, were he or she to read this piece, would have to agree (if he/she were willing to be honest) that cattle aren’t endowed with the basic traits that make human beings what they are. But they’re living, productive animals deserving of our respect. Food animals in our personal care deserve to be ‘husbanded’ – cared for properly and to the best of our ability.

This confuses a lot of people, most of whom exist two or more generations removed from any agricultural connection. But it conflicts some who actively farm and ranch, too. To some extent it even conflicts me. I husband those calves from birth, and I’m the very first human they ever see. I have a lot invested, fiscally and emotionally, in those cattle. Yet ranching is my vocation, not my avocation. As herding prey animals, my cattle will become prey. We humans are the predators. We predate every single thing we eat, whether it’s meat or vegetable. My truckload of calves will go to a feedlot, be raised to the optimum eating size, killed, dismembered and packaged for consumption by hungry consumers. That’s just how it works.

But until each animal is stunned and bled at the beginning of the slaughter process, they are living beings. They will feed us, make us grow strong and healthy. They deserve our respect before they become meat, and while they are alive they deserve to handled appropriately.

Low stress and thankfulness

So much of my life has been backwards, upside-down, inside-out and out of order this year that it seems almost natural that I should wait until after the fourth Thursday of November to write about thankfulness.

I was under the weather on Thanksgiving and on Black Friday. I felt a lot better on Saturday, and even though as a writer I’m supposed to be able to describe things clearly in written words, I can’t begin to tell you how good feeling better felt.

I was able to spend some feet-in-the-manure time with my cows.

A pen of well conditioned cows calmly await sorting on a ranch south of Kimball. Click for a larger image.

Three weaned spring calves had escaped the confines of their winter pasture gone home to mama. I needed to sort them off and get them back with their peers. I also had a fall calf that had developed a spectacular case of bacterial scours. After the battering near-train wreck we took from bacterial scours this spring, there was no hesitation in my mind. This heifer needed treatment.

Saturday was – for November – warm. It was breezy, too. No, strike that. It was windy. Blowing out of the west at 35 mph, gusting to 50 mph, the wind pummeled me, sucked the air out of my lungs, and lashed out with great clouds of dirt.

But I felt good, and when the temperature is 66 degrees, a little bit of wind isn’t much of a bother.

I brought the cows in on foot. It wasn’t much of a trick; their winter pasture is adjacent to the barn and corrals. I thoroughly enjoyed moving and working the cows using low-stress handling techniques.

Learning those low-stress techniques is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’m still surprised that my mind was open enough to see the merit of the idea and to give it a try. More than a few skeptics told me I was wasting my time. I took a lot of ribbing from neighbors who’d seen me laying supine in the middle of the pasture, hat shading my eyes, surrounded by curious cattle who, singly or in pairs, would approach and gave me a good sniff. Those cattle became familiar with my presence and my smell, and I came to recognize them individuals. Individual cattle who are not people.

A pair of calm, well conditiond four year-old cows in a pen south of Kimball. Click for a larger image.

I’ve come to realize that low-stress cattle handling is grown-up cattle handling.

I’ve called the application of these techniques pressure dancing, and after so many years of shouting and waving and zipping back and forth all over the place, I’m still amazed at how well it works.

Saturday’s small chore, a job that would have previously taken the three-hour efforts of five hands,  four dogs, two pickups, three four-wheelers, a rented goat and a month’s worth of cussing took me 45 minutes, start to finish.

Watching those cattle calmly stroll through gates and into corrals was a soothing, satisfying experience. Sorting off four calves was simplicity itself. Treating the sick calf was a non-event, even though she liberally splattered me with evil-smelling feces.

Please don’t take my message the wrong way. There’s nothing wrong with traditional methods of working cattle. The job gets done, the hands enjoy their work, and the cattle don’t suffer at all. Different doesn’t have to be better or worse. Most often, different is just different.

It was a good day. A day spent in the real world, and away from the insanity of our drunkenly-stumbling artificial society.

