A recent study by Kansas State University concluded that in terms of presence of E. coli O157:H7, there was no difference between "organic," "naturally-raised" and conventionally raised beef. Feedlots provide all of the conventionally raised beef and the vast majority of organic and naturally-raised beef. Only a small percentage of organic beef is grassfed and finished on pasture. The study reported that feces from 14% of the organic and naturally-raised cattle contained the pathogenic strain of E. coli, and that this number was comparable to conventional systems. What the study did NOT include were samples from cattle that were pasture-finished or grassfed, surprisingly, not a requirement of either organic or naturally-raised systems. I imagine that there are many consumers who will be surprised to learn this.
Jocelyn Biggs is the third-generation of her family to live and work on the land in southeastern Alberta where her grandfather began farming in 1956. As the oldest of four girls who were homeschooled on the family ranch, Jocelyn took on many farm business responsibilities in her teenage years. She still works and lives on TK Ranch, her family’s 10,000-acre ranch, where she is responsible for managing inventory, customer relations and weekly deliveries.
Jocelyn also owns 26 grassfed cow-calf pairs that run with the TK Ranch herd, an operation she calls Willow Grove Ranch. These cattle are sold into her parents’ program at 18 months and are processed as part of the larger grassfed operation. Like TK Ranch, Willow Grove Ranch’s cattle are Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) and Certified Grassfed by AGW, which is the first—and only—food label in Canada that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100% grass and forage diet, and raised entirely outdoors on pasture or range.
Following in her parents footprints, Jocelyn is a passionate proponent of raising cattle outdoors on a 100% grass and forage diet: “Grass-finishing is healthier for cattle,” explains Jocelyn. “Cattle are ruminants—grain affects their pH balance and makes them sick. Plus, the carbon footprint is so much more environmentally friendly than confinement operations. Raising cattle on pasture also improves grasslands that used to be grazed by bison.” Jocelyn believes that having the Certified Grassfed by AGW label verifies their commitment to these principles and gives people extra confidence in the TK Ranch brand. “It makes it so much more transparent and transparency is the most important aspect of the food system,” she adds.
Jocelyn is also concerned about the ever-decreasing number of farmers in Canada and the need to make farming an attractive career choice to young farmers. “It’s really important for young people to be interested in agriculture, or all our ag land will be eaten up by corporations,” Jocelyn says. “Sustainable land stewardship interests young people. If more of them saw that it was possible to directly supply consumers with a product you can be really proud of, more young people would get involved. We’re trying to make a path others can follow; one that is profitable and makes you feel good.”