In April, my meat science class partnered with the beef production class at Western Kentucky University, loaded 40 college students on a charter bus, and headed west.
Dr. Gordon Jones, my meats professor and advisor, knows someone everywhere who has done something important in agriculture. He called in a few favors and lined up tours at some of the most secure meat packing plants in the country.
Add in visits to feedlots, farms, universities, and the USDA Meat Animal Research Center and you’ve got a pretty great taste of the beef industry in only 4 days time!
Here’s an overview of the trip and its impact on students.
From a journalism standpoint: I knew that each packing plant I entered was suspicious of me.
Who can blame them? After the likes of PETA and HSUS sent undercover reporters into plants to slander the meat industry, most plants adopted “confidentiality policies.”
While my classmates were just signing their copies, I was reading the fine print, trying to cover all the bases and make sure I could include their facility in my journalism class projects.
Triumph Foods in St. Joseph, MO, had the most strict confidentiality policy of anywhere we visited. Their policy only allows me to say that I toured the facility. I cannot voice an opinion or divulge any information about anything related to their company.
Cargill Meat Solutions in Schuyler, NE, gave me the benefit of the doubt. Plant manager, Vaughn Bloom, waived the confidentiality policy in regard to my video project, saying:
“Tell the world what you saw here, its time to get the truth out there. Just don’t put my ugly face on your video!”
The chance to work with someone like Mr. Bloom was very reassuring for me. It is nice to know that there are people in the industry who are willing to cooperate with an ag journalist and share their passion for telling agriculture’s story to the general public.
Most importantly, he believed me when I told him I wasn’t with PETA!
Even though Mr. Bloom waived the confidentiality policy, I was still not permitted to photograph or film inside the facility because I was a student journalist. This is a Cargill policy across the board, though they provide photographs on their website that journalists can use.
I can’t blame them; a student journalist is unaffiliated, there’s no telling what they’ll write or where it will be published. Just the fact that I am allowed to write about the plant is more than enough permission for what I’m doing.
This trip was so influential to me that I know I’ll write about it again in later blog posts. For now though, I’m just proud that I was able to youtube something that tells the real story about the meat industry.