For me, one of the main issues I see in agriculture is confusion in the marketplace. There are all kinds of labels, and the ways stores and brands use terms like “organic,” “humane,” and “natural” is too loose. Consumers ask, “why is your product so expensive where there is “natural” beef in the store that is half as costly?” But those “natural” steers have never drank mother’s milk or touched a blade of grass. How exactly is that “natural?”
It is possible this reeducation will have to come from some of the big retailers like Whole Foods or Chipotle who started educating the public about food, but have spread some misunderstandings along the way. An example of this is Whole Foods’ “vegetarian fed” meat program. While cows eat a vegetarian diet, it is not natural for pigs and chickens to be herbivores. So a program that forces animals to eat an unnatural diet in order to make customers happy is not good for anyone – it just creates more confusion in the market place about what is truly “natural” and good for animals.
I think we can take advantage of social networking to spread the gospel of good meat and to educate people about food. Tools like facebook are very powerful and have such great potential to help unravel the confusion of the marketplace. But for ranchers like myself, we are far too busy to also get online and also run this kind of website or create the technology to do it. Maybe that’s a business for someone else, but it would help the industry a lot.
Bill Niman is a cattle and turkey rancher in Northern California, proprietor of BN Ranch, and Founder of the natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc. He has been providing naturally raised beef, pork, and lamb to fine restaurants and retailers for more than thirty years. In contrast to the conventional meat industry, Niman’s animals are always raised using traditional husbandry methods, eschewing hormones, antibiotics, and slaughterhouse feed additives.
Niman has been named “Food Artisan of the Year” by Bon Appetit magazine, the “Master of Meat” by Wine Spectator, the “Guru of Happy Cows” by the Los Angeles Times, “a pioneer of the good meat movement” by the New York Times, “the Steve Jobs of Meat” by Men’s Journal, and a “Pork Pioneer” by Food & Wine. He has also won numerous awards, including the “best bacon….hands down winner” by Cook’s Illustrated.