Tag Archives: California Beef Council

Ag Gag or Agriculture Protection? What Do YOU Think?

Every day it is inferred that animal agriculture abuses their animals. According to many websites and “people on the internet” producers like me are cold, callous and only in it to make a buck. That is a tough pill for me to swallow because in my life the exact opposite is true.

My life revolves around my animals. My Parents raised me to respect, love and care for animals because they are our life and it’s the right thing to do. Their needs ALWAYS were met before ours. The better we treat our animals the better they do, they are healthy when they are happy. Our cowdogs live in our homes and eat better than most people. Our cattle see the doctor more than we do. Needless to say when people criticize me about my animals, it hurts. They are my reason for being.

99.99% of the people I interact with daily care deeply for their animals. Our animals are the reason we eat, sleep and breathe. Our lives revolve around them and their welfare. When people accuse me of animal abuse because of something they read in a book or saw on the internet, when they in fact, have never seen my animals in real life, I lose my stuffing. It is my Achilles heel, I go from ‘let’s talk about it, Megan’ to ‘yeah, you pretty much suck at life, Megan’ and generally completely shut down. In other words I jump in the mud with the pigs, and as the saying goes, the pigs enjoy it and we all get dirty.

This brings me to the topic of ag gag laws. Many states are writing and passing these laws. I was lucky enough to speak to Annette Sweeney, who authored the “ag gag” or Ag Protection Bill in Iowa. I’m going to make a confession before I continue to tell you about my conversation with Ms. Sweeney. Before I spoke with her, I had not read the actual legislation, and did not know what I was talking about. After my conversation with Ms. Sweeney I read more about it, and I have to say, I agree with her Ag Protection Bill.

Ms. Sweeney explained to me “the legislation is to stop people from lying on their job applications and if abuse is recorded it needs to be turned in immediately not to wait for 4 to 6 months and then release it to the media and not to the proper authorities to stop the abuse. When we see abuse we want it stopped right away”. I agree with her. I’ve heard horror stories from other producers who hired undercover animal rights activists that have actually created abuse just to have something to film. I realize those cases are rare, but it happens. Just as animal abuse does happen. The fact is it is easy to manipulate film and pictures, anyone with a smartphone knows that. Sometimes I fear that my full-transparency will lead to a manipulated picture of my ranch that depicts abuse, but I take that risk.

I think the pejorative term “ag gag” coined by Mark Bittman makes the agriculture industry look like we have something to hide. When in fact all Ms. Sweeney is trying to do is to make it illegal for people to lie on job applications and turn in abuse within 48 hours. These are things that a reasonable person should adhere to anyway.

Often when these animal abuse videos are released its weeks or months after the initial abuse, and after much promotion by whatever group took the video. That isn’t ok. All abuse needs to be reported immediately. If it’s a legitimate video, you don’t need to build more of a case. I often question the motive of animal rights activists when they take so long to report abuse. I’m a true believer in full transparency. I think if we made available everything, from pasture to slaughterhouse our consumers would have nothing to fear (knowledge negates fear) and animal activists would have little to attack us for (don’t get me wrong, they will always find or create something, some activist believe raising animals for food is inherently bad).

I’ve worked off the ranch full-time for the past three years. I work in an office building close to a diner and a homeless shelter. I’ve seen more animal abuse in the past three years from the window of my office than in 30 years of working in production animal agriculture. In fact I’ve been subpoenaed as a witness more times than I would like to admit; everything from little old ladies leaving their poodles in hot locked cars, to meth-heads setting their pit-pulls on other meth-heads, to teenagers jumping on the heads of their ‘pet’ for “training” purposes. I would love to see the public’s same level of interest regarding the abuse of companion animals compared to farm animals.

I do not hesitate to report this abuse. It’s the least I can do for the voiceless animal. 99% of the time nothing happens. The cops or animal control won’t come. The cycle of abuse continues. I do my due diligence though, I take pictures and videos and often share on my social media. I live in a small town and once people realize that a community member has seen their abuse, SOMETIMES that helps. My other option is to ignore it, and that is not who I am. Often I value animals more than people (probably because I am a slightly anti-social only child whose best friends growing up were my animals).

What I have found is my transparency and willingness to share and report abuse often comes back to haunt me – especially from within the ag industry. For example when I shared my blog post about my custom exempt beef slaughter my state beef council posted this :

How does my beef council know this? Because most of my friends want to know and want to see, or they at least want to know they can see, IF they want.

