Common Misconceptions on Food Labels

Have you ever been at the grocery store and put something into your cart just because it had a specific health claim on the label? Or have you paid extra for an item just because the label says “all natural”? More and more people today are paying higher prices for items containing labels that claim to have added health benefits when in reality they are no better for you than similar products without the fancy label.

I am here today to clear up some common misunderstandings that people may have when reading a food label.

When looking at a food product with a label that claims to be
“all natural” people might assume that there isn’t any preservatives or unhealthy substances in it. But having a label that says “all natural” just means that the company hasn’t added any synthetic products or artificial flavors/colors to their product, they are still able to add things like high fructose corn syrup. People  generally also th

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ink that “all natural” on a food label means that there wasn’t the use of any pesticides or GMOs when growing the crop, but typically that isn’t the case.

People will also spend roughly 50% more on products just because they have an “organic” sticker on the front of them. They genuinely believe that organic products are healthier for your body than conventionally grown products, even though studies done by Stanford University showed no added health/nutritional benefits. Another misconception people have when seeing the word organic on food labels is that the farmer who grew their produce used no pesticides whatsoever. This is a false statement, they almost certainly used pesticides, just not ones with any synthetic products inside of them.

“If some consumers believe that it’s better from the point of view of their health to have organic food, God bless them. Let them buy it. Let them pay a bit more.” – Norman Borlaug

Another huge misconception that people make when looking at a food label is what “free range” or “cage free” means in terms of poultry products. Most people believe that seeing

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the label “free range” on their chicken products or eggs means that the bird spent it’s life outside without ever seeing the inside of a housing facility. In reality for a product to receive the title “free range” there just needs to be access to the outdoors (even if it is only for a short period of time each day.) Some chickens with the label free range have never even been outside. The same goes with cage free labels, this doesn’t mean that the chickens were always outside, it just means they weren’t confined to their cages indoors. So some people will pay roughly $1.50-$2 more for free range or cage free eggs that came from a chicken who never left the facilities.

All in all, everybody has their own opinions on what is healthy and right for their life styles but I do believe you should know exactly what it is you are paying for.


My name17918878_10212859267299467_1229249935_n is Brooke Gulbranson, I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University where I major in Agricultural Business. Before transferring to WIU I went to Sauk Valley Community College which is located in my home town Dixon, Illinois. Before coming to Western I had no idea how much work goes into the food that we consume and feed our animals everyday. Now I am proud to be able to say that I am part of that elite group of people who do that work.




Use of Gestation crates in Swine Production

The use of gestation crates in swine production is nothing new, but has come to be a concern in recent years. Gestation crates are stalls where sows or gilts are held for breeding time and through the gestation or pregnancy periods of there life. Although they are a very good way for farmers to house and manage their breeding stock, their are concerns about animal welfare for the animals. The use of gestation crates is legal, and is actually a good way to keep very close attention and care of all the females. The females have complete access to fresh water at all times, and are fed regularly to maintain a healthy body weight for the animal.Gestation crate

There are other options that can be used to house animals during the breeding and gestation periods. For example, open pens can be used where a group of females run together. Some people may think this is better because the animals are able to have a whole pen to be in instead of a crate. This may sound better at first, but there are definitely down falls to open pen groups. For example, the females will fight especially when first put together, and are at risk for injury. This fighting can also lead to late term abortions. In these group settings, the females are all fed together, and some of the females may be faster eaters than others. Some of the animals will get way more food than the others and some could be shorted food. This could be very bad for the health of the animals and cause illness or abortions due to improper nutrition. Most breeding in swine is done through the use of Artificial Insemination. The employees in a pen setting are more at risk for injury with other animals all around them then they are when breeding in a gestation crate scenario.

When the females are penned individually in gestation crates, the farmer is better able to keep a close eye on each animal and track when something is not right. Each animal may eat more or less than other animals in the building. When penned individually, farmers can make sure that each one gets the adequate nutrition balance that it needs. If the animal does not eat their feed for example, the farmer knows that the animal could be sick and take action to treat the animal. In terms of breeding, the employee is much safer when breeding in a gestation crate.

