First International Livestock Forum at CSU addresses food industry challenges
January 30, 2015
JBS technical services director John Ruby, based in Greeley, Colo., closed the symposium addressing industry professionals and agriculture students from across the world on meat safety practices.
Ruby joked he had been invited to discuss the topics that keep him awake at night, including food safety and animal welfare.
Although Ruby did not have any clear-cut solutions on how to eliminate contaminates across the supply chain, he provided insight into how the world's largest protein supplier evaluates the effectiveness of its safety programs.
"Is there a best intervention system for microbial reduction?" Ruby asked the audience. "In the past, what we've tried to do is take a cookie-cutter system and put it in place. Sometimes that doesn't work either."
He explained that a plant-by-plant approach might be better to avoid contaminants by balancing the implementation of hot water, oxidizers, low pH, multiple hurdles and the appropriate usage of chemicals.
He said the company has yet to find a good way to predict microbial failures, or in others words, positive detections of potentially dangerous food contaminants.
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"It's difficult to manage the process, and it's expensive. It's disruptive to the supply of products to our customers and those are things that are challenging us. How can we get to a point where we better understand this?"
Ruby also touched on the importance of cultural change in livestock production and getting all workers along the supply chain to value animal welfare.
"Not everyone knows to be nice to animals," Ruby said.
He shared a recent story of an impatient JBS truck driver who left an animal abandoned and tied to a gate because he felt workers were taking too long to load the animal onto his truck. Ruby said the driver has since been suspended.
"What can we do more of? We look at training, and if we are doing enough to inform people of our procedures," he said.
Earlier in the afternoon, keynote speaker Temple Grandin, CSU professor and renowned animal behavior consultant, reflected on the disconnect between youth and modern agricultural production.
"I've done a lot of work with (animal) handling and what frustrates me is that a lot of young people today do not know about the good things the industry has done," she said.
Grandin cited her work with McDonald's in 1999 to implement an animal welfare auditing system.
"Prior to doing McDonald's stuff, only 30 percent of slaughter plants could shoot 95 percent of the cattle dead on the first shot. Why was it so bad? Broken equipment. They simply were not managing the equipment. McDonald's, Wendy's and others got in there and started auditing those plants and implemented huge changes," she said.
She called on the dairy industry to step up its standards as well, reminding producers that their dairy cows have a second career in the beef industry. When dairy cows arrive to slaughter in poor condition, Grandin said that reflects poorly on the industry as a whole and unnecessarily tarnishes the reputation of beef producers.
She also called on companies to improve transparency and have a better dialogue with consumers demanding to know more about the food system.
"One reason I think consumers are interested in those sorts of things (food production) is first of all, they don't understand those sorts of things," she said. "For years, consumers didn't even know about GMOs. Then when they found out about them, they were upset. Consumers don't like surprises."
She bemoaned the barriers created by attorneys who may advise large-scale producers to hold back from sharing their practices with the public. In the end, however, she said open doors can benefit producers in educating consumers and showing the public the positive aspects of agriculture.
The value of transparency was a theme carried throughout much of the conference and was the focus of the presentation following Grandin's, made by Leann Saunders, president and founder of Where Food Comes From. Saunders said many consumers want to purchase products from companies that share the same values, but they need to hear those values clearly expressed. Millennials, she said, are especially willing to reward or punish companies based on their commitment to social values.
With consumers increasingly interested in things like environmental stewardship and third-party verification, she encouraged marketers to better promote their efforts on such fronts, particularly on the grocery-store level.
She said protein producers can borrow a page from the book of coffee and tea marketers, who have benefited from labeling that indicates their commitment to social and environmental values. ❖