by Sally Colby
Trent Loos talks about ag with just about everyone he encounters, and wants every farmer and rancher to do the same. “What we’re talking about is getting everyone in the food business, from food producer to food consumer, in the right frame of mind,” he said. “Not to be defensive and reactionary, but to seek opportunities and to be good listeners.”
Loos is a sixth-generation United States farmer with a strong passion for ag. After realizing that celebrities and vegan zealots had more voice and influence than real farmers and ranchers, Loos began to speak on behalf of those who dedicate their lives to producing food.
Loos says producers spend too much time talking about what we need to do, then go back to the day-to-day grind without following through. He encourages people to reach beyond their familiar and comfortable circle of friends who are in ag and talk with those who aren’t. “We are amazing at sitting in a room and generating ideas that we should be working on,” he said. “But how many have had a confrontational conversation in the past two weeks?”
With social media, anything posted online becomes immediately accessible throughout most of the world. Everything farmers and ranchers do as part of raising livestock is fair game for the public. “The world we live in today is transparent,” said Loos, “and that’s what we have to get a handle on and figure out how to seize that as an opportunity rather than argue about it. If there’s something going on behind that door that we don’t want people to see, we’re nailed, because they’re going to find out. If there’s something we’re doing behind closed doors that we don’t think people should see, then we should not do it.”
Loos referenced a vegetarian conference in which the message was ‘it’s time to move to a planet-healthy diet — relieve the planet of its burden and eat a plant-based diet.’ “We’ve done a great job telling the story of animal welfare, but where we’re struggling is explaining the benefit to the planet,” he said. “Animals improve the planet and improve human health. 85 percent of the land mass in the United States is not suitable for growing crops, but it grows cellulose material and a ruminant animal can take cellulose material and convert it to food, fiber, pharmaceuticals and fuel.” Loos noted that numerous studies have proven that cows’ grazing improves greenhouse gasses, and that producers need to use these studies to prove points. “We need to let everybody know that cows’ grazing improves the utilization of greenhouse gasses.”
In regard to how animal rights activists compare the way in which the European Union is changing the way livestock are raised and want the the United States to impose similar regulations, Loos’s response is, “yes, the E.U. is doing it — that’s why they’re importing 60 percent of the food they consume, and they’re on a path of starvation because they have exported all food production. Why do we want to be like them when it comes to antibiotics, animal housing and GM crops? We have to grab hold of these things and get on top of them now.”
Consumers often bring up the issue of fat in animal protein, and blame farmers for producing unhealthy food. Loos says the reason people like well-marbled beef is because marbling is fat, and milk tastes good because of fat. He encourages producers to use facts about animal products in a positive manner. “We have a great story to tell with well-marbled beef,” he said. “We tend to use the term ‘lean’ because we think that’s what the consumer wants. Marbling is the same exact heart-healthy fat that comes from olive oil.”
Loos believes that trying to placate every consumer demand will put farmers out of business. “What they (consumers) want is putting us out of business. They’ve done that in the E.U., and now the E.U. relies on other countries to produce their food. We need to explain that we put a chicken in a cage because it’s the best way to protect that chicken from other chickens, from mountain lions and coyotes. It’s the best way to protect the chicken from Mother Nature.” He also says we should think of animal welfare in terms of whether or not we’re minimizing stress, and examine whether we’re reducing or contributing the stress.
Loos referenced the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s groundbreaking exhibit ‘Opening the Doors.’ The exhibit included chickens in cages, veal calves in modern veal calf pens, sows in crates, nursery pigs, finishing pigs and a dairy cow. He noted that the most common concern voiced in the four days he was there was what was hanging on the beef pen: a samples of feedstuffs commonly used to finish cattle. “Ground alfalfa, soybean meal, Hershey byproducts and Frito-Lay byproducts. The only concern I heard was, ‘you’re feeding cattle candy bars and chips?” Loos says that’s an ‘ah-ha moment,’ because we’ve been taught by today’s medical community and dieticians to demonize food and not understand nutrition. “Cattle are recyclers — all animals are recyclers — we have to have the right balance of carbohydrates in a ration to match the protein in the soybean meal.”
Loos believes that every farmer should have a conversation with a non-ag person at least every week. “You don’t need to go find them,” he said. “You just need to be a good listener. If you hear people misspeak, you can say, ‘no, ma’am, actually that’s not right. Here’s what I do.’ What we have been doing is saying ‘those stupid people don’t get it,’ and walk off. And we just can’t do that any more.”
by Sally Colby