Righteous Porkchop: Vegetarian Rancher Explains How to Raise Animals the Right Way and the Ills of Factory Farms
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Bill believes it is important to have grass-fed beef, but only available seasonally, at those times of year when the animals have been on very high-quality pasture for a good long period of time. The cattle would go to slaughter from that point. The reason those larger grass-fed beef companies are putting cattle in dry lots and feeding rice bran is to make it a year-round product. In other words, to make it available even when there's not enough natural vegetation to keep the animals in good condition. That's why I'm skeptical of coming up with a big company to do grass-fed beef,. A big company must have to have a year-round supply and it wouldn't be possible to have enough quality pasture throughout the year. That was something Bill was exploring with Niman Ranch the last few years he was there -- he was producing a small amount of totally grass-fed beef every year, to build the interest and tweak the methodology. You could have a company where that is part of what you offer. I don't see a way to do it as the only product.
TL: And most people don't think of a hamburger as being a seasonal food.
NHN: Right. All of the work we do involves getting people to approach eating differently. To think of everything that they are eating -- not just meat -- but to think of eating overall as something that is different every day depending on what's happening on the land. In our household we do a lot of canning and freezing. I'm going to get involved in drying foods, as well. We are working on more of an approach that tries to eat as closely to the seasons and then preserve foods for the off-season. Of course, you're never going to be perfect, but you do what you can.
TL: These days there are a lot of labels on food -- from 'organic' to 'humanely raised.' Are any of them particularly useful or are they doing more harm than good?
NHN: I think in general the best foods are not available in a typical supermarket. But if you're going to be in a supermarket, you have to depend on labels. If it says it is raised on pasture that's the best. The second best is the organic label. Those are both very good. I think that as far as a humane label, the only one that is very good is the Animal Welfare Approved label (AWA), from the Animal Welfare Institute. They are the only ones in my opinion that give a consumer the assurance that the food is not from what most people would consider a factory farm. Some of these humane labels, they have really specific things like where the fire extinguishers should be located yet they allow the animals to be continually confined in metal sheds with no windows. How can that be humane?
I believe that the fundamental thing that most people want to know is were these animals raised in a factory farm type setting -- and some of these labels do allow that. The only one that really doesn't allow that is the Animal Welfare Approved label. They really truly don't. The AWA standards require that all the animals be given outdoor access and, they don't allow crowded conditions. They are also the only standards that require animals to be raised on a family farm. The farmers must own the animals, (so you can't have contract growing), and the proprietors must provide the majority of the labor. The AWA standards also require that the owners live on and operate the farm. The reason AWA demand that is that is in their experience it makes a huge difference in the lives of the animals - people who actually own and control the farm and their animals have a much greater stake in the animals' welfare. I also like the family farm requirement for another reason. From a community standpoint and an environmental standpoint, when you have people truly in charge of and running a farm and living there, they are more concerned about their neighbors and their own quality of life.