Four panelists involved in agriculture gathered to speak April 8 at the Northwest Collegiate Farm Bureau to discuss issues in agriculture and in the food industry.
Former Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, the moderator for the event, began the discussion with the question, “Do we need to change our diets?” to one of the panelists, registered dietitian Kelli Wilmes.
The Missouri State alumna said that not everyone has to change their diets. She said that it is about having balance within a person’s diet.
“Cutting out an entire food group is not something I would recommend,” Wilmes said with a laugh.
Wilmes said that somebody would miss out on key nutrients if they were to do that. She said vegetarians can be healthy and live healthy lifestyles, but not everyone needs to be a vegetarian. Wilmes said a person can just as easily incorporate meat into their diet and be healthy, too.
“I think a lot of times it’s not so much what we eat, it’s how much we eat of it,” Wilmes said.
Wilmes said that physical activity is an important part to staying healthy, and it’s not just what foods we eat, whether it be meat, no meat or sugars.
Hurst then changed the focus to Terry Howell. Howell is the executive director of the food processing plant for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Before that, he worked for 16 years in research and development roles for McKee Food Corporation.
Hurst asked Howell, “What influences us about what we buy? Is it those food sciences causing us to eat things that aren’t good for us?”
Howell said he spends a lot of time researching food science. Additionally, he said when he worked for McKee Food Corporation, he felt like he was part of a lot of the decisions that consumers make when buying a product.
He said at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, they consult with multiple people and organizations about how to create the best product and how to extend the life of food. Howell said that one of the critical parts is that of course food perishes, but it’s very valuable. He said depending on the studies, it’s said that 30-40% of food in the world does not make it to human consumption. There has to always be improvements with food science, Howell said, so that food can be available for when people need it.
“Here at the Northwest corner of Missouri, you’re not going to find citrus growing in your backyard or around the corner,” Howell said.
Howell followed up with the topic that you can’t buy local food all the time, therefore you have to trust someone is doing what they’re supposed to with the food we eat. He said a person has to make well-rounded decisions about what they purchase.
“Almost 100% of the time, taste wins,” Howell said.
He said it needs to be important for all food scientists to make all aspects of food attractive.
Another one of the four panelists, Brian Klippenstein, a small farmer who used to work with U.S. senators like Roy Blunt, told his story of a time he was in Massachusetts for a political campaign. Klippenstein said he was working against a bill that would not allow the sale of eggs if they were not from “cage-free” chickens.
Klippenstein said he spoke with a woman who had once been homeless. He said that the bill would’ve doubled the price of the cheapest protein. So, when he spoke to this woman, he said it felt like he was having a conversation with the real victim and not somebody who can afford it anyway. He said that the woman said that she once relied on cheaper foods to survive.
Hurst changed the topic to policies and how they have been changing. This topic he directed at the last panelist, Garrett Hawkins, who serves as the current Missouri Farm Bureau president.
Hawkins said ranchers and farmers have been forced to undergo a lot of change throughout different administrations in the federal government within recent years.
“As I pick up a farm magazine or answer media calls, it seems like every one of them has to do with climate change,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said he was contacted six weeks ago for an interview, in which the interviewer asked him if it angered him when people talk about his cows passing gas, due to recent arguments of whether or not it is bad for the environment.
“What does bother me is that others aren’t taking into account everything that’s happening on my farm,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said that while they may be focused on beef cattle production, they also are focused on grazing, grass quality and foraging. He said that those grasses are sinking carbon rates all the time. Additionally, he said that they are constantly working to come up with ways to improve their grazing practices.
He said within a span of 10 years, some people have gone away from talking about the science of climate change. Instead, it is now accepted that some aspects of agriculture have negative effects on climate change and that people have to do something about it. Hawkins said that he and Missouri Farm Bureau have to speak with certain people that they wouldn’t have a decade ago. He said part of the responsibility when having discussions about agriculture’s impact is to also show appreciation for things that have already happened.
“Bottom line is we have a lot of work to do with connecting the dots,” Hawkins said. “We have a great story to tell with agriculture, but we have to be aggressive and on offense as much as possible.”
Klippenstein said when it comes to policy changes, there seems to be more negative opinions than positive. He said that as long as he has been alive, people have been against meat.
He said that in a Vegetarian Times poll, it found that a little over 3% of Americans followed a vegetarian-based diet. Klippenstein said if people want to eat meat, it’s their choice, even if he doesn’t agree with them. However, he said it feels like consumers just want to be price gouged.
Klippenstein said we will see if the new administration in Washington will be for science, like they said.
“I won’t bet on it, but I sure hope so,” Klippenstein said.
To close up the panel, the panelists noted a few ways to find information they felt was unbiased.
Wilmes said Today’s Dietitian is a good spot, and she said to just find a good dietician, and they will be honest with you on the information that is needed. Hurst said that Genetic Literacy Project is good for information on genetically modified organisms.
A few of the panelists had some last closing remarks for the audience.
Howell said that the food industry will transform a lot in the future but believes that the younger generations will handle it well.
Klippenstein said that in response to wanting unbiased information, it’s important to look at the other sides of topics, too.
“You’re young and smart,” Klippenstein said. “Dig into the other side sometimes.”
Hawkins said he loves the commitment Northwest has with promoting agriculture, especially with the new agricultural center being built near R.T. Wright Farm.
“I couldn’t be more excited for the future,” Hawkins said.
Reese Zollman, president of Northwest Missouri Collegiate Farm Bureau, said he is glad he brought them here so that other students and community members can receive a better understanding of what goes on in agriculture and the food industry. He said he thinks good topics were covered.
“It takes time to read and research all they do,” Zollman said. “And that’s what is most important: research.”