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.
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.
AWA Grows on the West Coast
Farmers and ranchers in the West Coast region can now benefit from even greater AWA support following the appointment of two new Farmer and Market Outreach Coordinators. Beth Spitler (Southwest) and Eve Cohen (Central and Northwest) will work across the West Coast region to support new and existing AWA farmers and to raise consumer awareness about the program. This represents a considerable increase in our ability to provide sustainable farmers in the West Coast region with access to free marketing and technical support.
AWA Invited to Multiple Major Marketing Events
KeHe Distributors is one of the country’s largest wholesale distributors of natural and specialty food products, serving more than 33,000 food retailers across the North America. In recognition of the growing importance of our label in the marketplace, AWA was invited to attend associated retail shows in September to promote the program and benefits of AWA products to countless vendors and retailers across KeHe’s distribution chain. We hope that this is the start of new market opportunities for AWA farmers and ranchers in 2012 – and the wider availability of AWA-certified food to consumers across the U.S.
AWA Welcomes Young Farmers
Perhaps the most significant development in 2011 was the certification of two new farmers to the program – both aged 12. Shelby Grebenc of Happy Chapped Chicken Butt Farm in Broomfield, CO, and Wyatt Schenker of Schenker Family Farms in McCune, KS, are the youngest farmers in the program and both are approved for laying hens. These two remarkable individuals have a maturity and presence beyond their years, and represent the future foundation of sustainable farming.
First AWA Restaurant Opens
Grazin’, in Hudson, NY, is a modern take on the classic 1950s diner, serving locally sourced and sustainably produced meals. All meat, dairy and eggs are Animal Welfare Approved – a truly outstanding achievement for all involved. We were delighted to support the development of this exciting initiative and look forward to welcoming other restaurateurs who are seeking to serve a truly sustainable menu.
State of the Plate DC
More than 200 farmers, restaurateurs and consumers came together in October at the State of the Plate DC conference to discuss ways to strengthen the supply chain for meat, cheese and eggs from sustainably raised animals in the Washington, DC area. Organized by AWA, in cooperation with the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington and hosted by George Washington University’s Urban Food Task Force, the event was designed to bring individuals from every level of the hospitality supply chain together under one roof. We are looking at opportunities to roll out this event in other areas in 2012 and beyond.
AWA Achieves Increasing Media Attention
In addition to wide circulation of AWA’s blogs, we are now receiving a tremendous amount of local and national media attention. Two particular highlights include AWA’s Emily Lancaster’s appearance on a “My Carolina Today” television segment with Edible Piedmont and AWA being the only independent label recognized in Real Simple magazine’s special consumer guide to buying steak. We look forward to highlighting the work of our farmers and ranchers to the media in 2012.
AWA Egg Cartons
Following discussion with some of our certified farmers, we were proud to launch a new low-cost branded egg carton for poultry farmers. Made with 100 percent reclaimed paper, the new dozen-egg carton enables AWA family farmers to market eggs locally using the trusted AWA brand alongside farm-specific information. We are confident the carton will result in higher levels of sales and are exploring other packaging options.
AWA Publishes New Publications
One of our key objectives is to raise public awareness of the benefits of high-welfare, sustainable farming, and to highlight the inherent problems with industrial farming systems. In 2011, we were proud to launch two new informative publications. Food Labeling for Dummies: A definitive guide to common food label terms and claims is designed to help decipher the most common terms and claims found on today’s food packaging, while The Grassfed Primer: Your guide to the benefits of grassfed beef offers a clear description of the benefits of grassfed and pasture-raised beef. We also redesigned the AWA newsletter to ensure it keeps readers up to date with relevant news, to highlight inspirational models, to address technical issues, and to promote our free services.
During 2011 AWA developed new standards for rabbit farming, which join our range of standards for all commonly domesticated farmed animals. The individual standards, which are available online, address every aspect of each species’ lifecycle needs – from birth all the way to slaughter. The strength of our standards is reflected by the fact that AWA program was acclaimed as a “highly meaningful label” by Greener Choices, the food label evaluation arm of Consumer Reports.
Annual Auditor and Staff Training
Finally, for the first time AWA marketing staff joined the auditors in Raleigh, NC, for annual training. As the program grows it is important to ensure effective communication between staff members and teams, who often work some distance apart. Auditors participated in on-farm and classroom standards and auditing training, while marketing staff discussed future strategy.
Looking to the Future
Despite difficult economic times, growing numbers of people across the U.S. are recognizing the inextricable link between the way we farm, the way we raise our animals, the way we treat our environment, and our health and well being. So while I am the first to accept that we face significant challenges ahead, I am also confident that 2012 will bring us a step closer to the goal of changing how we feed ourselves.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy holiday season and a prosperous, healthy, and sustainable New Year.
Animal Welfare Approved