I received a number of e-mails last Thursday which said “Happy Thanksgiving!” While I appreciate the time and effort expended in these missives, none of them cited reasons to be thankful or to (perish the thought!) give thanks. If there had been a “like” button programmed to send out the e-mails, most would have clicked it and moved on to something important. I feel a bit bad about that.

I’d wager that if asked, the vast majority of Americans could only regurgitate pre-programmed platitudes of thankfulness. What do they have to be thankful for? Food? There’s always food at the grocery store. Clothing? There’s always clothing at the department store. Health? There’s always medicine at the medicine store.Warmth? There’s always warmth from the heating system. Light? There’s always light with the flip of a switch. Transportation? Right outside on the driveway. The ability to pay for these things? You either have a job or the government gives you money. Security, roads, school, clean water, climate? Somebody else does that. Few people know who.

In 1863, in the depths of the Civil War, the President of the United States wrote a Proclamation of Thanksgiving to the nation. If you’d like to read the entire proclamation, click here or use a search engine to look it up.

In the midst of a war so terrible that few alive today can even begin to imagine the suffering, grief, carnage and desolation that ravaged our country, the President noted that:

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God…

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe…a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

I am thankful that at so desperate a time, America had a leader of utmost honor; a man who could pen such thoughtful and healing words.

The world inhabited by most Americans, and by most citizens of the so-called developed world, is not the entirety of experience.

As history and objective observation tell us, it’s simply what it is.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Perspective and context

A friend stopped by the ranch the other day and caught up with me as we were finishing weaning calves.

Weaning calves is part of responsible animal husbandry and food production.

My friend was raised on a ranch, did the usual ranch chores while he was growing up, participated in 4-H, and had, as I did, the stereotypical idyllic farm-kid childhood.

Our paths diverged after high school. My friend went to college, got a degree, then a masters and a doctorate, and became a college professor. I joined the navy, served around the world in peacetime and in war, retired and returned to ranching. He’s still the same old friend, the very same person who I grew up with. I’m pretty much the same person he grew up with.

Unsurprisingly, we have divergent opinions about many things. This is natural, considering the different paths we’ve taken to reach our present stations in life. I feel very fortunate that our friendship transcends our opinions, and that we can honestly discuss and debate without arguing or feeling defensive. My friend has shown me different viewpoints on a wide range of topics and I completely respect his perspective. He’s taught me a few interesting and valuable lessons. I hope I’ve been able to do the same for him.

I showed my friend the pen of calves we had just finished working. They were, to my eye, a big, strapping, vigorous lot. I pointed out several of the calves who’d been plagued with bacterial scours shortly after birth, and explained how demanding their treatment had been and how close to death they had come. Each of these calves weighed 50-70 pounds less than their cohort, but each was alive and vigorous and rapidly catching up. I also showed him a yearling heifer scheduled fo slaughter. She’d been born with some birth defects, had a very shaky start, but had eventually done quite well. She’d never make a feedlot calf or a replacement heifer, an at 18 months she weighed only 400 lbs. With her misshapen jaw, contorted body, and obvious neurological disorders, she was a testament to survival.

My friend shook his head. “It seems so ironic,” he said. “You save their lives only to kill them.”

It’s a valid point, and one that I fear most non-ranching folks would buy into. But it’s more a superficial, emotion based conclusion than one derived from an understanding of reality. Let’s take a look.

Do livestock producers raise animals with the sole intent of killing them? Hardly. We raise food animals. Those animals harvest grass, which harvests sunlight. The livestock convert grass, which people cannot digest, into protein-rich meat, which people can digest. And on which people thrive. It’s probably no accident that the human evolution of cognition came at the same time humans began to consume meat. No livestock producer raises animals simply to kill them.

