Beef boosters groom meat mavens on campuses

MU students participated in a 'Meet your Meat' event to promote beef consumption
Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | 11:49 a.m. CDT; updated 8:22 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Jennifer Jones of Kansas City laughs after petting Summer the cow at the Mizzou Collegiate CattleWomen's "Meet Your Meat" event on May 4 at MU. College students across the country are being enlisted by the national beef industry in a public-relations battle for America’s hearts, minds and stomachs.

COLUMBIA — The national beef industry has enlisted college students across the country in its public relations fight for America's hearts, minds and stomachs.

The Masters of Beef Advocacy program also recruits farmers, ranchers, high-end chefs and school dietitians to spread the gospel of red meat consumption. But the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which started the outreach effort two years ago, has placed a strong emphasis on the Twitter generation. At least 20 percent of the nearly 2,200 program graduates are age 21 or younger.

The online program — called MBA in a nod to the more commonly known graduate business degree — is available in 47 states and particularly popular at public land-grant universities with strong agricultural schools, such as MU Iowa State, Kansas State and Western Kentucky.

"We know what the science is," said Dennis Fennewald, a fifth-generation farmer, former bull semen salesman and beef production instructor at MU . "The emotional part, that really is being controlled by people who don't know or understand our science."

Fennewald and professors at other schools typically offer the six-hour course as extra credit rather than a required assignment. Students who finish it are expected to speak to school groups and civic clubs or build online buzz through social media.

Missouri senior Erin Mohler and other members of the school's Collegiate CattleWomen's club spent a recent afternoon sharing their "Meet Your Meat" message with passing students on a busy pedestrian mall.

Volunteers sold rib-eye steak sandwiches from a portable food trailer while a 1,600-pound Simmental beef cow named Summer grazed nearby in a temporary enclosed pen.

Students passed out recipes for Moroccan-style beef kabobs and tenderloin salad with cranberries and pears, while other brochures touted beef's high content of zinc, iron, protein and other essential minerals and vitamins.

Mohler, a senior animal sciences major whose parents live in Maryland and own 40 cattle on a north Missouri "hobby farm," said her perspective isn't always embraced on campus. Yet she remains undeterred.

"A lot of people have a hard time grasping why I would promote the cattle industry," she said. "More people need to understand where their food comes from. You eat three times a day."

The reactions to Summer and her handlers were decidedly mixed. Last year, the "Meet Your Meat" mavens convinced several passers-by to renounce their vegetarian ways, group member Kaitlyn Lee said.

Freshman David Adams had a different reaction, calling the display "kind of gross."

"I don't want to see an animal and then go buy a sandwich made from its relative," he said. "I guess I'd like to remain oblivious."

The grassroots campaign is just one part of the beef industry's effort to reverse a five-decade slide in meat consumption by Americans. Seed money came from the $1 per head of domestic and imported live cattle that producers pay under a 1985 federal law. Fifty cents of each $1 goes to the national cattle group's Beef Promotion and Research Board.

Pork producers use their $1 surcharge to operate a similar program called "Operation Main Street."

Focusing the outreach on college campuses — usually considered friendlier terrain for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and like-minded groups — is an obvious and needed approach, said Daren Williams, executive communications director for the Denver-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

"There's a political, social and economic discussion going on about food production," he said. "(Beef producers) have felt left out of the discussion."

At Western Kentucky University, animal sciences professor Nevil Speer offers the Masters of Beef Advocacy curriculum as an extra-credit assignment for the mostly freshmen and sophomores in his introductory-level classes. The units cover beef safety, production techniques, animal care, environmental stewardship, nutrition and the national program that provides marketing and research money.

"It's not a coercive type of thing," Speer said. "It's an external and an objective voice about the food system ... It's not set up as propaganda."

Nathan Runkle disagrees. The executive director of Chicago-based Mercy for Animals, which promotes a vegetarian diet, said that "a more accurate title for this offensive program would be the Master of BS."

"Centers for higher learning should not become dumping grounds for propaganda programs that push increased profits for an industry that subjects animals to extreme cruelty and exploitation," he said. "Cruelty and violence has no place in the classroom."

Speer said he doesn't expect all of his students to embrace the beef industry's viewpoint. Like any good college class, the program ultimately forces students with entrenched views to consider other perspectives, even if they don't agree with them, he said.

"You have all kinds of students going through this program, and all of the sudden they're talking to each other," he said. "As long as we have dialogue going, that's a good thing."


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Jeremy Calton May 18, 2011 | 2:48 p.m.

If this is about understanding where our food comes from, then it should also explain where most of our soy and cereals go (A: into these cows). The fact is, if we stopped industrial ranching, there'd be more food for everyone.

That's not a matter of propaganda or choosing one diet over another, that's just factual information at least as important as, say, petting a cow.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 18, 2011 | 6:19 p.m.

Or there would be more of that nasty ethanol in someone's tank.

(Report Comment)
Chris Pearson May 27, 2011 | 11:32 a.m.

God must work in mysterious ways after all. This is an all-time low for the beef industry. I guess profit, greed, and desperation has finally exposed its complete ugly side. This is about deception, lies, and greed, etc. Not only are they making a complete mockery out of the innateness of human decency/compassion (i.e. deception) in young people, they’re attempting to condition (i.e. suppress/harden) which is the utmost form of deception for all the wrong reasons. Moreover, they’re trying their hardest to conceal the inevitable environmental destruction, cruelty, and negative health consequences of a very unsustainable and highly destructive industry that’s desperately trying to push cleverly disguised products for profit and greed. It’s an industry that epitmizes evilness and ignorance in every way; evidently, it has little regard for life, human health, and the environment and it flourishes on human deception. Indeed, along with the negative consequences of routinely slaughtering innocent animals on the human soul, being greedy, self-centered and, above all, ignorant, sure makes you blind in this business.

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 27, 2011 | 4:08 p.m.

Chris Pearson - "profit, greed and desperation", "deception, lies and greed", "compassion, i.e. deception", "inevitable environmental destruction,"cleverly disguised products for profit and greed.", "epitmizes evilness and ignorance" "being greedy, self-centered and, above all, ignorant,". All this in a one thought comment about the beef industry.

If I took a wild guess and said, "I bet you vote for Democrats",would I be wrong?

(Report Comment)
Chris Pearson May 27, 2011 | 5:18 p.m.

frank christian: If I took a wild guess and said, "I bet you vote for Democrats",would I be wrong?

Frank, where's the beef? It depends. I'm open-minded. Now back to the topic at hand.

Now if I were to take a wild guess and said: I bet you enjoy eating dead cows on occasion. Would I be wrong?

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 27, 2011 | 6:38 p.m.

Chris P. - All I'm able to discern from your answer?, is an attempt to walk away from the tone of your initial post.

Yes, I, with the large majority of the people of the world, love the taste of a dead cow, not on occasion, but, often. It tastes far better than the "soy and cereals", which some (Mr. Carlton, above), would like us believe is in short supply because some is fed to our live stock. The only place on earth that soy and cereals are not plentiful is within those nations whose governments do not allow nor provide the fullest benefit of those foods available to most of the rest of us.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 27, 2011 | 7:49 p.m.

Really, Frank? I thought your opinion was that a government isn't supposed to provide jack squat. I thought that your opinion was that a government only exists to screw thing up.

(Report Comment)

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