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Amy-Lynn Albertson column: Rowan County Salute to Agriculture

By Amy-Lynn Albertson
N.C. Cooperative Extension

Is non-GMO, gluten-free, antibiotic-free, fat-free milk better than regular milk? Are “all-natural” corn chips better for you? Does anyone need organic, natural, hormone-free cat litter? These are questions Michele Payn, author of “Food Bullying, How to Avoid Buying B.S.,” asks in her book. The answer Payn says should be an easy no. No to milk carrying too many label claims, no to all-natural corn chips, and no to kitty litter B.S. (bull speak) marketing claims. Payn describes these marketing tactics as bullying and says it’s happening across dinner plates, grocery aisles and food deliveries every day.  People feel judged and bullied around food. Food gets abused and wasted; people are shamed for their food choices, farmers are demonized for how they grow it, and the same for companies in how they process and package it. Food marketers seize any opportunity to connect with consumers, promising theirs is just like Mom used to make or somehow frame the product as the right choice for health, social or other reasons. An example of this type of marketing and labeling is “Antibiotic-free” chicken.

Some companies put this on their label, while others do not. The truth is that all chicken is “antibiotic-free.” The federal government mandates that to protect us. However, if your chicken doesn’t say “antibiotic-free” on the label, you might think it has antibiotics in it. As consumers, we must understand the journey of our food. Get to know the people raising your food. Ninety-six percent of farms in the United States are family-owned and run. They are the people who can give you the real story about how food is raised. Payn encourages producers not to dump data on people outside of agriculture. “We all need to learn to bite our tongues and listen more, as agriculture tends to be defensive,” Payn explains. “If we could relate to people outside of agriculture on their hot buttons and then show how much we care about our land and animals with meaningful conversations about why we raise food the way we do, we would be much more effective in helping people feel good about the food they buy and serve their families,” she adds. One of Payn’s most significant parts of her work is creating a dialogue among agricultural producers, consumers, doctors, dieticians and other critical influential experts in the food industry. “Communication among knowledgeable professionals ensures that science-based information becomes the key component of food purchasing decisions — rather than marketing claims or testimonials from organizations with special agendas,” she said.

On Thursday, March 18, Cooperative Extension and Rowan County Chamber of Commerce are partnering to present A Salute to Agri-Business with author Michele Payn Webinar at 7:30 a.m. This webinar is free and open to anyone in Rowan County or the agriculture/business community. Rowan County is home to 925 farms and a diverse landscape of farms. Tomatoes, corn, soybeans, wheat, greenhouse plants, peppers, dairy products, silage, beef cattle, sheep, goats, hay, barley and more, Rowan is a lot to offer agriculture economy. Agriculture is the largest sector of North Carolina’s economy, making up $92 billion. In Rowan County, 176 of our farms are owned and operated by people with military experience, and 476 are women. Agriculture annually brings cash receipts of almost $68 million to Rowan County. We rank fourth in the state in dairy production and 10th in beef cattle production. There are many reasons to celebrate agriculture in Rowan County, and these are just a few. To get the link for our free webinar, register for the Salute to Agri-Business at go.ncsu.edu/2021salutetoagribusiness. If you have questions or want more information, call the Rowan County Extension Center at 704-216-8970.

Amy-Lynn Albertson is Rowan County Extension director.

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