To turn food animals into food, though, they must be killed. They have to be slaughtered, dismembered, portioned, packaged, and distributed. For most consumers, slaughter takes place so far behind the scenes that they seldom, if ever, consider what it entails or how natural it is. Nearly all of us, livestock producers included, pay others to do the killing and slaughtering. This reduces our personal burden, so that we don’t each have to hunt, kill and process. We do this hard, labor intensive chore by proxy. The livestock producer does the job of the hunter, while the slaughterhouse does the processing chore. Even though consumers pay others to do the hard work, each consumer is directly responsible for the killing and slaughtering. Those who see livestock production only as killing are being intellectually lazy or dishonest. One can understand consumers feeling guilty about killing animals, but only with the deeper understanding that the guilty cannot or will not look at the whole picture, will not consider nature’s reality.

My friend, who decided to become a vegetarian a few years ago, agreed with my basic points, but argued that there is an alternative which doesn’t involve killing animals. I can understand his argument, but I have to counter again with natures reality. Every plant we consume is also killed. Most grain crops, of course, naturally die back at the end of the growing season. Yet we harvest their grain, which are seeds, and in a very real sense, are plant babies. So we’re killing the unborn plants, which an honest broker must consider as little different than killing the offspring of food animals. Both are forms of life, and both have their lives taken from them. But just as carnivores kill and consume herbivores in nature, so do herbivores kill and consume plants in nature. Though we consumers harvest plant material by proxy just as we harvest meat by proxy, we are each directly responsible for killing and consuming living organisms.

Another consideration is that the very nature of cultivating and harvesting plant crops has the unintended consequence of killing non-food animals and plants. In rice production, for example, untold millions of amphibians, fish and crustaceans are killed when paddies are drained and the grain harvested. In other food crop cultivation pesticides and herbicides kill countless insects and plants, and no small number of birds, mammals and reptiles are inadvertently killed during tillage and harvest operations. Yet without the use of herbicides and pesticides and without modern tillage and harvesting operations no adequate supply of food could be produced. And despite arguments to the contrary, a switch to subsistence farming would mean starvation for millions.

So yes, even the strictest vegan is directly responsible for killing untold numbers of living organisms.

In that light, bringing context and perspective to bear, one must conclude that rather than murderers, we humans are all a part of nature. The reality of life is that we can only exist as part of nature. Most of us live in highly artificial environments, but in reality, we each occupy the same place in nature that the frontiersman did two centuries ago. We harvest renewable resources to feed, clothe and shelter our existence. We do this largely by proxy, which is the only way so many of us can survive. But we’re still linked directly to nature and constrained directly by nature.

The cure for feeling guilty about our artificial existence is to learn and understand. Fortunately, most people have the ability to learn and understand. The ongoing challenge for agricultural producers is to help our fellows to do this. We’re most effective in sharing knowledge when we respect our fellows opinions, but insist that they look at the world the way it is. Getting bogged down in an argument about which of us is responsible for murder is a wholesale waste of time and misses the reality of our existence entirely.

We are all farmers

One of the most important problems facing farmers and ranchers today is the disconnect between consumers and producers. This disconnect is potentially dangerous to both consumers and producers, and arguably poses a threat to the very existence of our nation. Unfortunately, the disconnect continues to be set in adversarial tones by the major media and many in government.

It’s a thorny problem, because so few are feeding so many. One might think the problem therefore could lie in the concentration of power in agricultural food production – that a mighty few could control the food supply. In fact, the opposite is the case. The majority control the food supply. The majority have it within their power to unintentionally wreck the agricultural sector by pushing for changes, regulations and policies in a system they don’t understand. Such changes, regulations and policies might be superficially well intended, but if they destroy food production everyone will go hungry.

We are all food consumers. We all have a vested survival interest in food. Consumers pay for, and ultimately control, food production. In that sense, just as we are all consumers, so are we all farmers. Perhaps this is a message that will help ease the disconnect.

The primary disconnect is that most consumers are so far removed from food production that they have little basic understanding of what farmers and ranchers do, and why. Farmers and ranchers, who deal with the how and why every day, struggle to understand a point of view that doesn’t include what, to them, is common wisdom.