How does my beef council know this? Because most of my friends want to know and want to see, or they at least want to know they can see, IF they want. I know as a consumer I want to know and I want to see where the food I eat comes from.

"I was forwarded your blog post from another agriculture organization and a beef producer" (to be fair I'm not sure if this is true or not, the Beef Council never would be transparent with me about how this whole thing started (I would have LOVED some industry tranparency there!)) - again my own industry was attempting to censor me.

“I was forwarded your blog post from another agriculture organization and a beef producer” (to be fair I’m not sure if this is true or not, the Beef Council never would be transparent with me about how this whole thing started (I would have LOVED some industry transparency there!)) – again my own industry was attempting to censor me. By the way CBC I work day in and day out to fund your position, maybe you should listen to your producers?

This comment was from the California Cattlemen Assoc. I feel like she is basically saying we need to sugar coat it for our consumers. I think sugar coating it for our consumers is kinda like lying to them. Maybe I'm wrong.

This comment was from the California Cattlemen Assoc. I feel like she is basically saying we need to sugar coat it for our consumers. I think sugar-coating it for our consumers is kinda like lying to them. Maybe I’m wrong.

But wait. Let’s ask a consumer.

This is from Katherine Atkinson and I think she does a wonderful job of speaking for consumers that want to know.

This is from Katherine Atkinson and I think she does a wonderful job of speaking for consumers that want to know.

** All these comments are from this blog http://thebeefjar.com/2011/07/13/wordless-wednesday-a-beef-harvest-2/

I think more and more consumers are starting to feel like Ms. Atkinson. In the past five years, I’ve seen a food movement grow. People want to get back on the farms and ranches and understand the how’s and what’s of their food. Farmers and ranchers are starting to open their barn doors and tell our stories, and I cannot be happier about that. As farmers and ranchers it is our JOB to tell consumers what we are doing. And as an industry, we’ve done a crappy job. BUT we are getting better, just check out all the farmers and ranchers on social media now, we want to talk and share!

I believe part of our problem is us, our industry. Instead of choosing to admit we aren’t perfect, we get defensive or attack each other. I know I get super defensive, I even admit in the beginning of this blog. Animal abuse happens. How we chose to deal and share that abuse will ultimately decide our fate. I am pleased to see websites like See It? Stop it! shared by my friend and fellow producer Wanda Schott Patsche. Websites and organizations like this, will help us police our own.

I had something happen to me last week, that drove this point home for me. Again through the window of my office I saw a neglected dog in the back of a pick-up barking his head off, it was very sad and not fun to listen to. I posted to my social media and found out the owner of this dog has some history with neglect. My therapist confirmed that abuse and neglect are the same thing. I was deeply frustrated with the lack of care our local police and animal control agencies have over animal abuse in town and asked for advice on how to deal with this in the future:

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Imagine my surprise and shock when a friend, that knew me in real life and also earned an ag degree and works in agriculture, posted this on my comment:

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Leanne illustrates my point perfectly. Instead of dealing with the bad apples or the real issue at hand, our industry will turn on each other.  It reminded me of when the Butte County Cattlemen ostracized my family for turning in a neighbor that was abusing his cattle, instead of dealing with the issue and the bad apple, they got mad that we “turned on our own“. In my world “our own” do not abuse or neglect animals. I do not want to be apart of a group or be friends with people who won’t do the right thing.

This is why we need legislation to protect us (this is a very rare time when I will argue in favor of more laws or regulations). Until the agricultural industry openly addresses transparency to our consumers and policing our own, we will continue to be our own worst enemy by bickering internally over these issues. A divided and angry industry leaves us further vulnerable to attacks from those who do not understand or want to understand what we do. Fellow Aggies, join me in support of agricultural protection, transparency and policing our own – let’s do the right thing.

For other thoughts on this topic please check out Dairy Carrie http://dairycarrie.com/2013/04/16/aggag/

and The Irish Vs. http://irishvs.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/the-irish-vs-ag-gag-laws/

Thank you.

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Filed under Ag, agriculture, Beef, family, food, Media, Pigs, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized

Am I Really the Crazy One?

Edit from October 2013: “if you’re a strong, powerful, smart woman, you tend to end up at some point in a roomful of men trying to prove that your ideas are good.” Elizabeth Moss

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I went to my local county cattlemen’s board meeting tonight. My blog was on the agenda because for the past few months I had been asked to use my social media savvy and create a Facebook page for the group. I’ve posted mainly fun facts and articles about the industry, but I figured since my blog post about California Beef Council dropping the social media ball directly impacted Butte County Cattlemen (since they all pay into the check-off), I’d post a link to my blog on the Butte County Cattlemen’s facebook page.

