Earlier this summer, I discovered an interesting back-and-forth conversation on social media about our choice to eat meat.

About 99 percent of Iowa households eat meat, according to the Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index®. Another recent study found that fewer than 5 percent of Americans are vegetarians, a number that has held steady over the last decade.

Like many Iowans, I choose to buy meat based on price, quality and nutrition.

However, I learned from social media that for some people, buying meat isn’t such a simple choice.

These self-described “conscious carnivores” said they struggle with ethical, environmental and emotional worries that go beyond basic nutritional needs.

One Twitter commenter said she feels guilty because she can’t afford to buy “more sustainable” meat options at the grocery store.

It saddens me to learn that there are people who feel their food choices don’t align with their values.

I want to assure conscious carnivores, and anyone who chooses to eat meat, that farmers take their role seriously and understand they must act responsibly.

Farmers care for their farm animals 24-hours-a-day, in Iowa’s extreme weather. Farmers wouldn’t do it unless they have a love of nature and of working with animals.

Responsible farming means focusing on continuous improvement. Today, livestock farmers are producing more using fewer resources than at any time in history.

Meat also plays an important role in a healthy diet. For example, beef is a vital source of zinc, iron and high-quality protein, which helps with weight management, builds up our immunity and provides our bodies with energy to power through our days.

Farmers are sharing new ideas and innovations with each other, and they are looking for opportunities to help Iowans understand more about how they raise their animals.

Close to home, Iowa Farm Animal Care (IFAC) - a unique coalition that includes veterinarians, animal behavior scientists and farmers - helps address Iowans’ concerns about farm animal care.

Through its On-Site Evaluation Team, IFAC taps the combined strength and expertise of Iowa State University’s Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Ag and Life Sciences, as well as the Iowa State Veterinarian’s Office at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, in response to questions consumers have about farm animal care.

Iowans with questions about farm animal care can visit www.iowafarmanimalcare.org or call 1-800-252-0577. You can also learn how farmers raise sustainable beef at www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/raising-beef.

Please know that farmers are listening to our concerns. And farmers will continue to provide us with a wide range of choices at the grocery store – whether that’s organic, cage-free or conventionally raised.

There are lots of different ways to farm and raise animals. Whatever methods used, farmers know they must raise animals responsibly.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.