Because of your questions I’ve been spurred to do some ‘market research’ – exploring what is being offered in the beef sections of five of the major, well-recognized, large supermarkets in Oklahoma, each of which tout bringing healthy, fresh foods to their customers.
First market: This market has devoted an entire page of their website to explaining the importance of and standards of organic farming – this store has no organic beef for sale. What? They do have a placard on the display counter stating “pastured and grain” which made me curious enough to inquire as to the meaning. The meat market supervisor explained, “All this beef comes from ranches where the cattle graze in pastures until about three weeks prior to going to slaughter at which time they are fed grain (corn) to put fat into their meat.” Really! My next question should have been “where are these ranches?” but I was so shocked with the cattle diet that no other questions immediately popped up. Once I recover I may go back, not to purchase that beef, but to ask a few more questions.
Second market: This market has an intriguing meat department, including over-the-top promotion of Angus beef. This came as no surprise because of what you, the consumer, have taught us over the years which brought us the realization of the excellent advertising the Angus Association does in promoting their ‘breed’. While we do raise red and black Angus we believe our customers are equally concerned about the healthiness of their meat. What makes beef healthy? Do you believe living conditions, environment, and diets of cattle effect the healthiness of the finished product? Let’s sum it up by saying any breed of beef could be found in any environment! In addition to raving about Angus beef this venue has display racks offering wet or dry aged beef – and while I believe there will be some flavor differences due to aging, I’ve yet to find supported documentation of aging effecting the healthiness of the finished product. There was no mention of feeding program or organic in this marketplace.
Third market: Because of my total commitment to avoid ever entering this store I feel fortunate to know someone who raises beef specifically for this particular market with whom I can communicate. You gotta’ hand it to ‘big box’ for listening to their consumers who, interestingly, are asking for grass fed beef – but did they really listen? From dialogue I learned that ranchers purchase beef when and where available (feedlots/sales rings – with absolutely no idea of previous diet), put on grass for a relatively short time, and take to slaughter. In other words, this retailer demands the animal has some grass even if you and I define grass fed as a ‘lifetime’ grass diet.
Fourth market: What an encounter. I had a glorious pre-conceived idea as to what I would find here – I’d been told this market has the best organic food selection of any. There was an abundance of organic produce available; the meat selection, especially beef, was extremely limited – but at least they had organic ground beef which is more than the previous visited three markets.
I breathed a sigh-of-relief when I noticed the USDA organic seal on a couple of packages and a brand name which reminded me of a State in the US. I’m thinking “this is cool” – until I Googled their website and read, “We source beef in the US, Uruguay and Australia…” Seriously?
I was about to leave the meat section when my eyes were drawn to: “PASTURE RAISED OR IN DEEPLY BEDDED PENS” Okay, I’m confused - is it pastured, in pens or both? Picking up the brands brochure, out came the iPhone, and up came their website. There I found the procedure by which pastured livestock are brought into confinement areas for finishing. In other words, beeves are on grass; beeves are finished on grain. That’s not all – the list of acceptable ‘food stuff’ for the finishing diet (while in the feed yard) includes corn, soy, and more.
Fifth market: Making my way to my final stop with yet another pre-conceived idea of finding organic beef sold here. In fact, one lady has inquired as to the difference between Cattle Tracks Organic Beef and what she gets at “XYZ”. How I wish I’d done this research earlier so I could have answered more appropriately instead of saying the only differences could be in organic diets. There it is – the package says “organic” -- but organic is a part of the brand; there is no certification seal! While I stand watching shoppers sort through packages of beef a lady approached the meat market manager and asks if there would be more organic ground beef in the stock room. He excuses himself and quickly returns with a tray full of the same. Again, absolutely no organic certification seal on one package! I’m consulting with USDA to learn more – stay tuned for another report!
There’s more - alongside the brand label is the store label with these words: “product of Uruguay.” iPhones are so helpful in situations like this! There are 5,376 miles between Uruguay and Oklahoma. Now my stomach is churning and my mind is twirling as to how in the world (no pun intended) does this beef stay cool from the starting line to the 5,376th mile finish line, what’s the time line, who raises this beef in the first place, and on-and-on. OH – the difference between locally raised, certified organic beef – truth in labeling!
Well, here I am – at my desk running all these findings through my mind and looking (for the hundredth time) at the pictures on my iPhone of these products as they appear on shelves in these venues who are beating-the-drum on behalf of offering healthy food to you and I. Some of them go so far as stating they provide local, but notice they always follow with “when available” (you know, like the fine print you find in the menu of the restaurant that serves locally sourced foods).
What next? Under the federal spending bill the Country-of-Origin labeling rule has been repealed by Congress and Obama has added his signature to this bill. In other words, soon we won’t have a clue where our food is grown, unless you decide to make ‘local’ purchases from real people who live on real farms, know their livestock, and care about raising healthy food for you and your family. The decision to repeal comes after a ruling by the World Trade Organization that found that the labels discriminate against meat raised and slaughtered in countries other than the US. Earlier The World Trade Organization allowed Mexico and Canada (US top ag-partners) to impose more than $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation if the labels were not removed. There you have it – the World Trade Organization is helping fill your plate and folks, I can fill my own plate without politics! GEEZ!!
We Oklahomans are a fortunate lot; we have the opportunity to eat a wide variety of foods grown within the boundaries of our State, cared for by our fellow Oklahomans. Better yet, we have the opportunity to know the farmer; you can walk across the land with the farmer, you can view sunrises and sunsets across the fields, you can watch the rancher tend his livestock. From conversations, observations, certifications, and verifications you can determine whether the growing methods and feeding programs are the standards by which you want your food measured. We can know farmers – we can know our food!