I do understand that there are many concerns with gestation crates and if they are humane. However, when you look at the threats and benefits, I believe that the animals are safer and better managed in a gestation crate. I believe that their diet is more precise and is better monitored as well in a gestation setting. Overall that animals are healthier and safer in a gestation crate than they are in other possible scenarios.

My name is Ryan Hildebrand aRyan Hildebrandnd I am a Senior at Western Illinois University. I am originally from Payson IL, and I was born and raised on a grain and livestock farm. I am Majoring In Agriculture Business with a minor in Animal Science. I currently serve as the Vice President Of Alpha Gamma Sigma agricultural fraternity.



5 Values Learned Growing Up On The Farm


Being raised on the farm was the greatest gift my parents could have gave me. My unique upbringing taught me an unlimited number of valuable life lessons that I wouldn’t have learned growing up somewhere other than the farm. I truly believe that growing up in agriculture has made me a better person.

1. Responsibility- Before I was even big enough to help out with chores, I would tag along with my dad. I knew when things needed to be done and that usually meant taking care of the animals before taking care of myself. Cattle don’t care what day it is or what is going on, they still have to be fed and cared for. We do not get any “days off”.

2. Work Ethic- I never got those days that I got to sleep in until noon like most of my friends did. I had to be up every morning to do chores and I didn’t get to go hang out with my friends until all of my work was done. You learn to work hard and long hours at an early age. It is not always easy, but hard work always pays off.

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3. Respect- The farm life teaches you respect for so many things. Respect for your family, the animals, the land, Mother Nature, and for others.

4. Patience- Have you ever tried sorting cows before? If so, then you know what I mean by saying you learn patience. Some tasks need more time and attention than others, you cannot rush through things to get them done faster, something will always go wrong. Living on a farm is not just a 9-5 job. Checking cows at 2 a.m. may not be fun, but neither is losing calves. I have learned patience from being up all night waiting on a cow to calve and then getting the calf to nurse. Patience is key.

5. Passion- I grew up helping my dad take care of the cattle and I could see the passion in him. I acquired the same passion, learning how to truly care for them.  Living on a farm is more than just a job, and my passion for it has grown deeper throughout the years. “Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and above all, don’t let anyone limit your dreams.” – Donovan Bailey


I am Sara Pieper. I was born and raised on a grain and cattle farm outside of the small town of Stewardson, Illinois, where I found a love for the Agriculture industry. I am a junior at Western Illinois University, majoring in Ag Business and Animal Science.

Hogs Gone Wild

The United States records an economic loss of an estimated 1.5 billion dollars each year from feral hogs. From an agriculture stand point, feral hogs cause 800 million dollars of damage across the United States. The feral hog is becoming one the biggest problems in agriculture to date in the southern part of the United States and soon to be the entire country. More than 6 million feral hogs spread across 35 states. One of the main reasons why they are so invasive and spreading so rapidly is because of their litter size and gestation length. The range that a feral sow can give birth is anywhere from 1-12 piglets, a sow can also have two litters per year. With that being said, the rate of which feral hogs are being born is quite fast; this is leading to major issues with agriculture in the United States.

Hogs In Agricultre

Crop Production

Many people like myself don’t acknowledge feral hogs and how they impact crop production. We generally focus on how to eliminate invasive weeds, diseases, or pests that have effects on yields and not so much on these invasive animals. Feral hogs impact crops by rooting ground, digging, trample, and consumption of crops. Someone might ask, “what is rooting, and trample?” Rooting is where a hog uses their “snout” or nose to move soil aside; trample is the mixing of soil by walking on it and causing compaction leaving the soil harder for vegetation to grow.

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Livestock Production

One of biggest concerns livestock producers have are feral hogs. There are several different reasons why feral hogs may concern a livestock producer. A very strong concern would be that feral hogs are predators. If hogs get into a producers livestock they could quite possibly chase off the mothers and then begin to go after their young. The biggest concern would most definitely have to be disease. Disease is a very hard battle to fight, especially when a feral hog can contain up to 45 significant viral and bacterial diseases. This could potentially eliminate someone’s entire livestock population. All it takes is for one animal to get sick, then it is very challenging to catch it and stop it before it effects the animals dramatically.

Photo by USDA APHIS Wildlife Services

feral hogs in cattle by

How can they be stopped?

