What's In A Label?
Industry regulators are proposing to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that meat and poultry products can be labeled as “humanely raised” even if the animals are subjected to procedures that cause pain and substantial suffering. Examples would include non-anaesthetized castration, debeaking, dehorning, and prolonged extreme confinement.
These new rules would mean that these products could be marketed using terms like “Raised With Care” or “Humanely Raised On Sustainable Family Farms”.
Consumers fought hard for label requirements like “Raised Without Antibiotics”, and the fight continues with GMO labeling. As the public becomes more in touch with their food, and asks more questions about its origins, intensive farming operations will maneuver to either meet that demand, or mask that information.
Producing humanely raised meat and poultry in harmony with nature and the environment is more expensive than the alternative industrialized system. There are no short cuts. And when a chicken that is responsibly raised by a small independent family farm is shelved next to a chicken produced on a massive factory farm, both with “Humanely Raised On Sustainable Family Farms” labels approved by our governing authorities, which one does the consumer select? The cheap one. Right?
Consumers who care about animal welfare and supporting their local economy are paying a higher price to do so. A label is all that separates a factory farmed pig raised in a gestation crate from a pasture raised pig on a small family farm. There’s a lot of money in getting that label approved if you’re producing 700 million chickens a year.
Labels are important because they can allow consumers to make educated decisions on how they will spend their food dollars. Animals raised in “Humane” conditions can still be slaughtered on factory farms. “Cage Free” doesn’t guarantee that a bird gets to take a dust bath or bask in the sun. So how can we know that we are getting the products that we want? We ask questions.
We won’t get a better system overnight. But we can vote three times a day with our forks for the system that we want and that we want our children to inherit.
Here’s a few questions that you should be asking before buying meat and poultry.
Are you certified organic? Some folks are, some aren’t. We deal with many farmers who use organic farming methods but haven’t gone through the costly USDA certification. The correct answer to this question is the one that you are comfortable with.
Where does it come from? Was the product raised on one farm or multiple farms? Is it local? Are you comfortable with the amount of food miles on the product?
Would the farm offer you a tour of their facility? All of the farms that we deal with have an open door policy. Many are eager to show off a better food system to chefs, restaurant staff, schools, and the community at large. On the flip side, massive industrialized factory farms may have you prosecuted for eco-terrorism for trying to sneak a photo of their farming practices.
Do the animals eat what they would naturally eat? For cows, this is a diet of 100% grass, hay, and silage. “Grass Finished” might mean that the cow is raised on grass, shipped to the grain belt to fatten up on GMO corn, and then fed a last meal of grass. “Grass Fed – Grain Finished” means that the cow started off a normal life and then took the road trip for an unnatural finishing diet of grain and soy to pack on a few pounds. Pigs and chickens are omnivores and should be allowed to forage around for foods that supplement their diets.
Do you use antibiotics or other medicines? The answer here can be tricky. We don’t want animals dying of treatable illnesses and infections. We also don’t want them pumped full of antibiotics so that they can live in their own feces. Our farmers will treat animals and then remove them from breeding stock.
Are hormones or growth promoters ever given to your animals? Sustainable farms do not feed their animals growth hormones.