Reaching out across ACES disciplines

Reaching out across ACES disciplines

Nov 6
Leia Kedem, Agricultural Communications Instructor

As physically close as we may be on our side of campus, ACES disciplines can be worlds apart in understanding each other’s fields.

This hit home for me in early October, when I attended FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo) in Nashville for professional development through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Naturally, I was drawn to a session on antibiotic use in humans and animals. I was taken aback (yet not surprised) when a texting poll revealed that the majority of the audience believed that meat products contain a significant amount of antibiotic residues.

Having worked in Extension prior to my current position, I knew there were strict government regulations in place regarding antibiotic residues in food – if present, these would be miniscule amounts unlikely to have an impact on human health. But if I hadn’t had the experience, would I have known? Maybe not.

Antibiotic use in agriculture is a hot topic these days; just a few weeks ago, Subway announced they would be moving toward all antibiotic-free meat within the next ten years. Of course, all meat is virtually antibiotic-free, but many consumers (and evidently, dietitians) don’t know that. Apart from the residue issue, though, people are also interested in how their meat was produced. What is the purpose of using antibiotics in agriculture? Does this contribute to the growing antibiotic resistance problem? How does it relate to animal welfare?

These are all excellent questions that the average person probably could not answer accurately (sorry, information yielded from a Google search doesn’t count!).

As current president of my local professional group (Eastern Illinois Dietetic Association - EIDA), I was inspired to leverage my Ag Comm connections and organize one of our monthly meetings around this topic.

I reached out to Jill Johnson, Director of Communications for the Illinois Beef Association and ’12 Ag Comm alum, who rallied several people involved in the industry to come answer our pressing questions. At our October 26 meeting, Johnson moderated a discussion with panel members Sara Prescott (Prescott Angus), Alan Adams (Adams Family Farm; U of I Agriculture Science alum, ’73), and Dan Shike (U of I Professor of Animal Sciences; U of I Animal Sciences alum, ’05 and ‘07).

EIDA attendees were not shy and questioned the panel on production practices, including the use of hormones and of course, antibiotics. A key message was that there is no right or wrong way to raise livestock; there is a market for all types of niche products (e.g., grass-fed or USDA Certified Organic). Another was that antibiotics and hormones have both benefits and drawbacks.

I even learned a few new facts! Organic farmers can and do treat their animals with antibiotics; however, those animals are then marketed as conventional, not organic. I also found out that hormone implants help the animals put on muscle mass more quickly, which results in leaner beef (good for heart health!).

Dietetics is really just an extension of the agricultural field, so why aren’t we talking more? If you’re a student, I encourage you to take ACES classes outside of your own major to gain a broader understanding of the issues you’re passionate about. And for everyone else, well, it’s still not too late! Make an effort to learn from others in related fields and most importantly, ask questions. One of the best things about the College of ACES is its interdisciplinary nature, so let’s make the most of it.

Reaching out across ACES disciplines
Ag Comm Alum Jill Johnson moderates a discussion with panel members Sara Prescott, ACES alum Alan Adams, and U of I Professor of Animal Sciences Dan Shike.