With the fast growing population of hogs there has to be some sort of way to control the population. There are two major ways that they can be controlled. One being nonlethal and the other being lethal.


There are several nonlethal methods to control feral hogs, these methods intended uses are to relocate the hogs to get them off property or keep them off the owners property. The most common method would be installing high quality fencing and checking it regularly. This would allow the owner to keep them off his or her property with very low input cost. Another method to keep unwanted hogs off property would be by having guard animals; this would allow the owner to know when there are hogs near by. Lastly someone could set out traps. A trapping system can be very effective but also very ineffective as well. The way a trapping system works is the hogs would be baited into the trap and then closed behind them. Some people use circular traps that are elevated off of the ground and then by via camera they can drop the trap and then the hogs are in a pen essentially. Feral hogs seem to cooperate with this trapping method the best because they do not feel nervous like they would having to enter a trap. The goal is to have as many hogs in the trapping area as possible. The major flaw with this method is sometimes the hogs will out run the speed of which the trap is falling and then escape.


In some cases lethal options for controlling feral hog populations is the only option. Feral hogs can be hunted all year long without a limit to an individual. People also will take controlling hogs to the sky. With this I mean people will have helicopters set up to where they can eliminate numerous hogs on a given property. This is an effective method for inaccessible places like marshes and swaps. Lastly, the most effective way to control an out of control feral hog population is by poisoning. This has not always been an option. In February 2017, the state of Texas made it legal to use poison as a control method. Other states are now considering adopting this law.

Problem Solved?

The feral hog overpopulation can simply not be stopped over night, but with more people getting involved and trying to stop the outrage the hog population could possibly slow down very fast. This would help benefit the farmers whose crops are getting destroyed, the livestock producers animals from getting ill and ultimately helping the economy.


My name is Brett Leahr and I am from Pittsfield, Illinois. I am a Junior at Western Illinois University studying Agriculture Business with a minor in Agronomy.  I am involved in Alpha Gamma Sigma at the university and plan to join more clubs in the future. I have a passion for agriculture, conservation, and animals.Professional Picture 2016


Society, The Wildlife. “Feral Swine: Impacts of Invasive Species.” Feral Swine: Impacts of Invasive Species (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

“Feral Swine Impacts on Agriculture and the Environment.” N.p., n.d. Web.

State University, Mississippi. “Wild Pigs.” Wild Pig Info – Feral Hog Control and Management. Mississippi State University, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Morthland, John. “A Plague of Pigs in Texas.” Smithsonian Institution, 01 Jan. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

“Frequently Asked Questions-Wild Pigs.” Coping with Feral Hogs. Texas A&M, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

History of Antibiotics and Use in Livestock Production

Antibiotic use within livestock production has been a hot topic for the United States, even the world, for years. Antibiotics are used in the production of livestock to increase growth and treat animals for illnesses. The general public of the U.S. did not approve of the widespread use of medicines entering their food supply. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) issued a Veterinary Feed Directive Jan. 1st of this year to control the amount of antibiotics used within our food production.

Discovery of Antibiotics

Antibiotics are medicines that are used to treat illnesses caused by microorganisms, such as, bacterial infections. Paul Ehrlich and Alexander Fleming are thought to be the original inventors of antibiotics, but antimicrobial medicine was found to be used in ancient civilizations long before modern medicine. Tetracyclines were found in the skeletal remains of ancient Egyptian peoples. This means the civilization had a diet that contained tetracyclines. Another instance of antibiotic use is within traditional Chinese medicine. They used many herbs in their remedies to cure all sorts of ailments. One such herb was the Artemisia annua, Wormwood. It contained a compound known today as artemisinin, which is used in many antibiotics.

Paul Ehrlich was searching for the panacea, or cure all, of microbial diseases. He started work against microbial diseases in the early 1900s. He started by creating a large screening system in an effort to find a cure for syphilis. After hundreds of trials, he created a cure for syphilis that was named Salvarsan. Salvarsan was later replaced in the 1940s by penicillin. Ehrlich’s mode of screening for drugs that could cure disease causing microbes was adopted by the pharmaceutical industry, which led to the discovery of many more antibiotics.