Political activists and opportunists, including many in the media and in government, take advantage of the situation by boldly misrepresenting objective facts in order to manipulate public opinion. The media meme is essentially this – farmers and ranchers are intentionally producing unsafe food and harming the environment to make money. Politicians, government officials and bureaucrats often posit government policy and regulation as the only thing preventing out-of-control farmers and ranchers from poisoning both consumers and the environment.

In a nutshell, agriculture has become highly politicized. Like many other topics in the national discourse, agriculture is now an ideological battleground. As has often been said (perhaps first by Samuel Johnson in The Idler, ca. 1758), the first casualty of war is truth.

Producers recognize that very little – if any – of the national discourse on agriculture and agriculture policy has anything to do with the reality of producing food. I suspect that many consumers have a sense that when it comes to agriculture they are being fed a political narrative rather than factual information.

For producers, the political narrative is extremely frustrating. An overwhelming majority of policy makers, bureaucrats, and reporters make assertions which are simply not true, assertions which they are absolutely unqualified to make. I suspect that the majority of consumers are skeptical about such sweeping assertions. A few examples:

GMO’s, or Genetically Modified Organisms. The narrative asserts that GMO crops are a ticking time bomb which will unleash monstrous mutating plagues across the face of the planet. Evidence supporting this assertion can only be found in 1950’s sci-fi movies. The fact that man has been manipulating plant and animal genetics for hundreds of thousands of years, and that nature has been doing so for billions of years – with no sign of mutant plagues, mind you – is ignored.

LFTB. Lean Finely Textured Beef. This product, called “pink slime” in the media, in congress and even by many in the USDA, is said to be rotting, leftover meat, treated with poisonous ammonia and force-fed to helpless school children. Just think about that for a moment and ask yourself whether it seems a reasonable proposition.

Antibiotic resistant superbugs. A recent New York Times editorial, written by a self-proclaimed “foodie”, contained the following phrase. “Indeed, about 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to farm animals – leading to the risk of more antibiotic-resistant microbes, which already cause infections that kill some 100,000 Americans annually.” That sentence is a masterful piece of deception, leading one to believe that food animals suffer the same diseases as humans, and that mistreatment of these diseases causes antibiotic resistant superbugs to be transmitted to human beings – somehow – and kill 100,000 consumers each year. Again, ask yourself whether this makes sense.

If these goofy claims are frustrating for producers, imagine how frustrating they must be for consumers. Most consumers, 98-99 percent of Americans, are so far removed from any contact with food production that they have no ability to put such claims into reasonable perspective or context. A great many – perhaps most – probably recognize that there is something fishy in such irrational assertions. But they’re busy people, and lack the time to investigate each claim. They are further hamstringed by the lack of easily accessed, objective data. They expect the media to provide objective truth, but the media does not. Nor does the government.

To understand the frustration of the consumer, try an experiment. Type “antibiotic resistance food animals” into your search engine of choice. Click on a few of the hits. You will find a lot of assertions, such as:

“These drugs can affect the meat, milk, and eggs produced from those animals and can be the source of superbugs. For example, farm animals, particularly pigs, are believed (though not proven) to be able to infect people with MRSA.”

Unfortunately, such assertions are almost exclusively misrepresentations. If you take the time to click on citation links and read the papers, you’ll find that they tell a completely different story. Still, I challenge you to find, in less than a day, a document on the internet which gives a more objective overview such as the following:

“Although antibiotics and antibiotic residues can be found in meat, milk and eggs immediately following drug administration, such residues are quickly metabolized and flushed from the animals system, and federally mandated withdrawal periods prevent food products containing residues from being sold for consumption. Though it is theoretically possible for antibiotic resistant food animal pathogens to genetically transmit resistance to human pathogens, there is no evidence that this has ever occurred and USDA inspectors and researchers are constantly monitoring food streams to ensure safety.”

Try a similar search at the USDA Web-site. There you will find a wealth of data, but no clear answer to basic and fundamental questions.

For the consumer, finding information about agriculture and food production is a serious challenge. While we can argue the cause of this, it’s clear that neither major media nor government are willing or able to provide simple, honest objectivity.

