Where Did It Come From?

As producers, sometimes it is hard to understand why people are against the animals and plants we produce. One common complaint among those who choose to avoid farm-grown products is that they don’t know where it came from. There are many different claims, but the most resounding for me is that the industry is secretive, that there is no transparency because producers don’t want people to know about how their livestock or crops are raised.

So how hard is it to find out where your food comes from? I decided to see for myself if I could trace my food backwards from the supermarket. I wasn’t sure if it would turn out favorably or prove myself wrong. So on my lunch break I made my way over to Hy-Vee.  I chose beef because I commonly eat red meat and wanted to focus on a single product. I walked back and when the man behind the counter asked how he could help me, I asked “Sure, I’m wondering where this all comes from” while making a wide vague gesture toward the walls of red and pink surrounding me.

He think he might’ve looked at me cockeyed to make sure I wasn’t joking. I explained that I was curious about where my food came from. From there he explained that their beef is “Amana beef”. He also explained where their chicken and pork come from, all grown and processed in the Midwest. When I asked what Amana was, he went into the back and came back with a box labeled with the brand name and the description of it’s contents (ribs, in this case) and said that this meat came from Amana, Iowa. Okay, cool, now what? Well that was about all the poor guy knew so I thanked him and went on my way.

Now I turned to my best friend Google and simply typed in “amana beef” I was lead to a website for Iowa Beef Company in Amana, IA. I called the number and asked for someone who answer my questions. I returned to my computer after a couple hours and found that I had already received a response!

It was from John Peterson, President and CEO of Amana Society. He said that he had received my message and explained how their operation works and how it fits into the Amana program.  He said “At any given time, we have 4000 to 5000 cattle on the Amana Farms. We have a cow herd (for breeding) of about 1900 – 2200 depending on the year and about 2500 on feed at any given time. We are one of many farms that supply PM Beef in Windom, MN with cattle for the Hy-Vee Amana Beef program. PM Beef is our partner is supplying Hy-Vee with the beef for the Amana Beef program. We worked with Hy-Vee and with PM Beef in developing the specifications for beef supplied to the program.” and that “the beef for the program is exclusively all “USDA choice” graded beef and has no additives or preservatives and is minimally processed prior to being delivered to the meat case in your local Hy-Vee.”

We emailed back and forth a few times that day and from one phone call I received emails from three different people. I received an email from Mark Halbe, VP of sales for PM Beef, who also explained the Amana beef program and told me that “As you know from your farming past it takes a lot of cattle to support a retail beef program. About 90% of the cattle processed at PM Beef come from within 150 miles of our plant. This is a large group of local farmers providing cattle to the plant. Most are family farmers and have been doing business with us for years.”

So now I knew that my beef was processed by PM Beef and one of the farms that produces the livestock is Iowa Beef Company in Amana, Iowa. So that allowed me to research PM Beef a little bit more, besides what Mark had told me about their product. On their website, PM Beef says that they encourage their producers to add selenium and  Vitamin E to their cattle’s diets. That fact stopped me- what is that and why is it added to their cattle’s’ diet? After more questioning and research, I found that, according to the Vermont Beef Producers, selenium and Vitamin E are essential for both human and animal health. If the cattle have a selenium deficiency they are likely to develop a disease called Nutritional Myodegeneration, or White Muscle Disease. It is a muscle wasting disease affecting the whole animal body. Ultimately the cow could end up being completely alert and bright but unable to walk, stand, swallow, etc. as well with reproductive disorders and other serious health issues. The addition of these and all additives to animal feed is strictly regulated by the FDA to ensure that the levels are not too high. The amount of selenium found in the cattle’s feed is directly related to the amount in the ground that the feed grains are grown in, and certain areas are consistently low in selenium levels. Doing a little reading helped me understand how the cattle producers raise the product I eat.

Calf with White Muscle Disease

I know that this was a long explanation, but it just goes to show how much information is readily available for those who wish to know about where their food comes from. It is our responsibility as customers and consumers to educate ourselves. Some may argue that producers and processors should provide more information about the product on the shelves- I’d rather find out the truth for myself than believe what I am told.. with all of the organic, all natural, conventional mumbo-jumbo, are we confusing the customer?

