On January 12, the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) announced it had withdrawn its grassfed standard used in livestock and meat marketing due to lack of a clear congressional mandate to maintain it. While these changes at the USDA are largely procedural, this development could result in a proliferation of “grassfed” claims that do not meet consumer expectations. In light of the USDA’s announcement, transparent third-party certifications that clearly define 100 percent grassfed production (like Certified Grassfed by AWA) become more important than ever for protecting the interests of “true” grassfed farmers and conscientious consumers alike.
Whatever you think about Carl’s Jr.’s SuperBowl Ad (think “Victoria’s Secret hijacks your local farmers’ market”), the real news here is not whether sex still sells, provokes, or offends: The real news is the rise of grassfed beef.
We know that most of the world’s hungry live in the developing nations in the South. They are hungry because they cannot afford to buy food or grow it themselves, usually because of poverty, but also due to conflict, poor infrastructure, poor agricultural practices, and the over-exploitation of the environment, among other things. They are also hungry because much of their agricultural production is focused on generating food and livestock feed to supply Western markets. Recent price rises caused by harvest failures, commodity speculation, and the diversion of grain to produce biofuels over recent years have hardly helped matters (see for example Tom Philpott’s excellent blog on the horrendous impact U.S. biofuels policy is having on global food prices – and hunger).
Despite the recent recession, it’s great to see that demand for high-welfare, sustainable meats, dairy products, and eggs continues to grow. As the public wakes up to the negative impacts of intensive farming, they’re looking for food labels that provide real assurances that the food they buy is healthful, and produced with animal welfare and the environment in mind.
Many different businesses have now set up programs to offer consumers certain assurances about the food they buy. It goes without saying that the many different labels offered by food businesses vary enormously in terms of their scope and operation. However, most of the claims are centered on claims that farmers are using humane, sustainable farming practices, or that animals are fed a strictly controlled diet, or that medications or hormones are restricted or even prohibited. Since it’s impossible for each of us to go out and check the farms ourselves, we effectively take it on face value that the food label we choose to support really does deliver the benefits that it promises.
A recent report from the UK’s highly respected National Trust has confirmed what Animal Welfare Approved has been advocating for a long time: Feeding cattle on grass throughout their lifecycle is the most environmentally sustainable way to raise beef.
The new report – entitled What’s Your Beef – is an important contribution to the on-going debate about how to increase food security while reducing the environmental impacts of food production. Published by an organization responsible for the management of more than half a million acres of land across England, Wales and Northern Ireland on behalf of the nation, the messages in the report resonate with the arguments that AWA has presented for the wide-spread adoption of pasture-based livestock farming systems.
As the year comes to an end, it’s a tradition of mine to write a note of gratitude to our friends, farmers and ranchers, consumers, advocates, donors, and everyone else who has helped give the future of sustainable farming room to grow and flourish.
And what a year it has been! Animal Welfare Approved has yet again experienced a fantastic year of growth and innovation, driven by the ever-increasing demand for healthy, environmentally friendly and high-welfare products. Here are some highlights of significant milestones we have achieved over the last year. None of this could have been achieved without your continued support.
George Washington University's Urban Food Task Force, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) have joined forces by providing a platform for DC's vibrant culinary community to focus on strengthening the supply chain for sustainably raised meat.
All of us at Animal Welfare Approved have been concerned about the seemingly endless spate of devastating weather across the country, and are doing what we can to reach out to our farmers in affected areas. Our hearts go out to all of those who have suffered the overwhelming loss of loved ones, homes, and livelihoods. As the people of Joplin, MO work to pick up the pieces and move on from the disaster in their area, we have become aware of a unique effort springing from within the AWA family and we are doing all we can to support it wholeheartedly.
Jack Whisnant, the son of Patricia and Mark Whisnant (Animal Welfare Approved farmers from American Grassfed Beef in Doniphan, MO), is leading a group to Joplin to provide BBQ pork and grassfed burgers over the Memorial Day weekend and following week.
This endeavor is a massive undertaking, and we want to assist Jack in being able to meet the needs of all those in Joplin who come to him for aid. If you would like to support this effort please read on for details on how you can help.
As consumer demand grows for products from animals raised with high-welfare standards, Animal Welfare Approved is pleased to launch its new Online Directory of AWA farms and AWA farmers' products across the country. From beef to bison, milk to cheese, chicken to sheep, this directory is the go-to search engine to find the most humane products available in the United States.
Some of the best burgers in the United States are now being made with humanely raised beef, thanks to Animal Welfare Approved, American Grass Fed Beef, and Dan Rosenthal, owner-operator of the Rosenthal Group.
The legendary Poag Mahone’s, of the Rosenthal Group, is the very first restaurant in Chicago to be serving this prized beef. Poag Mahone’s has been named as one of the best burgers in America by Oprah Winfrey, and GQ magazine declared Poag Mahone’s as serving one of "Top Twenty Burgers You Must Eat Before You Die.”
Recently John Stossel of FOX Business Channel has aired a number of segments disparaging sustainable agriculture. His issues have included the use of herbicides and pesticides, grainfed vs. grassfed beef, genetically modified salmon and food safety. Is Stossel going out of his way to be outrageously provocative? To what end? And for whose benefit? Certainly we are not the only ones to condemn these reports as being inaccurate, unbalanced and biased, as the many comments to the reports attest.
Stossel would no doubt accuse me of being unrealistic and only supporting small scale farms. However, the reality is that to keep the planet healthy and fed we will need to employ a wide range of solutions. Sadly, the last 40 years of ”big ag’s” version of the solution has shown chronic failure in the form of antibiotic resistance, tainted water and some of the largest food recalls in history. Too bad Stossel doesn’t recognize that we have to stop using the planet – a finite resource – as “big ag’s” test tube.
An article which first appeared on the web back in January is doing the rounds again. This time it’s being used by the National Beef Packing Company to promote its “natural” beef.
The National Beef Packing Company has a lot to say about the benefits of its feedlot-raised, grain-fed beef versus grassfed beef, and is currently using an edited version of an article by James E. McWilliams, entitled “Beware the Myths of Grassfed Beef,” to support its argument.
I’m not sure if the editing of this newer version was done by McWilliams himself, or if National realized that if they printed the original article in its entirety they would at the very least find themselves promoting the animal welfare and health benefits of grassfed over feedlot beef. Because in his original article, McWilliams states that “the comparative health benefits of grass-fed beef are well documented” and that “scores of studies indicate that it's higher in omega 3s and lower in saturated fat.” He also says that grassfed systems are “kinder to the animals” – all points which have miraculously disappeared from the National Beef Packing Company’s current version. But let’s not worry about that now, and go straight to the “meat” of the article.