Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Transparency or Hype? There is a difference!

When we livestock breeders and producers talk about transparency we want you, the consumer, to know what it is we do, how we do it, and why. There are certain things that the law requires us to do, like annual bangs testing, certain vaccinations for breeding animals, keeping logs of any and all medications used etc. All of this information is kept on file for review at any time.
Livestock inspections take place whenever animals are sold or move into slaughter channels. The Brand Inspector comes out and logs which animals are going where and checks to make sure all the paperwork is in order. They don't come out for "Wellness Checks" unless there has been a problem in the herd or flock that requires monitoring for health reasons such as a Brucellosis positive test or Coccidiosis infection.. (and that is done by the State Vet.)
Most Livestock producers follow accepted protocols set down by the USDA, and BQA as well as PQA Certifications are becoming more and more prominent.(These programs do require on site voluntary inspection)

What we as Producers do by choice is provide our customers with an outline of how we manage our herds and flocks, our feeds and feed sources, and our pasture/ range management techniques. We take our customers out to see the animals that will eventually grace their plate, and explain why we follow a given feeding/ raising model. Not everyone does everything the same way. For example:
We raise Purebred Angus and Simangus crosses. In order to market that beef as Angus we have to follow specific guidelines set down by Angus Source verification protocols. The same holds true for Grass fed and Finished. There are guidelines that must be followed to legally make these claims. Grass fed doesn't always mean Grass Finished, But Grass Finished always means Grass Fed.
When it is time for our animals to go to slaughter there are two distinctly different ways this is done.
If that animal is to be Custom Killed for Farm Members, The Butcher comes to the ranch, dispatches the animal on site, and takes the carcass back to their abbatoir for Processing. The resulting cuts from any animal may not be sold at retail, This is called CUSTOM processing. The only exception to this rule is poultry.
If an animal is to be sold at retail, farmers markets, or on line, it must be USDA Inspected AND Processed. If it does not have a USDA inspection stamp on both the carcass and the final packaged product it is not legal for sale. There are also requirements for approved storage facilities prior to sale. These facilities must be licensed and regularly inspected by The Department of Environmental Health or the product is not legal for retail sale. Another myth that needs busting is the fact that USDA inspected means legal for sale. Not So! If your butcher has USDA inspected product he can sell it to you legally at retail, You cannot legally re-sell that product. Why not? Because it was not packaged for final sale under USDA inspection. Meats that are USDA inspected and processed here in California always arrive at their final point of sale vacuum sealed with a clearly legible label affixed to the shipping container or on each individual piece. If it is offered any other way other than at a butcher shop or store it was not Packaged under USDA inspection.
Now, lets move on to Quality and Niche claims.
Yup there are rules that govern that too. If you raise what are known as Heritage or Rare breeds of livestock you have to be able to back up those claims with verifiable paperwork. Just because a pig has Berkshire, Tamworth, or Old Spot markings, doesn't make it a Heritage Breed. You have to be able to prove that that pig is what you claim it to be. The same holds true for Beef cattle like Galloways, Parks, and Pinsgauer, and sheep like Tunis, Khatadin and St Croix. These animals must be verified as Heritage Breeds or they can't be sold as such, and cross breds can never carry the Heritage claim.The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has the requirements clearly defined on their web page.
If you claim breed specific products the same holds true. For example: We offer Berkshire Pork, The label on that product shows the Berkshire Verification stamp in addition to the USDA stamp. Our other pastured pork is not always breed specific so does not have the Berkshire Label on it. Our Angus cattle sell under the Angus Source Verified label and it appears on the package. Cross bred beef does not have the Angus Source Verified seal.
Same thing for quality. Beef and lamb under USDA inspection can be graded for quality, this is voluntary and costs extra, but in order for us to say that our Grass Fed and Finished beef and lamb grades Choice or higher we have to be able to prove it. And the only way to legally make that claim is to pay for that added inspection.(and get that blue stamp on that carcass!) Grass fed and Finished Beef  and lamb will grade Choice or better under proper management and we are proud of the fact that we can make this claim.
I get upset when I see things like Gold label, Premium, or other baseless claims on products. I think it is false advertizing and gives a distorted image.  Look for local farmers and ranchers that can back up their claims with verifiable proof not hype and whitewash. If a marketing claim seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Until next time!

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