At the AgChat Collegiate Congress held in April in St. Louis, college students pursuing careers in agriculture learned tactics for communicating with the public about the industry. Top Producer invited them to share their best example of a letter to the editor in response to a fictional yet plausible scenario: a letter in their local paper from someone critical of cattle production practices. The winning submission, selected by a panel of Farm Journal Media editors, comes from Alyssa Rockers. She is an agricultural communications student at Missouri State University, and her letter is printed below. Our runner-up letter came from Emily Hanlin, a rhetoric and public communication student at Northern Illinois University. Emily's letter appears below. You can read Emily's letter here.
In the April 1 edition of The Standard, a letter to the editor by John Doe argued cattle ranching is cruel and unethical. It stated all cattle ranches are “factory farms” where animals are packed into small spaces and rarely see daylight. Doe stated ranchers and farmers inject their livestock with growth steroids in order to make a profit. As an agricultural communications major and someone involved in the agriculture industry, Doe’s arguments concern me because they present a misleading picture of our food system. Without cattle ranchers and farmers, our food system would lack access to a source of nutritious protein that keeps our families healthy. Our communities would lose family businesses and leaders.
I understand Mr. Doe’s concern for food safety and animal health. I share those concerns. It is very important to me that the food I put on my table to feed my family is safe and healthy. I do everything within my power to ensure they live happy, healthy lives. In addition, I care about the health and wellness of the animals that my family and other members of our community eat. Cattle production and cattle health has always been important to me. I raised my first bottle calf at five years old and built a small cattle herd as an FFA member.
Cattle ranchers care about the health and welfare of their animals in part because it is directly related to their profitability. Cattle and ranchers alike lose when animals are treated poorly. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration closely monitors our beef to ensure it contains safe levels of hormones—most of which occur naturally.
Mr. Doe’s comments represent the perfect opportunity to continue an important local conversation about food safety and the ethics of food production. These issues should concern every person who steps into a grocery store. A majority of U.S. residents are far removed from farms, so information about safe and responsible farming can get lost in translation. I encourage you to have conversations with
local ranchers and learn about their production practices. By doing so, you will be supporting family businesses that provide each of us with safe, healthy and locally sourced food.