Ready to talk the Board about my blog, change within the industry and facebook.

Some of the members didn’t like that I did that. I understand that fighting and drama can look bad when done within the industry. But when you read my post about the California Beef Council, I feel like I am not really fighting or attacking. I offered my help, I want to get involved! I did point out that the beef industry has a problem when the group we fund to talk for us, won’t talk to us. So it confused me that these men took issue with my stance. I guess I thought more of them would be upset too.
I found myself being the only woman and the youngest one there trying to explain social media, blogs, my blog, the story behind my blog, and how social media works to a group of men that, I think it is safe to say, don’t fully appreciate this technology, it was like talking to a roomful of my Dads. It got confusing. People interrupted me and told my story for me (although that part was kinda nice – I got to hear more about the drama I caused higher up, but I didn’t know because NO ONE WOULD TALK TO ME ABOUT IT). I got annoyed that I could have been sitting on my couch, with my cat and wine (Wino Wednesday!), instead of being talked at about a thing I know and am pretty good at sometimes.
I went ahead and printed off a couple of my blogs, the ag code that explains the California Beef Council’s job, and Todd Fitchette’s blog about my blog, hoping to give the board members some background into what I have been doing. I don’t think that helped, but I did try and do my due diligence to explain why I thought I was there.

My packet of information about the California Beef Council.

The meeting went on about if Butte County Cattlemen should even have a Facebook page. A side note, I asked how many of these men even had a form of social media and I think 4 out of the group of 10 or so did, one mentioned that he knew how to turn on a computer! I guess I do understand now, why these guys aren’t as upset at the lack of social media in our industry when they don’t understand what it is or how powerful it can be.
I think by now, most of my serious readers realize I love ag, I love anything to do with it, and I spend an enormous amount of my time talking and sharing about it. I was honest and told them it really wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they removed me from their Facebook administrator because I do have my hands in so many different ag related activities. They said that they wanted me but they wanted policies and procedures, more regulation – no drama, no opinions, you know kinda the stuff that makes me such an amusing person. I told them that for a donation to my scholarship they could tell me what to post, and I wouldn’t piss anyone off.
So about that time I burst into tears. Because when I am put on the defensive and not listened to, that is what I do. It was a highly effective tool to communicate with my Dad and since these men all reminded me of my Dad, I went there. I do hate that about myself, it makes me look very unprofessional, but it is also a huge part of who I am. However, want to know how to make a room full of cattlemen really uncomfortable?
So that was my meeting. I think they decided to have a young cattlemen take over the page. I must question though, how many pages about the beef industry do we need that only talk about puff? How effective has that been?
I went home after I started to cry. I’m on my couch with Jack cat, doing what I do best these days, writing about the odd predicaments I get myself into. I don’t feel like my point was gotten across. I feel like I am missing yet another opportunity to help my industry. I feel like I don’t know how to communicate with others in my industry, am I the only one that feel like this? Am I really the crazy one?

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Filed under Ag, Beef, food, Ranch life, Rants, Scholarship, Uncategorized

California Beef Council – Let’s Get Better Together!

I haven’t been a huge fan of the California Beef Council (“CBC”) lately. They poked me with a stick and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the way my stick poking was handled, I didn’t like the secrecy (felt like Mean Girls in high school), I didn’t like the outcome. However, cause and effect is a funny thing, because of their stick poking I got to meet my idol and she validated me.

My experience with the CBC was a good thing. It opened my eyes to ways CBC could get better at talking to their producers and our consumers. Instead of staying mad and bitter, I want to help, I want to use my voice, my knowledge  and my point of view to make CBC better, after-all this is my industry and way of life we are talking about.

I got this in the mail. CBC wanted more money, and it seems like California cattle producers didn’t want to give more. I think I know why.

First, in case you aren’t a cattle producer, this is the way check off works. We have the CBC and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. The Cattlemen’s Beef Board is the national level the CBC is the state level. When we sell a cow/beef animal/bull/calf/anything, we must give $1 from the sale of that animal to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Fifty cents from that $1 is then given back to the CBC. Our $0.50 per head investment is meant to have CDC  do these things (pay attention because I am going to refer to this A-F list often):

A) Increase beef consumption;

B) Give out accurate information about the nutritional benefits of beef;

C) Talk about methods that cattle people use produce beef;

D) Talk about all the high standards beef producers use to produce beef;

E) Educate about what would happen without a beef industry;

F) Educate about beef trends to help our consumers understand the industry.