Antibiotic Use in Livestock Production

The use of antibiotics in livestock was introduced to treat microbial diseases, just like in humans. The antibiotics were used on farms to treat certain diseases if an event occurred. Then antibiotics were used to control the spread of a disease within a herd, which led to healthier herds. Farmers started to notice that animals started to grow larger and at a faster rate due to the antibiotic treatments. These treatments had actually improved the animals feed efficiency, or ability to turn food into the desired product. Whether the goal is to put on lean muscle or increase milk production, a higher feed efficiency will aid in achieving said goal.

Using antibiotics in such a large scale has improved the well being of many livestock species. It has, however, started a dialogue around the world about “superbugs” and antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics do not always get rid of all bacteria within the body, human or animal. These antibiotic resistant microbes can then multiply and begin to increase the number of resistant microbes. The fortunate thing about this is that the FDA, USDA, and CDC collect and monitor our food to ensure that none of these microbes reach human consumption. Antibiotics are also monitored within livestock to ensure that they never make it to the general food supply. Each medicine has a “withdrawal date” or time it takes to pass through an organism. For some antibiotics, the withdrawal date may be as little as 24 hours. Other antibiotics take several days or weeks. Data is recorded each time something is administered to an animal to ensure that it does not carry antibiotics into human consumption.

Another way the FDA has combated the introduction of antibiotic resistant microbes, is the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), that was issued January 1st of 2017. This VFD has limited livestock producers to use certain antibiotics to promote growth

VFD graphic

within their herds. They are still able to feed Ionophores and other basic antibiotics that are only used in the animal population. Human medicines, like penicillin, are important to the human population and have been restricted in their use in livestock production. These antibiotics must be acquired under veterinary supervision to be used for the treatment of diseases. Promoting this moderate use of antibiotics slows the development of antibiotic resistant microbes within a livestock animal.

Even though the livestock industry uses a large portion of the
world’s antibiotics to produce a product, it does not mean that the product has become harmful to humans. Animals are able to live healthier with the aid of antibiotics, and provide a safe and healthy product for human consumption.


Bio: My name is Michael Lammersfeld. I am a Senior Agriculture Science student at Western Illinois University. Originally from a small town, Capron IL, I came out to WIU to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian. Along the way, I got to work with many amazing animals on the farms at Western, join Phi Mu Alpha, and even become captain of the Cheerleading team for our Fighting Leathernecks!

The Life of a Crop Scout

“Scouting fields for weeds, disease and pests is one of the best investments you can make during the growing season to protect crop yield potential.” – Missy Bauer, Farm Journal associate field agronomist.

For those of you that don’t know what a crop scout does, they monitor corn and soybean crops to ensure that the field doesn’t have any weeds, insects, or disease pressure.

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In the beginning of the year after planting has happened I will receive my field assignments which typically ends up being 10-15 different fields per day. Throughout the day I will travel to these fields and I will do stand counts, this means I will count how many plants within a 17.5 ft. row and figure out an estimate of what the population will be. After doing the counts I input my data into the iPad so the growers can see an idea of what they will be working with. Also while doing my stand counts I will be looking out for different weed species that may be present. Once the crop has begun to emerge we will scout for a pest known as the Black Cutworm. We have to keep a watchful eye out for this insect because they will lay their eggs in the foliage (leaves) of the crop and once they hatch the larvae will feed on them. This isn’t a huge problem in the beginning but if the problem isn’t spotted and taken care of, they will travel to the bottom of the plant and feed on the stems of the seedlings which causes them to wilt and die. If I spot a cutworm issue in a field I will report the issue to my supervisor so that he can let the farmer know, who will then spray the field accordingly.

Towards the middle of the season is when a crop scout is busiest, this is when the crop is roughly waist high and I will be primarily going to fields to look for insects, weeds, and diseases, pretty much anything that could harm the plants. In northern Illinois I

Northern corn rootworm (picture from Iowa State)

am mostly scouting for rootworm beetles, earworms, Japanese beetles, armyworms, and European corn borer. These insects are the most common and will cause the most damage to a farmer’s crop. I am also looking for weeds such as waterhemp, common lambsquarters, ragweed, marestail, velvet leaf, and morning glory. These weeds will invade a crop and take away nutrients and water that are essential for proper growth. The main diseases that I am scouting for at this time are northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot, common rust, anthracnose, and gosses wilt. When looking for diseases you have to make sure they are spotted before they reach above the ear leaf because that is when substantial yield loss is likely to occur.

