Farming and ranch families represent only 2% of the total U.S. population, which means that the other 98 percent of Americans are not involved in agriculture. Yet, some consumer groups increasingly call for changes that dictate how food is produced in the country. This often leads to policies that purport to improve animal welfare, even when the science is not yet settled, and increased food costs, which restricts the country’s most food insecure from accessing nutritious animal protein.
This disconnect between the public’s view of agriculture and the realities facing today’s farmers and ranchers is one of the driving forces behind some of the American Feed Industry Association’s sustainability work. AFIA developed a sustainability pillar that focuses specifically on enabling choice in the marketplace by promoting an understanding and appreciation of U.S. food production with consumers.
AFIA, through its public charity the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER), works with its members and a number of partners throughout the agricultural community on conducting research and developing information that educates general consumers, sustainability managers, food and restaurant retailers, policymakers and more about U.S. food production. Below are a few recent examples of this work.
The Unified Voice Protocol released the results of a two-part study that sought to gauge consumers’ beliefs and knowledge on two poultry production practices (cage-free egg and slow-growth broiler production) and weighed that with their willingness to pay more for these attributes at the grocery store. Overall, the study found that the jury may still be out, as consumers are undecided on the benefits of these production practices and are unwilling to pay a hefty premium for products baring these qualities, in comparison to products with “organic” and “GMO-free” labels.
The IFEEDER contributed to this project through the Animal Agriculture Alliance, which partnered with the Food Marketing Institute and its foundation, and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, to conduct this study. The project sponsors will use the research to hold more meaningful conversations with food retailers about the realities behind animal welfare and sustainability.
Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture update the nation’s Dietary Guidelines to reflect the latest scientific information on human nutrition. This tool is then used by policymakers to develop standards for federal food assistance programs (e.g., the USDA’s school lunch program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and by nutritionists and health professionals in making dietary recommendations to Americans.
During the last update in 2015, the advisory committee tasked with updating the guidelines recommended that HHS and the USDA revise the guidelines to account for the carbon footprint of foods, in addition to their nutritional benefits. The committee cited debunked claims that U.S. animal agriculture has one of the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emission rates over industries such as transportation. To correct this misinformation and set the record straight, the AFIA worked with Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., professor and air quality extension specialist at the University of California-Davis, to release a white paper that showed U.S. animal agriculture is only responsible for 4.2% of total U.S. GHG emissions, in comparison to the transportation industry at 27% and energy production over 30%. AFIA shared this information with the Executive Branch, including the USDA, which ultimately decided against including GHG emission rates in its guidelines for human nutrition.
During the 2020 Dietary Guidelines update, the AFIA has been closely watching the process to ensure that agricultural sustainability is discussed with science-based facts and not lead by debunked claims.