Speakers discuss sustainability, antibiotic use and animal welfare at 2019 Summit

The Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 2019 Stakeholders Summit kicked off on May 7 with record attendance, bringing 335 food and agriculture stakeholders to Kansas City, Missouri. The event, themed “A Seat At The Table,” started with a consumer focus group led by Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 2019 Stakeholders Summit kicked off on May 7 with record attendance, bringing 335 food and agriculture stakeholders to Kansas City, Missouri. The event, themed “A Seat At The Table,” started with a consumer focus group led by Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics.

Six consumers were asked about their meat purchasing habits, including how much price, taste, appearance, animal welfare, antibiotics and labeling claims matter. The consumers agreed taste, price and appearance are important when they stand at the meat case, but had differing opinions when it came to animal welfare and antibiotic use. Some said animal welfare is a main driver of their purchasing decisions, while others agreed it was important, but wasn’t top-of-mind. Several panelists mentioned they rely on the retailers to source humanely-raised meat and poultry products.  

When asked if antibiotic use labels have an impact on purchasing decisions, some panelists mentioned how they realize that what goes into the animal eventually impacts their health, so they prefer not to have antibiotics, but are eager to learn more about why antibiotics may be used and the different types that are used in livestock production. A key theme from the panel discussion was trust in labels with most of them feeling wary of label enforcement and the meanings behind different labels.

To continue the discussion of food labels, G. Donald Ritter, DVM, director of technical marketing at Mountaire Farms Inc. discussed the new One Health Certified program. Ritter called the program “a triple win,” explaining that “One Health Certified recognizes that the health of animals, people and the planet are linked together and strives to create optimal outcomes for all three.”

Ritter said current meat labels are confusing as he highlighted 18 different antibiotic labels and several unintended consequences of striking antibiotics from the supply chain. The program was built by a coalition of chicken, turkey and pork stakeholders along with NGO’s, university scientists, government advisers and 36 leading retailers and restaurant chains who shared the same vision of wanting a better labeling program. The purpose of One Health Certified is to reduce consumer confusion and take care of the animals in a responsible and sustainable way. It will also be the first certification program to include environmental impact and will likely be available this summer.

Next, a panel of leaders in the beef industry took the stage to discuss sustainability in a session titled, “From Birth to Burger: Industry-Led Beef Supply Chain Animal Welfare and Sustainability Efforts.” Kristen Parman, vice president of membership services at Livestock Marketing Association kicked off the session by introducing the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) as two examples of collective efforts to provide consumers with high-quality beef.

“The conversation around sustainability has been happening for a very long time,” said Debbie Lyons-Blythe, rancher at Blythe Family Farm. “Take care of the land, take care of the animals, take care of the people and make money,” is how Lyons-Blythe defined sustainability. “If you don’t make money, you’re not a sustainable business.” She appreciates engaging with USRSB because of the importance put on getting grassroots input from producer organizations and individual ranchers like herself, instead of the traditional top-down approach.

Justin Nelson, vice president of cattle procurement at Tyson Foods explained sustainability is about having a business model that allows companies and farms to operate for years and provide a product people love while simultaneously protecting the environment. “Sustainability requires transparency,” said Nelson.

Each panelist was asked how to effectively communicate about beef sustainability. Parman said, “tearing down the walls and letting people come in. Not being afraid to have a dialogue and tackle the misinformation.” Lyons-Blythe added, “it’s all about respect” and was careful to avoid using the term “educate” as it should be more of a conversation with the public. Nelson ended the session by reiterating how transparency is key and “seeing is believing,” recommending attendees invite retailers to their operations.

Attendees also heard from restaurant and foodservice brands about how their companies make decisions on topics like animal welfare, antibiotic use and sustainability.

Thank you to our 2019 Summit sponsors: Watt Global Media, Farm Journal, Meatingplace, National Provisioner, American Feed Industry Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Board, Smithfield, United Soybean Board, Elanco, National Turkey Federation, Country Folks, Dairy MAX, Farm Credit, National Biodiesel Board, Summit Livestock Facilities, United Egg Producers, Cobb-Vantress, Inc., Council for Biotechnology Information, Protect the Harvest, Agri Beef, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Veal Association, Empirical, Progressive Dairyman, Kemin, National Chicken Council, Live Oak Bank, North Carolina Farm Bureau, O + B | P, Phileo Lesaffre Animal Care, Vivayic, Eggland’s Best, Brakke Consulting, Inc., Food Industry Environmental Network, Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean.

The Alliance also thanks the following members for their continued support of Summit and other Alliance programs: U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, Zoetis, Merck Animal Health, Charleston|Orwig, Diamond V, Alltech, Inc., Aviagen Group, Boehringer Ingelheim, Cattle Empire, LLC, Dairy Farmers of America, Genus PLC - PIC/ABS, Hendrix Genetics, Hy-Line North America LLC, Iowa Soybean Association, Midwest Dairy, Nutrien, Provimi North America, Inc. and Seaboard Foods LLC.

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