At the end of the growing season towards harvest is when I will be doing yield counts. This is when I will grab 5 corn ears from each corner of the field and count the number of kernels length wise and width wise. This will give the farmer a good estimate of how his crop did throughout the growing season. Once this is done we will bag the ears of corn and take them to the correct plant for further inspection. During this time of the season I am pretty much finished looking for pests in the field and am focusing on yield and harvest.

I thoroughly enjoy being a crop scout because it is a way for me to be hands on involved in the growing process instead of being stuck in an office all day. I believe that it is a great learning experience for anyone who wants to go into the agriculture field and it has prepared me well for the Ag work force.

My name is Dylan Eisenberg and for the last 4 summers I have interned as a crop scout with various companies in Illinois. I am from Amboy, Illinois, a small town upstate. I am a senior this year at Western Illinois University majoring in agricultural science. I decided to transfer into the ag program after working a few summers with Pioneer. After graduation I plan to continue to work in the industry as a crop supervisor.

Inside the Wildfires

As an aspiring cattlemen, the news of wildfires rolling through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas was very devastating. A total of 1.5 million acres, an area the same size as the state of Delaware, were burned. The amount of livestock whose lives were lost is even more staggering: 13,700 head of cattle and 8,400 head of hogs died as a result of the wildfires. It is estimated that $21 million worth of livestock, pasture, fence, feed and supplies were lost.

This disaster turned the lives of many ranchers upside down. Gardiner Angus Ranch, one of the most prominent Angus operations in the country, lost around 500 head of cattle to the wildfires in Clark county Kansas. With their production sale in April, the wildfires were even more detrimental. The sale went on, and the ranch was able to average $5,754 on 702 lots and gross $4,654,600. Luckily, Gardiner was able to save the lives of his donor cows, preserving generations of genetics. However, Greg Gardiner, co-owner of the operation, states that it will take three years to replenish their cow herd.

The GAR crew leading up to the sale

Many other ranchers were forced to euthanize cattle that were in excruciating pain from injuries caused by the fires. When asked about what he had to do after the fires, Mark Kaltenbach, 69 year old rancher, stated “We did what had to be done, They’re gentle. They know us. We know them. You just thought, Wow, I am sorry.” Mark was just one of the many families that watched their entire livelihood go up in flames. They had to bury hundreds of cattle, and watch even more burnt cattle stumble around, hardly able to see or breathe, just before they put them out of their suffering.


This disaster also sparked a great deal of political debate. Most ranchers, along with the rest of the agricultural community are traditionally very conservative, however, they felt rather abandoned by President Trump in this time of need. He neglected to mention anything about the devastating fires on his ‘famous’ Twitter account, let alone go out and visit with the ranchers and see the damages for himself.

Aaron Sawyers, an agriculture extension agent for Kansas State University, was very disgruntled by our government’s delayed response to the fires.  “This is our Hurricane Katrina” Sawyers stated. He is now fully convinced that Washington is completely detached from production agriculture. Sawyer is quoted saying “None of them are worth a damn, Republicans or Democrats”

On the other hand, the ranching community is a very close knit family, and when one’s family is in trouble- they respond. The relief efforts put forth by cattle producers have been highly impressive. There have been countless Cattleman Associations, Universities, and other groups raising funds to help support fellow ranchers in such a devastating time. Breeders World hosted an online sale April 3rd that was able to raise $58,365 for panhandle fire relief, this is just one out of the many benefit auctions held to help ranchers in need.  Outside of shear money, many families from here in the corn belt have been headed west with round bales to feed cattle that survived the fires.  As of April 1st the affected areas have been completely stocked with hay and feed, but are still seeking out fencing supplies. You can contact your local cattlemen’s association for information on how to help!

One of the countless loads of hay being delivered in Kansas


My name is BFullSizeRreck Debnam and I am currently a senior majoring in Agriculture Business at Western Illinois University. I am from Damascus, Maryland where I grew up on a grain and cattle operation. I am currently employed at Lowderman Cattle Company in western Illinois and hope to manage a purebred cattle herd here in the Midwest when I finish my education.