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How the beef industry is portrayed

In a world where the Internet is pretty much the "go to" source for information, what are people learning about beef?

While we often may find it hard to find time to tune in to the world around us — we can be assured that the world is tuning in to us. The interest in agriculture has been growing worldwide and now media has figured out that folks want and like to know about food and the folks who produce it. Not only that but they are quite OK with drama — and the farm can be dramatic — to the point of a soap opera frenzy.

Not all of it is well researched or especially true for the beef industry. Taking a little time this summer to search online as though I was an urban consumer took me on quite a journey. The intent of many sites and stations was to turn customers away from all factory farming (which is loosely defined) and towards a sustainable model (again loosely defined) of farming food animals.

The starting point to deliver this message comes in cartoons so that children and adults can relate to the message. The cartoons painted an idealistic picture of the farm and a horrid picture of anything that involved a cage or pen. Crossing the whole spectrum of age through cartoon is the Meatrix which follows the journey of a talking pig Leo and chicken Chickity led by Darth Vader-like Moopheus. As beef producers you can be assured that you are part of a corporate machine that “every day brings us closer to an epidemic that cannot be stopped.” The guilt trip is on the reader who lives with “the lie we tell ourselves about where our food comes from.” No small quest, the site is now available in 30 languages and has won numerous marketing awards.

For teenagers, one of the emerging ways of communicating agriculture is via video games and game play on YouTube. Today, super-cool comic books also have an agricultural message and are very popular in countries such as Korea.

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And then there is always TV. We don’t expect that all urbanites will watch the “Prairie Farm Report” or “Country Canada” but there is so much interest in food that there are now television series devoted just toward farming stories. Channel 4 in the U.K. runs a popular series entitled “First Time Farmer” which features young farmers. The idea behind the show is, “A new generation of farmer is breathing life into the agricultural world balancing hard work, love, laughter and partying.”

Partying? It seems we have missed this part in agriculture in Canada. But if we think hard and long about this statement — one can begin to appreciate the appeal that the series has to a young urban population.

Based in Kenya, the series “Shamba Shape-Up” (Shamba means farm) is a must-see for African audiences. It involves going into farms with a team to implement change that would increase production and address many other issues. Most of these farmers are women and the show is a great source of information and motivation for young women farmers.

Old-fashioned radio may not be the way of the West any longer but it most certainly is the way of the future for many remote farms. Farm Radio International reaches out to farmers in developing countries across the planet and a special format Her Farm Radio that is especially valued by women farmers in Africa.

The Internet of course is the source of information for the entire world and accessible by cellphone. There are excellent references and great videos to watch and Canada’s Agriculture More Than Ever remains a positive and balanced site. From the other side of the spectrum I took the time to grind through Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous and interviews with founder and chairman Steve Ells. There seems to be some confusion about whether the practices Ells claims are in place or if, as the website states, they are “trying to find suppliers” to meet the model. There is a world of difference between one claim and the other and logistically we know that a company that large cannot obtain supplies from enough small farms on a continuous basis to make it all happen.

So what is the truth? When the public, including children, go to discover the world of beef, what will they find? As outlined in this column they will find an array of information and opinion on the same subject matter. This is fine with me. It is a free country, and varied views should lead to higher plains of thought.

If I Google “beef in Canada” there is a host of official websites but none that crosses all demographics. If I Google “raising beef in Canada” I can find out step by step how to raise a cow. OK. Now Google “eating beef.” The majority of the 61 million results reflect beef as a poison and a food that should not be eaten.

At the end of the day, all beef cattle are eaten. Getting the message out so that it has a broad appeal in a fun and colourful format on every known server is vital to discussion. Consumers then at the very least have a choice of reading material. I know that inconsistencies exist but we are out of time and instead of perpetuating the protectionist attitude by tuning out, the beef industry could go to the drawing board and tune in to how consumers are learning about the beef they eat. Look at it as creating the tools for the ethical omnivore — the consumer not of the future but of today.

Brenda Schoepp is a motivating speaker and mentor who works with young entrepreneurs across Canada and around the world. She can be contacted through her website www.brendaschoepp.com. All rights reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2014

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Contact Brenda through her website: www.brendaschoepp.com. All Rights Reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2018

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