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If you were invited to a farm and told that no question was off-limits, what would you ask?

I had this opportunity earlier this month when I was invited to Lawson Land and Cattle Company, an Indiana family farm that raises beef cattle. I joined several food professionals for an honest and open discussion about how cattle are raised, and how beef gets from the farm to the grocery store. We were told no question was off-limits, and we were taken all over the farm to see every aspect of production.

Lawson Land and Cattle Company

There are lots of concerns about what is in our food these days. Words like “antibiotics” and “hormones” make people very nervous. No one wants to serve their families food that has been pumped full of chemicals. There’s also concern for animal welfare; are farm animals well-cared for before they enter our food supply?

I am a mom with all of these concerns. I want the food I feed my children to be healthy and free of harmful additives. I also don’t want to support any kind of animal cruelty. But we’re a family on a budget. Is there a way to feed my family safely and affordably?

Farmer Loren Wilson

Loren Wilson shared with us about branded beef products.

All of this and more was addressed on my day at the Lawson’s farm. Beef farmers from all over the state came together to share how they raise their animals and to answer our questions. I learned so much about cattle and farming during my visit, but these were the things that were most relevant to me as a consumer and a parent:

Antibiotics

Farmers only give antibiotics to sick animals, in the same way that your pediatrician will only give antibiotics to sick children. The antibiotics must be out of the animal’s system before the animal is butchered and sold. That means that, by law, all meat (and dairy) sold in your grocery store must be antibiotic-free. You don’t have to pay extra for products that advertise themselves as antibiotic-free.

Hormones

I’ve heard people claim that kids are going through puberty earlier due to the amount of hormones in our food. This is tricky, because all living things contain hormones, and all of our food starts out alive. Some beef farmers do use hormone implants to raise cattle of an opitmal size and constitution, but the amount of hormones tranferred to the beef we eat is minimal.

For example, a 3 oz. serving of soybean oil contains 170,000 ng (nanograms) of hormones. A 3 oz. serving of cabbage contains 2,040ng of hormones. A 3 oz. serving of peas contains 340 ng of hormones. Beef from a steer that has not been implanted with hormones contains 1.3 ng. Beef from a steer that has been implanted contains 1.9 ng. In order to ingest as much estrogen as is in one birth control pill, we would have to eat over 1.5 tons of implanted beef in one day.

Animal Welfare

Beef Cattle

Plain and simple, it doesn’t benefit farmers to mistreat their animals. Well-cared for animals bring the highest yields, which is more money in the farmer’s pocket. Family farmers have generations of experience caring for their animals, and they are going to do what is best for them. Not only is it morally the right thing to do, it’s also the most beneficial for the farmer.

I think my biggest takeaway from my day on the farm was that farmer’s feed their families the same food they raise and sell. We can have confidence in the beef we see at our local grocery store, because it’s the same beef that cattle farmers are feeding to their families. Farmers not only raise our food; they stand behind the food they raise.

You have the option to spend your food dollars however you wish, which is a great thing. However, I think it’s important to know that the conventionally raised beef you buy at your local grocery store is just as safe as organic or grass-fed beef sold at a specialty grocery store. You don’t need to feel guilty if conventionally-raised beef is what your family’s grocery budget allows. That beef is raised by farmers who care about the health and well-being of your family and their own.

There’s enough mom-guilt out there; don’t let companies market to your emotions. Do you have questions about your food and where it comes from? Ask a farmer.

For questions about Lawson Land and Cattle Company, you can reach them via their Facebook page.

For questions about Beef, contact the Indiana Beef Council.

For questions about farming in general, contact Indiana’s Family of Farmers.