| September 10, 2012
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)’s recent decision to lift the federal regulation protecting wolves in Wyoming – and allow hunters and ranchers to shoot wolves on sight across 90 percent of the state – has reignited the decades-old conflict between wildlife conservation objectives and the ranching industry.
Native predator species, such as coyotes, bears, wolves and mountain lions, are critical to the functioning of ecosystems, helping to keep nature in balance. But as livestock farms and ranches have expanded, problems have often occurred where large predators come into direct contact with farmed animals, such as sheep and cattle. The FWS’s decision will allow anyone to shoot wolves on sight across most of Wyoming, although wolves will still remain off-limits inside the state’s national wildlife refuges and national parks, such as the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the Wind River Indian Reservation.
But therein lays the crux of the problem: Most people still see “conservation” and “ranching” as two very separate – and often incompatible – objectives. In the pursuit of maximizing food production, we have done our utmost to eradicate the threat posed by nature to modern farming systems. At the same time, growing recognition of the damage that human activity is inflicting on the environment has fueled campaigns to protect and conserve threatened species and wildlife habitats.
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.
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.
| March 30, 2012
In the U.S., we pride ourselves on being the best of the best. And in this Olympic year we’re all hoping that we’ll come home with the Gold. However, there is one area where the U.S. leads which should deeply concern us all.
Figures initially presented by Dr. Danilo Lo Fo Wong of the World Health Organization reveal that the U.S. is leading the world in the overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming – and by a long way. We use more antibiotics per kilogram of meat produced than any other nation in the world – and we use 12 times as much as the country using the least, Norway. In doing so we are jeopardizing our future ability to treat killer diseases, all for the sake of so-called “cheap” animal protein and short-term industry profit. In this case, by coming in first, we may actually be in danger of losing it all.
Just last week Professor Lance Price from the TGen Centre for Microbiomics and Human Health in Arizona spoke in London, the site of this years’ Olympic Games, to highlight not American excellence, but American failings, saying that U.S. lawmakers were “significantly further behind Europe” after the European Union banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in 2006.
| March 26, 2012
Whether it’s the regular tweets of the big-name food pundits or the countless anonymous contributors to online food discussions, an astonishing amount of advice is now dished out on what food we should buy and where we should buy it. While much of this guidance is sound and reasonable, some of it is wildly inaccurate or just downright unrealistic.
Take the latest mantra that cropped up in an online discussion that I was following: ‘Before you buy any food you should go and visit the farm, because that will answer all your questions.’ Buying direct from the farm or at the farmers’ market is something I wholeheartedly enjoy supporting. In doing so, my family hasn’t bought into the appalling practices of industrial agriculture; we’ve used our dollars to support local farms – and the food usually tastes great, too. But is it realistic to expect every conscientious consumer to have the time and ability to actually visit the farm first – let alone the expertise to assess what they see when they get there?
| March 14, 2012
Last week, The Daily broke the news that the USDA planned to buy 7 million pounds of Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT) – otherwise known as “pink slime” – for school lunches. Some reports state that 70% of prepackaged grind on retailers’ shelves contain it. The resulting backlash has had more effect than anyone expected. Following a public outcry and hundreds of thousands of signatories to petitions to try to get the product out of schools, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), the world’s leading producer of BLBT, has launched a new counteroffensive website “pink slime is a myth.” So where does the truth lie?
Obviously, Boneless Lean Meat Trimmings sounds a lot more appetizing than “pink slime.” But whatever you call it, what is it? And how is it produced? The “pink slime is a myth” website says that BLBT is the meat and fat that is trimmed away when beef is cut. This is true as far as it goes. But BLBT isn’t quite the same as the bits of meat that you or your butcher might cut off the edge of a steak or other piece of meat. BLBT is the fatty trimmings that even BPI agrees couldn’t be separated with the knife. In the past, these trimmings were used for pet food or converted into oil rather than being served as hamburgers to people.
| March 12, 2012
On the heels of a previous report highlighting lack of enforcement and oversight in our food system, the U.S. Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) new report on whether milk marketed as organic actually meets the National Organic Program’s standards is a real wake-up call to the organic community.
And so it should be. Consumers pay a significant premium for organic products and rightly expect transparency and oversight. However, the OIG’s new report, “Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program – Organic Milk,” exposes major failings of the National Organic Program’s (NOP) certification and auditing systems. At a time when consumers are turning their backs on industrialized farming systems – and genetically modified (GM) farming in particular – the new report raises real questions about exactly what people are paying for when they buy organic milk.
| February 2, 2012
No one takes health and fitness more seriously than today’s top football players. So isn’t it kind of absurd that as we watch Sunday’s game we will all be bombarded by advertisements for some of the unhealthiest junk food imaginable? And as we admire the speed, strength and agility of our gridiron heroes, chances are that most of the millions of chicken wings and burgers that will be consumed at Super Bowl parties across the U.S. will have come from industrialized livestock farming systems that are damaging to the environment, to animal welfare, and ultimately to our own health.
As two titans of the football world clash this Sunday, there is one Titan football player who is already leading by example. Will Witherspoon is linebacker for the Tennessee Titans – and a sustainable farmer. Will is passionate about producing healthy and nutritious food on his Animal Welfare Approved Shire Gate Farm near Owensville, Missouri. As a professional athlete involved in one of the world’s most physical sports, Will is particularly aware of the health benefits of grassfed, high-welfare farming.
“My cattle are raised as nature intended, on grass, and aren’t fed growth hormones, antibiotics or other unnatural additives,” says Will. “As a pro football player, I can’t take over-the-counter cold medicine without letting my trainer know about it. So why would I want my kids eating beef from cattle fed hormones or routine antibiotics?”
| December 28, 2011
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.