Latest Meat Scare –Another Good Reason to Go with Local and Organic Producers
Did you read the latest scare about our meat supply from Consumer Reports? It cites some USDA data about banned drugs in our meat supply and calls into question (once again) the safeguards we have in place to monitor that supply. USDA has dismissed the report because the data shared was actually preliminary and not a truthful representation of the facts and claims that Consumer Reports real agenda is to get folks to reduce their meat consumption.
I won’t try to dive into the details on this situation to persuade you one way or the other in this particular debate. Rather I want to encourage everyone, wherever possible, to intentionally seek out USDA Organic and local livestock producers for as much of your meat needs as possible. Why might your meat be safer from an organic and/or local producer? Let’s start with organic. While organic certification doesn’t guarantee that your meat won’t be contaminated with something, it does add another layer of monitoring via the certification and monitoring processes. Also, in the South, many of the certified organic livestock producers are small to mid-scale operations that are customer relationship minded. They want you to know their operations and know them personally. They have a very strong incentive to provide you with a top notch, safe product that is the cleanest on the market. They are proud of the extra management effort they put into caring for their livestock that allows them to avoid using chemical parasiticides and other livestock drugs. They don’t use chemical fertilizers or herbicides on their pastures and they rely on good quality forages from these pastures for as much of the nourishment of the animals as possible. When feed is required (hard to avoid for poultry and hogs particularly), it has to be certified Organic, which also means that it is GMO free. Then during processing the meat must be handled in a facility that was inspected by an organic certifier and processed without any artificial colors, preservatives, or flavors. These folks are really stepping up their game to provide the best.
If you can’t find or perhaps afford local organic certified producers, finding a good local producer who sells directly to local customers is a good start. While it is a little dangerous to generalize, many local farmers who sell directly to the consumer also have a focus on sustainability and, again, believe in building strong relationships with their customers. They will be glad to tell you about their production practices. Many may be utilizing organic methods but, for whatever reason, have chosen to not be certified. The other reality is that most of these farmers are getting their meat processed in smaller packing houses that may only process dozens of animals in a day as opposed to the hundreds or thousands processed in large facilities. Having been in packing plants large and small, I can tell you that while both work diligently to maintain cleanliness and quality; you can guess how much attention each carcass gets from an inspector in a large plant versus a small plant. Some local producers will also offer you a less expensive option (per pound) of purchasing a quarter or half of a beef or hog or lamb, etc. Generally when this is done the processing is being done at a custom plant and the meat will be labeled “not for sale” as it is being done just for a particular customer and doesn’t have a USDA inspector onsite during processing. This can be a perfectly fine option as long as you have confidence in your processor.
So do a little homework and find out what organic/local meats sources you have in your area. No, I cannot guarantee the safety of this or any product, but I do believe that some of the additional safeguards built into organic and the producer-customer relationship tied to local provide some additional assurances that the USDA inspection stamp alone cannot provide. Plus, you get the added benefit of helping keep local farmers on the land while maintaining or rebuilding the rural economy on which those farmers depend (suppliers, processors, feed mills, etc.) It will cost you a little more in the short term but be better for our food and farming system in the long term.
-Steve Muntz, Executive Director, SSAWG