All very important things, right? But this is where I have my issue. Once the CBC got on my radar and I started trying to communicate with them to ask them for help with these things, they didn’t (see below) help me at all! In fact I felt like they basically said “we don’t do that”. I voted no on the referendum because of that.

The above referenced e-mail from Christie (Christie works at the CBC and we went to college together, I think we even had the same job in the farm office, right Christie?)
My e-mail back. I never got any suggestion back.

If my Beef Jar readers recall, I went on a quest with our local paper earlier this year. They printed poorly done, unfactual articles about the beef industry, I went to the CBC for help (you can read more about that quest herehere and here). I never got help.

I tried to ask My Beef Checkoff how I could help,  and as you can see below, I got the same vague run around.

I started getting paranoid. What if it was just me this was happening to, fortunately (or not), I’m not alone!

This would be a great opportunity to post Dr. Grandin’s video about the slaughter house abuse.
She’s got a point.
Another producer would like a dialogue.

I got myself so worked up about this, I even wrote a column about it for Feedstuffs. The “Megan obsession thing” is kinda happening. I just feel like my industry could get better, together.

I feel if CBC made a few changes they would be a more effective organization. If they became more effective, producers would be far more likely to increase our fee when asked next time. I know I would have no problem supporting the CBC if they communicated with us, the producers, especially when those producers point blank ask for help.  It is frustrating, being ignored by the very group that is supposed to promote what we do.

The California Beef Council has a website, a facebook and twitter account – and I think they are being under used. Social media is a powerful tool. I see several other state beef councils doing a wonderful job with it. Instead of ignoring the people commenting in their facebook and twitter, they engage them, ask them about why they have question. These are our consumers, we want them to talk to us, to trust us, not the media or the “google educated” farmers, right?

CBC, do the things you were created to do. Promote, educate, and share. There are so many wonderful cattle producers, processors, dairypeople, chefs, dietitians, scientist, professors,  and veterinarians in California that would be ecstatic to contribute to CBC. If you aren’t comfortable talking about an issue (for example custom exempt slaughter) within my industry ask us! Use us! Come to a family ranch in California, according to your ballot you have at least 1,829 ranchers that met your requirements, can you imagine the stories  they could tell? I think it would be far more authentic than explorebeef.org, don’t you?

When I browse the CBC facebook page I see fluff. Go ahead – check it out, if I was just an average consumer, looking for industry facts I wouldn’t find them there.  I would find information about football rivalry, or burger battles,  nothing about Lean Finely Textured Beef or mad cow, or the the recent animal abuse videos. I don’t understand why CBC doesn’t talk about relevant topics – isn’t that supposed to be their job?

Ok CBC, let’s get better. Start using your social media to talk to both your consumers and your producers – no one likes to be ignored. Remember on social media it’s not always about the one person asking the question or making the comment, it can also be about the 10 other people that are lurking the conversation too. Also take some responsibility, I know you are busy and I’m not asking you to respond to “every media request”, just to some, once in a while, when someone asks. And finally don’t be so scared to post information that is relevant to what the national media is covering, I feel like that is an important part of your purpose.

California Cattlepeople let’s help. We need to become more vocal when the councils we fund, start dropping the ball. We shouldn’t accept the fact that our state council isn’t stellar – let’s help get it there! I cannot tell you how frustrated I’ve become with other producers that just nod their head in agreement when I tell them CBC needs some work but laugh and roll their eyes when I suggest they get involved (you guys know who you are!). Let’s get motivated! Our futures as cattlepeople depend in it.

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Wordless Wednesday: A Beef Harvest

WARNING!  This might be considered by some to be gross, inappropriate, or tragic, but I think it is extremely important share the how’s, what’s and why’s of our food. If you have any questions about anything you see please ask – I love to share about the ranch.

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I got some feedback from the California Beef Industry that apparently my blog is offensive. To be honest I’m pretty upset about it.  Jake Dewey from Chico Locker and Sausage called me this morning to say a representative from the California Beef Council called Chico Locker to make sure they knew about it. I’m upset because the CBC couldn’t contact me directly.  I’ve known many of the people that are on that council for years.  I’m upset because I caused Chico Locker drama.  I’m upset my own industry can’t talk to me.  I’m upset they feel like we must hide a major part of our industry.

