The other day I decided to treat myself to a large bowl of ice cream. I was feeling like it needed a little extra something, so I decided to add some chocolate syrup and whipped cream. When I looked at the can of whipped cream, I had somewhat of an epiphany when I saw a bold label that said, “No Artificial Growth Hormones.” I stared at the label as an agriculturalist and an advocate for the industry and began to understand why there is such a distrust between consumers and producers.
By definition, a scare tactic is a strategy intended to manipulate public opinion about a particular issue by arousing fear or alarm. Scare tactics are used all the time. They are used in politics, in advertising, and even by our own mothers. We have all had our mothers wag their finger in our face with a “do this or else” threat. While these tactics may seem relatively harmless, in some situations they can be incredibly dangerous. The reality we are facing is that most consumers today are three to four generations removed from their family farm. This distance creates space for misconceptions and misinterpretations to take hold and prevent consumers from thoroughly understanding the day to day operations of a farm or ranch and how their food is produced. This becomes worrisome when consumers begin to gravitate towards things such as “non- GMO” foods or foods with a “no artificial growth hormone” label because of scare tactics used by marketers and the stigmas that surrounds these things. There even has been questioning as to if the use of antibiotics is safe in animals meant for production.
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, have hit the media by storm. Ultimately, this press has created a sense of distrust between consumers and producers regarding their food, where it comes from, and how it is produced. Consumers have legitimate concerns that demand to be addressed. These concerns include risks of exposure to pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides, which could lead to cancer. They are also unsure of the impact that they are making on the environment. Factually speaking, none of these things are true. GMOs have been presented to the public as an evil in our industry, when in fact, they are vital to many agricultural practices. The reality is that GMOs increase crop yields by 21% and cut pesticide use by 37%. Today, 12% of all cropland is planted with genetically modified crops. Highly regarded groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the World Health Organization have all reported that there are no health risks associated with GMOs. Ultimately, agriculturalists have no choice but to utilize GMOs. With a rapidly growing world population, they are needed to increase food production in order to ensure global food security.
Antibiotics and growth hormones have also been used to scare consumers as well. Like any living thing, animals get sick from time to time. Antibiotics are used to keep them healthy, and are only used when needed. It would be inhumane to not treat a sick animal. If your child was sick, you would more than likely take them to the doctor to receive antibiotics. The same is true for animals. Producers utilize antibiotics under the supervision and direction of their veterinarian. Once the animal is healthy again, a withdrawal time must be respected before the animal is taken to slaughter. This withdrawal time allows the antibiotic to completely pass through the animal’s system and ensure that no traces of antibiotics are in the meat that is available to consumers.
Growth hormones help increase an animal’s growth rate and feed efficiency. Steroid hormone implants are approved by the FDA because of rigorous testing that showed that these hormones have no negative effects on the treated animal or the environment. Another important thing to note is that the use of growth hormones it prohibited in poultry. This is because they are not practical or effective in these animals. So, the next time you see chicken advertised with an anti-growth hormone label, be aware of the fact that there are no poultry on the market that have been treated with such things. The label is just there to deter you from buying other chicken products and to scare you into buying the one with the label that appears “safer.” The FDA claims that food products that were raised with growth hormones are highly effective and safe for humans to consume.
At the end of the day, we as producers and advocates for agriculture must be proactive in educating the public and consumers about these issues and fear based marketing. Many people see labels advocating against many of the tools and practices used by producers today to protect their animals or to help them grow and become a higher quality product. These misconceptions are not going to go away overnight, but they are important to address. If all agriculturalists band together and make education a priority, this issue will slowly begin to resolve itself.
Rebel Sjeklocha is a senior at Maywood High School and is active in the FFA Chapter. She lives on her family’s cattle farm near Hayes Center. She shows cattle and horses and does a variety of other projects in her 4-H club. She has also served as an advocate for rodeo and agriculture as the 2016 Elwood Rodeo Queen.