Agricultural producers can and should take the lead in resetting the narrative. Farmers and ranchers should embrace consumers as partners. We should show our fellow consumers how the narrative is crafted to divide us. We should show how such division benefits only the fringe activists and self-proclaimed intellectual elite. We should show the looming consequences of fear mongering and over-regulation. We should show non-ag consumers how they are being abused by those who claim to be protecting and informing them. We should invite them to join us a fellow agriculturalists, and to work together to take back our lives and our futures.

What consumers should know about their food

Firstly, if it's a report about food, and you read it in the newspaper, heard it on the radio, or saw it on television, the report you saw was almost certainly biased, untruthful, propaganda. When a Katie Couric clone tells you that eating meat will destroy your intestines, he or she is lying. Keep that in mind.

In this economy, food is increasingly expensive. There are a number of reasons for this, including monetary inflation, over-regulation, tax policies, and turning food into fuel. There is another, perhaps more important reason. The media have declared war on the food sector. To prosecute this war, they are dealing in misinformation, disinformation, factual manipulation, and – most of all – outright lies. These constant attacks not only undermine your confidence in the food supply, they directly and indirectly drive up retail food prices.

According to the media narrative, our food is unsafe, tainted by toxins and infected with pathogens. Greedy farmers intentionally load their produce with poisonous chemicals and ranchers pump their livestock full of hormones and antibiotics. This is done to maximize profits, regardless of the well-known consequences suffered by consumers.

Most consumers seem to be skeptical of these claims. They continue to eat the presumably deadly foods three – or more – times each day. They realize that the food isn’t making them sick or killing them, nor is it sickening or killing anyone they know. But the narrative is persistent and pervasive, and it’s a cause for concern. We’ve all heard the adage, “where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Given the message, consumers are only right to wonder where the fire is, and whether it’s heading their way.

Consumer confidence is being constantly attacked, and the narrative flies in the face of reality. At some level, consumers who eat well each and every day of their lives, understand that their food supply is the safest, most nutritious, and least expensive of any food supply on earth. Here’s a bit of anecdotal evidence:

At the Kimball Farmers’ Day celebration last September, our ranch donated the ground beef for the free hamburger feed. We provided more than 500 lbs. of tasty, nutritious, grassfed beef to the event. We wanted to be available to answer any questions or concerns about the main course, so we set up an information booth.

Grassfed burgers sizzle on the grill at Kimball’s 86th Annual Farmers’ Day celebration.

Youngsters add condiments to their burgers at Kimball’s 86th Annual Farmers’ Day celebration.

The hungry crowd was all smiles at the free hamburger feed during Kimball’s 86th Annual Farmers’ Day celebration.

Our booth was the John Deere Gator which we’d driven through the parade. We parked it adjacent to the serving lines and attached a few “ask me” posters, inviting questions about antibiotics and hormones, grassfed vs. grain finished beef, nutrition and food safety, and ranching or agriculture in general.

Though we received many thanks and compliments, we heard nary a question about the source of the beef or about any quality or safety concerns. I was slightly surprised at this, considering the preponderance of negative press. How many positive food stories have you seen on television or read in the press over the last decade? (The answer is ZERO.) I drew two general conclusions from the lack of questions. Firstly, the free hamburger consumers were hungry after waiting in line and were more interested in eating than in talking. And most importantly, they were probably not very concerned about the quality and safety of the food.

I suspect that this is the case with the vast majority of American consumers. Despite being constantly bombarded with horror stories about an unsafe and even poisoned food supply, almost no one has ever been sickened by the food they eat, nor do many consumers even know of anyone who has been sickened. They are almost certainly somewhat concerned about the bad food narrative, but their experience tells them there’s never been anything wrong with the food they’ve consumed.

So what should consumers know about their food supply to help them overcome the false narrative spread by the major media? To start with, let’s deconstruct the meat narrative.