My intent with this photo essay is to share my life on a commercial cattle ranch. I feel like most of us are so far removed from our ag roots, and that makes me sad. I hope to offer a glimpse of what less than 2% of our population does for a living.  Ag is not pretty.  It is not easy. Agriculture – is dirty, hot, cold, bloody, messy, hard – I have no wish to sugar coat it for my readers.  I want to you to know what it is really like, I want to provide transparency. And I’m heartbroken my OWN industry doesn’t want me to.

That being said, this slaughter is CUSTOM EXEMPT. That means it will not be in the retail market place. This beef is for my family’s consumption and no one else’s.  The reason we choose to slaughter our beef in this fashion is that I think it is better for my animals. It’s less stressful for them.  We don’t have to take them anywhere, they can stay in the environment they are used to.  Again the health, safety and welfare of my animals in the most important thing to us – and the California Beef Council should recognize that on ranch customer harvest plays a part of that. If you look farther back in this blog you will find a prior posting (https://megraeb.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/inside-gasp-cargill/) that shows how beef that goes into the retail market is processed.

I received an e-mail from the California Beef Council after I twittered them the following:

“MegRaeB: hey did you guys have a problem with my blog yesterday? I just got a call from the Locker that you guys contacted them.”

This is the response:

Hi Megan,  I want to apologize how this has spiraled. I didn’t mean to ruffle feathers with anyone. I was forwarded your blog by another organization that saw your twitter message directing your followers to your blog about slaughter. I would like to make the point clear that we are not trying to sensor personal blogs, Twitter or Facebook messages. If that’s the way it came across, I apologize. My concern is that pictures like the ones posted would turn people away from eating beef, or meat in general. Yes, consumers are too far removed from agriculture and our practices and it’s our duty to try and connect the consumer to modern production. However, I do think there may be a better way to convey to consumers how on-farm slaughter occurs, and a better explanation of custom slaughter versus federally inspected slaughter facilities, etc. It’s also important to get the message out to the consumer that as an industry, our collective goal is to produce wholesome, safe beef using the best science and technology available. Research has shown that consumers are concerned about food safety, more than animal handling and environmental issues. The pictures are not only graphic to a consumer, but they also don’t explain the science-based practices and regulations that the industry follows – and the millions of dollars we spend each year to produce safe beef – All of these messages have proven to resonate very well with consumers. Again, I want to apologize if it looks like we have an issue with the post. I’m just concerned about the message consumers will get from the pictures. As an industry representative, I have to be prepared for any possible feedback from consumers, media or other beef producers that might read the blog. I do want to applaud your outreach efforts, I believe we need more producers like yourself doing that. Instead of taking your blog down, why don’t you add a line about “This is how we do in on-farm, to learn about federally-inspected facilities, visit explorebeef.org.”   Please call me if you want to talk about this. I don’t have your phone number. Shannon  Shannon Kelley Public Relations Coordinator

You can tell they didn’t read my blog before they e-mailed me. Bums me out. Like I said before I’ve already posted links to retail harvest, I’ve addressed the science and technology that they industry uses. You can see that sort of information of the website they recommend going to – explorebeef.org. I’m very active on both my facebook and twitter explaining modern beef practices. But how often does a consumer get to see a custom exempt harvest?  Never.  You know what? I’m not sorry I posted these pictures and I’m not changing anything. Shannon – next time we do a custom exempt harvest why don’t you come watch, come talk to me, I would love to explain to you that consumers want transparency, they don’t like it when we hide things from them. And there are many stories in agriculture – not just the shinny, pretty, edited ones on explorebeef.org.

Oh and P.S. I already had explorebeef.org linked to blog. Again might want to read a blog before you attack it. Thanks!

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Being bled out.

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Attaching her to the kill truck so he can process her.

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The skinning process.

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Removing the legs so he can hang her.

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Opening the chest so he can remove the guts.

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Notice how the carcass never touches the ground?

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The guts coming out.

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Liver flukes, a common parasite in natural and organic beef.

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Guts removed, skinning almost done.

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Sawing the beef into halves.

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Now it will be loaded into his refrigerated truck. It will be transfered into the locker where it will hang for a couple of weeks. It will then be cut, packaged and frozen.

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The skinned skull, people want them for projects and landscaping.

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UPDATE: because several people did ask for more information I’m updating this blog by adding some videos. Again if you think you are going to be upset – don’t watch.

http://youtu.be/wzIE_t8JPsg

http://youtu.be/OtIPD_6WeOc

http://youtu.be/Kl1uOnX-l5k

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