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