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What is “Food with Integrity”? Ask these 3 farmers.

What is “Food with Integrity”? Ask these 3 farmers.
I appreciate good comedy. Heck, I’ll even put my hands together for an attempt at comedy.

Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle recently launched a series of satirical videos about the “factory farming industry” – a term the company seemingly applies to any farmer who raises livestock in a modern barn.

I’ll save you some time. The video series centers on a couple fictional farm practices in order to make a larger “point” about the integrity of farmers who choose to raise their animals under roof (as opposed to out in open pasture) or provide their livestock with veterinarian-recommended medical treatment that Chipotle opposes.

The series itself seems…meh. Golf clap for creativity, I guess.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Chipotle didn’t take itself and smearing the livestock farmers it disagrees with so seriously.

Chipotle, whose motto is “Food with Integrity,” says the series is “not about selling burritos…”

Please. I’ve watched Star Wars. I know a Jedi mind trick when I see one.

Here’s the thing. Farmers don’t find their animal care practices laughable, and most people (especially farmers) don’t find the issue of food safety particularly funny, either.

This issue deserves more than satire and blanket made-up accusations. It deserves…integrity.

That’s what farmers bring to the discussion. Sit a farmer who raises his livestock on pasture next to one who raises his animals indoors, and ask them why they do things differently. My experience tells me both are motivated by the same things – caring for their animals’ needs and delivering high quality, safe meat to customers with different preferences. You’ll also find that they respect each other and recognize that there isn’t just one responsible way to raise livestock.

Compare that to Chipotle’s tactic – scaring us into thinking the methods they don’t endorse are irresponsible or unsafe. Does that sound like integrity to you?

I didn’t see a real farmer in Chipotle’s $250,000 per episode production, so I called upon a couple Iowa farmers to cleanse our pallets by sharing their extensive experiences.

Note to Chipotle: Farmers are surprisingly easy to find and quite willing to share their stories. If this blog doesn’t result in hard feelings, I’d be happy to introduce you to a few.

Tell me a little about your farm.

Larry Sailer: My great-grandfather started farming in Franklin County back in the 1800s. That makes me the fourth generation to farm in this area.

I got my start in 1973. My wife Janice and I have raised five kids on the farm, and now the grandchildren are starting to get involved as well.

I’ve raised a variety of livestock over the years, including sheep, cattle, poultry, and hogs. Today we grow corn and soybeans and raise pigs.

Dave Struthers: I farm land in central Iowa that’s been in my family for 100 years. I started farming in 1985, and my brother, Dan, joined me in 1990. We raise pigs from birth to market and grow corn and soybeans.

The farm duties are a family effort. My parents, who farmed before me, help with daily chores such as repairing equipment and moving pigs. My wife (and Dan’s wife) help with the crops and livestock as well, and my four nephews get involved when they’re not in school.

Brian Feldpausch: My wife Jen and I are raising three children on our Grundy County farm. They’re the sixth generation of our family to live and work on the farm going back to 1867.

Jen and I farm with her father and uncle, growing corn, soybeans and hay and raising beef cattle and market hogs.

Explain how you raise your livestock and why you have chosen to raise them the way you do.

Larry: We’ve done it all throughout the years. We’ve raised pigs and piglets out in open pastures. We’ve used traditional barns and barns that were open on one side.

Today we are raising hogs in a newer style of barn. When we raised pigs outdoors, they were susceptible to the elements. Today I don’t worry about my pigs getting a sunburn or frostbite. I don’t have to treat my pigs several times a year for worms and mange because they’re not out in the dirt and mud. And I’m able to power wash and disinfect my barns on a regular basis, which helps keep my animals healthier. That combination of factors helps me use less medication as well – I use a lot less than I did when I was raising hogs outside.

Dave: We use modern climate-controlled barns, hoop barns , and outdoor lots. Our barns allow me to have more control over the temperatures our hogs are exposed to. The hoop style and open lot facilities take more management, but proper bedding (cornstalks) allows the animals to find their comfort zone.

Brian: Our farm has gone through many changes over the years. Those changes have improved the way we raise our livestock and have created opportunities for future generations in our family. When Jen and I joined the family farm, we built hoop style barns for our cattle feed yard. Those barns protect the cattle from extreme weather and provide dry conditions all year, reducing stress and improving herd health.

How are you caring for the environment?

Larry: When you raise pigs outdoors, Mother Nature impacts your ability to manage manure. Today, I control all of the manure from my hogs. I keep it in concrete pits and use precision equipment to inject it into my fields as fertilizer. That’s good for the environment and good for me because fertilizer is valuable, and I don’t want to waste any of it.

Dave: We know that if we don’t take care of our land and water, they won’t provide for us or our descendants. That’s why we test our soil semi-annually and only apply the manure or commercial fertilizer that our crops need.

In the days prior to modern barns and hoop facilities, most hogs were raised in open lots or pastures. Often times hog manure would wash away with the rain. Now manure is contained so we can use all of it to grow crops.

Brian: Our barns don’t just keep our cattle comfortable. They help us store manure until it’s time to use the nutrients in manure as fertilizer for our crops. Managing manure is critical to the livestock and crop operation, as well as the environment, and we’re doing it better than ever before.

As a consumer, what assurance can you give me that you’re raising livestock in a way that’s safe for those of us who eat meat?

Larry: I’ve got five kids and 10 grandkids. We eat the same meat I send to market, and I’m proud of it. Our pigs are healthier than they’ve ever been, and I stay on top of illness with treatment that’s recommended by my veterinarian when I do encounter an issue.

Dave: I take my responsibility to consumers and my family very seriously. I don’t take chances. I only treat my pigs to keep them healthy, and I always do so after consulting the withdrawal period on the bottle and/or my veterinarian. Following withdrawal periods is the right thing to do, and it’s the law.

We’ve made great progress in animal health that’s translated into better meat for our customers. A good example is trichinosis, a disease occasionally found in pigs years ago. Today it’s been almost completely eliminated, which means that consumers don’t have to worry about catching the disease from undercooked pork.

Brian: I have complete confidence in the way we raise our animals because my family eats the beef and pork that comes right from our farm.

We work carefully and consciously with our veterinarian, which has significantly improved our animals’ health from previous generations. We vaccinate our animals just like we vaccinate our kids, and for the same reasons. Carefully developed vaccination schedules have reduced our need for antibiotics while improving the health of our livestock.

By Zach Bader. Zach is the Online Community Manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.