I agree that the journey from farm to plate is more complex as we have increased the global transportation of food using importing and exporting and more technology to raise and produce quality products, but the food on your plate can still be traced, and easily at that. Producers are willing to share and open about the way they raise animals, and we will continue to work on being transparent in the future, as the world will always wonder: where did it come from?

-Megan

To read more about PM’s Ranch to Retail program click here

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12 comments on “Where Did It Come From?

  1. Al Chorley on said:

    My first time here. Nice blog and great post. Well done.

  2. Jason Stastny on said:

    Do you know whether or not the feed is GMO?

    The rise in autoimmune diseases, infertility, gastrointestinal problems and chronic diseases may be associated with the introduction of GM foods. In a position paper by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, the authors ask all physicians to consider the role of GM foods in the nation’s health crisis, and advise their patients to avoid all GM foods whenever possible. The Academy also recommends a moratorium on GM seeds and calls for immediate independent safety testing and the labeling of all food items containing genetically modified products. As of 2010, the U.S. does not require food manufacturers to identify foodstuffs produced with genetically modified crops.

    Thanks kindly, Jason S

    • mloberg on said:

      Jason-
      Thanks for your comment!
      Though I emailed the growers and processors of Amana beef, I didn’t get a response from them regarding the content of their feed. I cannot say with certainty, but am fairly sure that yes, the feed given to the cattle does include GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). I would never ignore your concern as a consumer with questions about GMO’s, but the amount of grain produced by GM seed compared to that of non-GM seed is so dramatic that it is literally making an immense difference in out ability to feed the world. While I do hope that GMO’s are researched further to show the positive results that I know are proven to be derived from GMO’s, there is no concrete link between GMO’s and negative health aspects. As you say, those diseases MAY be associated. I say Americans aren’t as healthy as they used to be because they are overweight, overeating processed foods, and over-medicated. I have been following the desire to have GM products labeled as well, and as long as people understand that it may add cost to their food, I am completely supportive!
      -Megan

  3. Thanks for the informative article! I was trying to figure out what the term “amana beef” meant as well, and you provided excellent information. Our family is about to enjoy an Amana rib roast for dinner on Christmas. Best wishes!
    - Steve

  4. Great article and kudo’s on taking the initiative to find out more about what you eat! In today’s market’s it’s critical to know if you care at all about yourself or those you feed.

    As an FYI, 70% of all vegetative agriculture in the US (grown under any commercial organizations title) is, in fact, GMO. Monsanto and pfizer and a couple other parmaceutical giants provide the seeds to farmers under exclusive contract to use only their patented GMO seeds. (nice note on the side…they have the industry so wrapped around their fingers, if their patented pollen lands on the crops of a farmers 4 miles away, they can force that farmer-under law- to sell his crop to them at a cut-rate price, or shut him down if he seels to anyone esle)

    Since we still have no real idea of what GMO foods will do in the long run (remember in the 80′s when we thought nutra-sweet and HFCS was safe?) we should do outr best to avoid them. One dear friend of many years who works for another large pharm corp says he wont eat anything produced by their labs or any other company’s labs because what they know of long-term effects from many GMO’s is that they introduce foreign substances to the body that your system doesn’t know what to do with (ie:not natural in it’s molecular composition).

    You really can’t avoid GMO’s in the US unless you shop locally for ALL produce (since the Pharm companies in control of the seeds are now encroaching all over South America also where a huge amount of both beef and vegetables.fruits come from year-round. Luckily, the EU, Australia and New Zealand all tell those companies to take a short walk off a long plank. They don’t allow GMO’s for feed and refuse to allow their farmers to plunge a cow full of antibiotics…and they have never had a case of “mad cow”! However, in the US, New Zealand Famrs has no choice but to use GMO feed for their cattle or suffer the wrath of the American Beef Industry and Pharm corporations. They can’t shut them down, but they tried to put the squeeze on them a few years back for raising cattle the “right and natural way” and made it impossible for them to find enough feed to support their operations. They had no choice as shipping quality feeds from NZ made it cost-prohibitive. In their Defense, NZ Farms meat is grazed extensively, but it’s also pumped full of drugs and GMO’s.

