Wednesday, July 28, 2010


About a month ago, I visited the corporate headquarters for McDonald’s USA with the Illinois Beef Association. It was a really interesting visit, where I learned things like ’27 million people eat at McDonald’s Global every single day’ and ‘Around 70% of McDonald’s business is drive thru purchases.’ These facts together really say something about our society.

But here’s something else I learned that really says something about us: in surveys and while testing new products, consumers indicated that if there were a healthy option for those Happy Meals you’re buying for your kid once a week, a large majority of parents would chose that option. In practice, only 10% of parents actually buy apple dippers for their kids instead of those extremely yummy fries.

To me, that says that while American’s do genuinely want to be healthier and live better, when push comes to shove, they are mostly only giving it lip service.

I thought of this recently gained knowledge while reading Pros of Modern Beef Production in the July 19 issue of Feedstuffs. There were some really great quotes in there that are completely Facebook worthy.

Things you might consider copying and pasting to your status like:

“Contrary to the negative image often associated with modern farming, fulfilling the U.S. population’s requirement for high-quality, nutrient-rich protein while improving environmental stewardship can only be achieved by using contemporary agricultural technologies and practices.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“We have the perception that feedlots are bad and that simply isn’t true.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“Compared to beef production in 1977, Capper found that each pound of beef produced in modern systems uses 10% less feed energy, 20% fewer feedstuffs, 30% less land, 14% less water, and 9 % less fossil fuel energy.”

Still, I’m left with one important quandary. Much like McDonald’s, we’re doing exactly what the consumer has asked for by producing more meat with fewer inputs and becoming more environmentally conscious and more sustainable while still delivering a quality, safe product. Why then, is the consumer not on board?

During my visit at McDonald’s Corporate, they indicated that while menu items must meet rigorous sales quotas or they are removed from the menu, apple dippers will always remain despite their less-than-stellar performance. McDonald’s has to maintain the option that the consumer wants even if the consumer doesn’t buy simply to sustain a positive image.

Can livestock farmers do this too without going out of business?

I realize that research is showing that consumers don’t want to have to make choices. They want everything that they want and they will not be forced to put a premium on any given option. This is understandable – businesses in our country have always subscribed to the “customer’s always right” mantra.

Still, we may have finally reached a plateau where livestock farmers simply can’t offer EVERYTHING that the customer wants. If they want grass-fed beef, livestock farmers will gladly deliver it, but it’s going to cost more, there will be less of it and it’s going to take a toll on the environment. If they want beef produced with a smaller hoof print on our planet, they may have to learn to tolerate feedlots.

To which option are they simply giving lip service?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Project Coordinator

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