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.
More than 20 years after Mimi Beaven studied agriculture in Wales, United Kingdom – during which time she worked in the restaurant industry, moved to the United States, and started a family – she has now returned to farming at Made in Ghent, a 10-acre farm in upstate New York. “It a perfect melding of two things I really love—farming and food,” she says. The sustainable, high-welfare farming methods that Mimi uses to raise her laying hens and meat chickens, however, are different from those she learned as a young student. Inspired by her love of good food, a desire to provide her family, friends and community with food that she knows is safe and nutritious, and the example of other family farms in upstate New York, she raises her birds with the intention to let them do what chickens are supposed to do—live outside on pasture where they can perform their natural behaviors.
Dan and Cindy Harvey raise Animal Welfare Approved laying hens at Harvey Farms in Albertville, Alabama. Hens are raised outdoors according to the highest standards for animal welfare.
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.
It pains me to say it but there are some very real connections between BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and the recent “pink slime” fiasco that need to be aired.
I am not saying that “pink slime” (lean finely textured beef or LFTB for short) represents anything like the public health hazard that potentially BSE-infected meat could represent. Regulations are now in place to ensure that specified risk material is removed from every beef carcass so it does not enter the human food chain, and that the feeding of ground-up cattle remains back to cattle has been banned since 1997. However, it’s hard to ignore the fundamental similarities of the two incidents and, more importantly, the underlying circumstances and mindsets that led to the adoption in both cases of some highly questionable industry practices — practices that most people would have almost certainly have opposed had they been given the chance.
Jay and Pamela Dixon, along with Jay’s father and uncle, raise Animal Welfare Approved pigs in North Carolina. Dixon Family Farms spans 40 acres of pasture and cropland on sandy loam soils–what Jay calls “typical eastern North Carolina land.” They also lease an additional 45 acres from neighboring farms. Major crops include standard row crops like corn and soy beans, but also vegetables such as collards, cabbage, sweet corn, squash, and okra.
Kimberly and Jack Mastrianni left their city lives in Massachusetts to establish Maple Frost Farm in rural New Hampshire in 2004. Kim was an animal science major in college and ran a horse farm in New York after school, but worked in accounting in Boston for many years before returning to agriculture. Knowing that they wanted their main focus to be on fiber production rather than meat, the Mastriannis chose to raise Leicester Longwools, a sheep breed once popular around the world and now classified as “rare” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. A large-framed sheep carrying a heavy fleece, the Leicester Longwool is a sturdy, efficient and adaptable breed that makes good use of marginal forage.
John Whiteside got his start as a cattle rancher by accident in the mid-1980s when he bought a few steers to help graze down the overgrown pastures his horses had unevenly eaten. After successfully replacing his Bush Hog mower with steers, John decided to start experimenting with raising the steers for food, too. Although he began by grain-finishing his animals, John quickly learned that he preferred the taste and texture of grass-finished beef. This led to years of genetic selection to produce a cattle herd that was best suited to thriving on pasture alone without grain supplementation, a six-year search for the right farmland on which to expand his herd, and a lifelong commitment to animal welfare, sustainability and land stewardship.
Jodie Kubiak grew up on a dairy farm and as children, her daughters worked on their grandfather’s cow-calf operation. In 2006, she and her daughter Meghan began raising grassfed beef on produce farms near their home in upstate New York. In 2009, Nathan Mattison added his herd of beef cattle and became an equal partner in the Kubiak’s family business.
Karen Gutmann always liked the idea of raising productive farm animals, but it wasn’t until 2003 that she started a farm in Middletown, Vermont after a career as a professor of English at the University of Delaware. Although she began with a flock of laying hens, her intention was always to raise dairy goats, which were an appropriate size to graze the 20 acres that became Orchard View Farm/Noah’s Ark Nubians. In 2005 she was able to buy her first dairy goats and now her herd of Animal Welfare Approved Nubian goats numbers over 70.