    It’s big money, and as we all know, in the US, big money reigns supreme. If possible, stick to your local butchers that buy cattle off of small (less than 20 or 30) cattle farms where it’s more cost-effective to let them graze naturally as opposed to using chemical compounds and genetically altered plants for feed. Many towns also have small organizations of local produce farmers (unfortunately, in most of the US, this is not a year-round thing). All in all, this is why I’m getting my degree in agriculture. Both to be as self-sufficient as possible and to slowly but surely open the publics eyes to the fully unnatural, and ultimately, so far as we know to this point, harmful way we are raising food for our tables.

    The most that the average person can do is be as conscientious as possible, and try, when possible, to find local and healthier alternatives (usually at little to no diff in cost honestly), but some take it a step farther and go old-school with canning fruits and veg for the cold season so they eat natural foods all year (avacados and tomatoes from argentina are 100% GMO, just to name 2 of a hundred we import every winter ;) )

    Best of luck to you!

  5. Sara Ross-Iowa CommonGround Volunteer on said:

    Great post! I just had a friend from college ask me what my opinion was on Amana Beef. I am a CommonGround volunteer (www.findourcommonground.com) from Iowa and if you haven’t heard of it before, we (as farmwives) speak out to consumers about their food and how it is produced. So I was very happy when she came to me and asked my opinion. Although I didn’t know much about it, I found your blog as one of the first websites that popped up when I googled “Amana Beef” and I thought you did a great job explaining it. I passed it along to my friend to hopefully answer her questions! Thanks!

    • Megan Loberg on said:

      Sara-
      Thanks for commenting- of course I’ve heard of your organization. I’m glad to be helpful- this article seems to stay fairly well-read, so I’m hoping that others find it useful or interesting as well when they research where their food is coming from! :)

  6. Kristi on said:

    Wow, I’m afraid I’m none too impressed with what you found out, as it doesn’t address any real issues of ‘meat production’ and the safety of what we’re eating (or the humane/inhumane treatment of animals).

    I would like to know:

    –How many hours daily/weekly are the cows ‘at pasture’? how many hours daily/weekly confined?

    –List the ingredients in their food & the ratio of each (grains in too high of a ratio are truly unnatural/unnatural for cows – and should only be given in the dead of winter as a ‘supplement’ to their hay (alfalfa/clover).

    –How many “chemicals” are added to their food? And why? (and who cares if the FDA “approves” them or not…poison is poison, eh?)

    –Solid confirmation or denial of feeding animals GM grains (which have been proven to be horrendously toxic to any animal that eats them (including humans that eat those animals)

    –the addition of selenium & Vitamin E is a MAJOR red flag. These things are NOT needed to prevent disease in animals that are provided food that is natural & healthy to them.

    —What type (and how much) antibiotics are injected into these animals monthly? semi-annually? annually? And why are they needed at all (typically due to the rapid & rampant spread of disease caused by overcrowding, lack of Vitamin D {sunlight}, and grains/feed that are totally unnatural & stressful to the animal.

    –What type (and how much) growth hormones are injected into these animals?

    –What is the leading cause of disease/death, and why?
    –How is disease managed in general?
    –What is the most common disease? And how does that compare to animals that are pastured and fed healthy diets?
    –What is done with diseased animals (i.e. do they make it into the food chain? ground up and added to animal/pet feed? {very common}, or disposed of properly?

    If you’re not able/willing/whatever to ask these questions and post them answers, will you please email me a few of the email addresses of those who previously answered your emails? My mother is wondering if it is safe/healthy for her to consume ‘Amana Beef’, and since “meat” that has been ‘grown as a commodity’ in confinement operations has been proven to be a leading cause of disease & cancer, I would like to have the answers to provide to & for her.

    Thank you!

    • Megan Loberg on said:

      Good morning!
      Please see the following post: http://eatprayfarm.com/archives/1213
      I hope it clears up some issues regarding your questions, and we can continue a more specific line of questioning to find some answers.
      Have a great day!

  7. Eric O. Tooley on said:

    Who is paying you? To be more accurate, what are your sources of income.

    • Megan Loberg on said:

      It depends who you ask :)
      Kris and David work full time at Loberg Farms, their only income comes from the farm, which includes a variety of sources (grain sales, custom feeding cattle, pivot erection, etc.) Beth works at the farm, she and I both work in ag marketing, and I am a high school teacher. Nobody pays us to blog, we just want to share our story and bust some myths that float around about the industry.
      -Megan

  8. Eric O. Tooley on said:

    Your life at Loberg Farms section is great, I felt like a part of the farm.

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