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Chandler Keys: Beef Industry Needs A Beef 101 Short Course

Chandler Keys: Beef Industry Needs A Beef 101 Short Course

Earlier this summer, BEEF magazine writers gathered for our annual planning meeting. While in Minneapolis, we had the opportunity to visit with several industry leaders about their thoughts on the industry’s greatest challenges. One of these individuals was Chandler Keys, head of government affairs and industry relations for JBS-USA in Washington, D.C. Keys stressed the importance of sharing the beef production story from pasture to plate.

“I think a big issue that is coming down the pike is how food gets to the table and all the things that make food what it is at grocery stores and restaurants,” said Keys. “There is a growing concern from the upper middle class about how food is produced. They will continue to push on how food gets to the table -- all the inputs, how it’s grown, where it’s grown, who is doing it. The problem is that the industry is more reactive than proactive, and when they are proactive, they tend to hide the ball. They want to show rainbows and butterflies.

“In the industry, everyone likes the hat, the boots, the grass and the cow; and everyone loves the steak and the hamburger. But nobody wants to talk about what happens in the middle. I bet if you had a poll asking producers how cows go through the process, I think you would not see many passing grades. I think this is a troubling aspect of our industry. We know how to talk about our segment, but we don’t know how to talk about it all the way through,” Keys said.

I’ll admit, I can probably talk more eloquently about the cow-calf sector, having grown up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota. And, I’m probably more comfortable speaking about the retail end of things, relying on my collegiate experiences on the meats judging team and working in the meat lab. However, although I’m familiar with what stockers, feeders and packers do, am I prepared to speak in layman’s terms to a consumer about these sectors of the beef production story?

I think this is an important question to ask ourselves, no matter which segment we are a part of. Keys thinks the industry needs a Beef 101 Short Course, where we learn how to explain how beef gets to the dinner plate in terms that consumers can relate to and understand.

“I think everybody has to start off with a knowledge of the basics and be able to articulate the basics of how it works with the public,” he added. “I think our communication with the public is poor. There are so many moving parts, it’s just daunting -- it’s a wonder it even works to tell you the truth, but it does, but nobody talks about it. There are just a few of us who can sit down and go through it and tell it in layman’s turns. How do we think we can have a conversation with the public at large?”

You have to know your industry before you can talk about it. You have to be able to articulate it in a 10-minute conversation. Luckily, the beef industry has a variety of resources in place such as the checkoff-funded Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) Program, which offers six online courses with factoids and talking points to explain the beef production story from pasture to plate.

As an MBA graduate, I often reference the information provided in this course. I encourage everyone to check it out and make the time commitment -- around 1 hr./course -- to go through this program. Interested parties can get more information about it here.

In addition, watch for the upcoming August issue of BEEF, when we’ll begin a special monthly series of articles on this BEEF 101 topic, called “Connecting The Dots.”

If a consumer walked up to you today in the grocery store and asked you to explain how her steak got to her dinner plate, would you be prepared to explain it to her?

TAGS: Cow-Calf
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