Helpline seeks to educate Iowa consumers about the meat they eat


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Want to know how your hamburger was treated before it made it to your plate? Simply pick up the phone.

Consumers are increasingly curious about where their food comes from, and recognizing that trend, Iowa farmers in association with the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Pork Producers created the Iowa Farm Animal Care Coalition Helpline, the first of its kind in the nation.

Denny Harding — the executive director of the coalition — said it was created so consumers with questions about the care of animals who will become their food can seek answers.

“So many of our consumers are three and maybe four generations removed from what’s going on on the farm,” Harding said.

He said the coalition is prepared to answer questions about the proper care of animals as well as help address the incidents of marginal care of animals.

“There could be some marginal care going around because the farmer may be going under financial stress,” he said. “If we can talk to them, we can maybe help.”

If a farmer agrees, the coalition is prepared to send out an evaluation team from Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine to access any concerns and make suggestions.

Kathy Mellen, a University of Iowa lecturer in health and human physiology and registered dietitian, said the trend of consumers wanting to know more about where their food is coming from and how animals are treated doesn’t appear to be going away.

“I hope it’s here to stay, and I think it is,” Mellen said. “I haven’t seen any regression in the trend in the last couple of years. It is a healthy trend. I think it’s OK for people to ask questions about where their food is coming from.”

There is large discussion about food and how consumers relate to it that is occurring across the country, Mellen said, and animal care is a factor in the discussion alongside nutrition and accessibility.

“I think that there are people who feel very strongly about knowing [about animal care],” she said. “I think that probably gets into something more philosophical. I think it’s all part of a big discussion.”

She said she is not surprised the first coalition of this kind in the country started in Iowa.

“I actually think that people don’t give us enough credit,” Mellen said. “I think outside of the state, perhaps people don’t think that Iowans care about where their food comes from. I think it will be interesting to see does the hotline then spread to other states.”

Local cattle farmer Steve Swenka said the helpline is a great new resource for consumers who may have questions.

“Naturally, people are curious, and consumers want to know and have the right to know about the food that is being placed in front of them,” he said. “So if there are ever any concerns that the general public may have, this is a great opportunity for consumers to get the info that they want and need. It’s just a simple phone call away.”

Swenka said he would put the helpline in his toolbox in case he ever has questions. He said farmers care just as much, if not more, about the proper care of animals and that it is good for the public to be able to ask questions.

“I think that’s great that there’s that curiosity or yearning for information,” he said. “We want them to be reassured that the food they’re getting is a safe and wholesome supply. The proper care of livestock is upmost important to any cattle producer. Somebody who neglects their animals is probably just as upsetting to us as anybody you’d like to name.”

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