FARGO, N.D. - Poultry farmers should should focus more on informing consumers than educating them, said a former vice president of McDonald's Corp., speaking Dec. 13 at the North Dakota Poultry Industry Convention in Fargo.

Jerome Lyman of Chicago is a board member for the Farm Foundation and previously was with McDonald's where he was the company's chief supply chain officer for Asia, Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

Lyman told poultry producers they're an important piece of the stakeholder community in U.S. agriculture. He said what occurs in agriculture can have collateral effects in other areas of the U.S. food system.

"It's important that we understand that there are various actors in the U.S. food system that weren't as active or didn't exist at all 15 to 20 years ago," he said. Only 2 percent of the population is active in the process of growing food. He urged producers to take consumer points of view into consideration and "engage them in an effective dialogue so we can understand their interests."

Lyman said the end-game is building demand and loyalty for products sold. "There's a difference between 'educating' and 'informing,'" he said. "Consumers don't need to be 'educated' but they appreciate being informed.

"They want to be informed without bias, fact-based and verified by some credible sources. The millennial generation, which is now the largest segment of the U.S. population, believes strongly that they have a right to know," Lyman said, adding that U.S. agriculture has chosen to "let others do the informing for them."

That results in bias and myths.

"The cost to dispel a myth is 10 times the cost of getting the truth told in the first place," he said.

Less antibiotics

John Menges works for Best Veterinary Solutions of Mechanicsville, Pa., a company that distributes animal health supplies nationwide, and spent 30 years in antibiotic-free and organic production.

"The problem is people, turkeys, animals get sick, so we need to be able to use judicial use of antibiotics. I think we're going to raise birds with less antibiotics," he said.

"This antibiotic-free movement is the way it's going," he said, noting his own company's antibiotic sales are "declining rapidly." New regulations are making it harder to use antibiotics so producers are trying to make the shift proactively.

He said biosecurity and pathogen-free water are two important shifts among a myriad of shifts producers need to do to cut antibiotic use.

"But if you think it's only two or three things, don't bother," he said.

Biosecurity has stepped up since the avian flu outbreak two years ago. Farmers are also using "probiotics," or substances to improve immunity through gastrointestinal health, similar to how humans can affect digestion with yogurt.

In January 2017, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a policy asking manufacturers to stop selling antibiotics for growth promotion in animals if the antibiotics are important for humans, such as tetracycline and penicillin. Fast-service restaurants have indicated they'll cut antibiotics from their chicken.

The FDA this year started breaking down antibiotic sales figures by species, but there is only one year with that level of detail. The new FDA report shows chickens account for 6 percent, turkeys 9 percent, swine 37 percent and cattle 43 percent of the antibiotics related to human medicine.

Karin Hoelzer, a senior officer in health programs for the Pew Charitable Trusts, a former FDA employee who works on antibiotic resistance, told Agweek she'd like to see a report that indicates why antibiotics are used, including particular diseases and how the figures relate to body mass and total weights of affected species.