Loos: Learn to speak foodie
DES MOINES – Know how to define a “crunchy mama?”
Think of a mother who views herself as environmentally conscious, health focused and dedicated to natural living. She likely lives in an urban or suburban community and has a strong interest in the food she feeds her family.
So where do these socially conscious crunchy mamas-and plenty of other people-go to learn about farming?
“What do they typically find when they search for pork production? Factory farms,” said Trent Loos, a sixth-generation farmer and rancher from Nebraska who delivered the keynote speech on Jan. 22 at the 2014 Iowa Pork Congress.
Sometimes farmers themselves don’t share stories that connect with consumers when they explain modern agriculture, said Loos, who has been dubbed “The Voice of Rural America,” thanks to his popular Loos Tales radio show.
“When you talk about improvements in feed conversion rates,” he said, “what does that story mean to the average crunchy mama? Nothing. It’s just noise to them.”
“Green” ham and eggs
While farmers focus on efficiency, the rest of the world talks “green” when it comes to sustainability. It’s time for ag to take a new approach, Loos said.
“We say we need to educate consumers,” he said, “but we need to get the lingo down and speak in a way that consumers understand.”
Consider this example from the 2008 World Pork Expo in Des Moines.
“Word spread pretty fast around the fairgrounds that there was a green pig at the show,” Loos said. “Not a genetically engineered green pig, but a pig right out of the Trent Loos playbook of making your point: a Yorkshire gilt dyed green.”
The eye-catching hog belonged to Everett Forkner, of Richards, Mo., and his Truline Genetics Co.
The green pig attracted the attention of Jane Wells, a reporter from CNBC in Los Angeles, who was covering stories in Iowa that summer. Guess what made national headlines? The green pig at the World Pork Expo.
“Everett noted that for generations, American farmers and ranchers have implemented the best in environmental stewardship and animal care,” Loos said. “Today’s pork production is very green, but we haven’t explained it properly.”
In an interview during the World Pork Expo, Forkner mentioned that today’s pork producers are more efficient with natural resources than ever. He indicated that during his career in the pork industry, the efficiency of producing a pound of pork has gone from 4 pounds of feed per pound of gain to just under 3 pounds of feed.
“Yes, that’s a 25 percent improvement,” Loos said, “but when we explain it that way, it doesn’t mean a thing to the average soccer mom.
“It’s high time we find a way to tell this story better.”
Laws gone wild
Loos acknowledges this isn’t always easy in a world where activists are trying to mislead the public about modern agriculture and some lawmakers are compounding the problem.
Even issues that don’t appear to affect agriculture directly have the potential to wreak havoc for farmers, said Loos, citing a new Ohio law that makes it virtually impossible to own an exotic animal.
The law is the result of a suspicious series of events in Ohio October 2011, Loos said. That’s when Terry Thompson, from Zanesville, Ohio, reportedly freed his 56 exotic animals, then shot himself near their pens.
Ohio’s new state law, which went into effect Jan. 1, has created a system that requires anyone interested in owning a tiger, bear, chimp or other exotic animal to get a permit.
“This is not a big deal until you find out that the permitting standards are so unrealistic that not a single permit has been issued since the process was initiated in October 2013,” Loos said. “If you didn’t own any of these animals prior to that time, you are not even allowed to apply for a permit.”
The statement that really perked Loos’ interest came from a judge who ruled on the case of the constitutionality of the law, which was tried in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division. The ruling went in favor of the state.
According to Loos, the court cited, ‘The animals covered under the act are inherently dangerous, as they are not normally domesticated and pose unique threats to human life due to their physical and temperamental characteristics, including their strength, speed and unpredictability.
“I don’t know of one single person who was killed by an exotic animal in 2013,” e said, “but I have had three friends across the country who were killed recently by farm animals exhibiting their natural behaviors.
“One friend was killed by a ram sheep, one by a cow and the third by a 600-pound steer.”
Silent no more
Loos urged his Pork Congress audience to connect the dots and realize that laws are moving in the direction of removing farmers’ opportunity and right to own animals.
“How many times have we stepped back and waited because it wasn’t our fight,” he asked, “only to realize that when it was our fight, there was no one left to stand with us?”
While groups like the Iowa Pork Producers Association and National Pork Board work on behalf of producers, it’s vital for more farmers to step up at the grassroots level, Loos said.
“Farmers are the true experts in animal welfare,” he said. “We need more of you to get involved and exercise your right as an American citizen to speak up and be heard.
“We can no longer stay silent.”
For more information on Loos, visit www.facesofag.com.
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