Earl Butz was fond of saying, “If you eat you are involved in agriculture.” If that is the case, then a whole lot of Americans were involved in livestock agriculture this past Memorial Day weekend. Not only is Memorial Day weekend the unofficial beginning of summer, it is one of the biggest weekends for the consumption of meat, most of it being cooked on a grill. According to U.S. Census Bureau, more than a third of U.S. adults enjoy grilling out. Grilling has in recent years become the great American outdoor pastime. Grills come in an endless variety of types, sizes, and price ranges. There are cookbooks and magazines dedicated to grilling; and even television shows and competitions about grilling. While you can cook almost anything on a grill, meat is typically at the center of the menu. But very few of the grillers with spatula in hand ever take even a nanosecond to consider how that meat got to their grill.
Despite all the vegan blather on social media and all the hype about Meatless Mondays, the fact is that most Americans love to eat meat. The average American eats 58 pounds of beef, 64 pounds of pork, and 56 pounds of chicken each year. This adds up to each one of us chewing up about 7,000 animals in our lifetime: 11 cows, 27 pigs, 2,400 chickens, 80 turkeys, 30 sheep, and 4,500 fish. While we love to have the animals on our plate, many are not crazy about having them as neighbors.
Almost every time the issue of a livestock operation comes up, vicious public opposition arises. Whether it is a farmer seeking a permit to build a new barn or legislation regarding environmental regulations, activist groups, the media, and neighbors rise up in righteous indignation and say “not in my community.” They then drag out well-worn and mostly discredited facts about water pollution, odor, traffic, and property values. So, where do they expect to get their meat?
The truth in many consumers have a disconnect when it comes to meat and livestock. They know beef comes from cows and pork from pigs, and they know farmers raise those animals somewhere. But the space between pasture and plate is a little fuzzy for most. This lack of understanding about livestock is what gives anti-animal groups like HSUS, PETA, and the Hoosier Environmental Council the fodder they need to spread misinformation and create an unfavorable image of animal agriculture.
A recent study, sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance, indicates that having a livestock operation in your community, or having a growing livestock industry in your state, is a very desirable thing. The study showed the economic benefit the industry offers. “For every hundred people who work in the hog industry there’s another 41 jobs in the state, and every dollar the hog facility generates, it’s going to generate 1.6 dollars out in the community,” stated ISA board member Joe Steinkamp. Researchers concluded that growing animal industries beyond the current 21,200 animal agriculture operations and nearly $3.7 billion in sales will boost Indiana’s position among the nation’s leaders and expand economic opportunity in the state.
How the livestock industry improves the quality of life for a community or a state is something most people don’t consider when flipping those burgers on a hot grill. While livestock producers have a great story to tell when it comes to environmental impact and animal care, we need to broaden the discussion to include the economic benefits meat production brings to a community and a state. When we allow the greenies to sidetrack us with arguments over animal flatulence, we miss the opportunity to really help consumers understand the link between the steak on their grill and the prosperity of their state and community.
By Gary Truitt