The narrative espoused by the major media – network television, major newspapers and magazines, national public radio, etc. – is consistent. The narrative claims that ranchers, seeking profit at all cost, use antibiotics and hormones to force animal growth. As a consequence of this, according to the narrative, the meat you consume is tainted with antibiotics, pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella, and loaded with hormones. Antibiotics in the “tainted” meat are toxic, the narrative implies, and the added hormones cause obesity, early puberty, cancer and death. Overuse of antibiotics cause the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria which kill 100,000 consumers each year and sicken many more.

If you think my claims about the narrative are overblown, I challenge you to find an objective story on U.S. meat production which has aired or been published in the major media in the last decade. If you provide it, I’ll make an appropriate retraction in this space.

But you’ll have a hard time finding one.

Far more common are hit pieces such as Katie Couric’s “exclusive” on antibiotic use in food animals, ABC and Jamie Oliver’s attacks on Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), and fantastic claims that hormones are causing all manner of health problems.

When it comes to antibiotic use in food animals, the press gets it completely wrong. They’re either fail to understand what antibiotics are and how they work, or they’re intentionally lying. I suspect it’s a combination of both.

In food animals, antibiotics are used to treat or prevent specific bacterial illnesses. The same thing is done in human medicine. But the system is better regulated when it comes to food animals. Veterinarians and ranchers administer only approved and therapeutic doses of antibiotics. Antibiotic withdrawal periods and USDA inspectors ensure that no meat containing antibiotics or antibiotic residues enters the food supply.

Couric (and legions of other so-called journalists) report that overuse of antibiotics in food production causes the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria which kill more than 100,000 Americans each year. She cited the finding of Methicillin-Resistant Staph. aureus (MSRA) in a single Iowa hog operation as proof. Within a week her entire “exclusive report” was completely discredited; livestock are never treated with methicillin, and the bacteria found on the pigs came from farm workers. In the reverse of Couric’s claim, the animals had been infected by humans. For the complete story, visit

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and ABC news have hounded BPI (Beef Products International) over their LFTB product, which they call “pink slime”. ABC is presently subject to a defamation lawsuit over their fantastic claims. Oliver demonstrated his understanding of LFTB to his studio audience when he mixed rotting meat scraps with household ammonia cleaner and ground it in a blender. This was such a fabrication and intentional misrepresentation that it’s hard to believe any but psychotic and deranged person would make such claims. In the actual LFTB process, lean meat is separated from fresh, fatty meat trimmings via a centrifuge. The lean meat is treated with a tiny amount of ammonium hydroxide, which increases the pH of the meat to inhibit bacterial growth. Ammonia is a nitrogen compound which occurs naturally in all foods. In fact, a typical bacon cheeseburger made with LFTB contains a total of  232 milligrams of ammonia. The bun contains 50 mg, the bacon 16 mg, the condiments 50 mg, and the cheese 76 mg. The LFTB contains 40 mg, or about 17 percent of the total.

When it comes to hormones, the narrative consensus is that beef is so loaded with growth promoting estrogen compounds that children become obese and suffer an early onset of puberty, and that the high levels of hormones cause cancer and other diseases. Just how high are these levels? Estrogen is measured in nanograms (ng) per 500 grams (g) of food product. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram. Beef from a non-implanted steer contains five nanograms of estrogen in 500 grams of meat. That number rises in an implanted steer to seven nanograms, an increase of two-billionths of a gram in roughly a pound of beef. That’s not so bad, is it? But let’s compare the estrogen content in implanted beef (7ng/500g) to milk (32ng), butter (310ng), eggs (555ng), peanuts (100,000ng), white bread (300,000ng), pinto beans (900,000ng), and tofu (113.5 million nanograms).

Do my claims still seem overblown? I can’t speak to why the press is attacking the food industry. I have my suspicions. More important though is what they are doing. They are lying to you, and playing on your fears. This is a despicable thing to do, and is a direct attack on the first amendment and freedom of speech.

The media is supposed to report factual, objective news. They claim they do so. Do you believe them?