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Today, it is not good enough to produce one of the safest, cheapest and most efficient food supplies in history. Food must also be perceived as wholesome, animal-friendly and environmentally sustainable. On top of all that, it must be something that consumers feel good about including in their diet.
Sound science does not always win in the marketplace, but remains important on the farm. The classic case in the marketplace is the resistance to BST, which has impacted all levels of the food chain from the producer to the dairy case in the local grocery.
A major but declining sector of consumers understands the food system that produces wholesome and reliable food. There is a sector that has no idea and is not really concerned. However, a growing number of people are very concerned about where and how their food is produced and want an idealized system from the farm to their table. They want to be assured of the welfare of the animals, the management of environmental impact and the sustainability of the system.
The message is crystal clear: The enlightened consumer's perception will rule the day. We in the production sector must be aware that what we do and how we do it will have a bottom-line impact on how our products are accepted in the market.
For the most part, milk and milk products, along with the image of the dairy cow, have positive influences with most consumers. I find it comforting to go to craft shows and see all kinds of things with the image of the black-and-white cow. We need to protect those images. In our role as nutrition advisers and mentors to dairy producers, there are some important massages to deliver.
We need to talk about cattle diets enhanced with high-quality inputs to support productive, healthy and comfortable dairy cows, and rumen-friendly diets that provide a low-stress environment. A relaxed and contented cow is the theme of the day.
The use of waste products, low-quality inputs and junk feeds in the ration is out. Recycled feed products with enhanced nutritional values are in. The use of rendered animal products such as meat meal, blood meal, fish meal and even animal fat products may need to be evaluated in terms of consumer acceptance.
- June/July 2010