In 2006, I competed in the National FFA Extemporaneous Speaking Contest. If you're not familiar with the contest, participants draw three topics with 30 minutes to prepare a five-minute speech on the topic of the student's choice. In my second round at nationals, I drew the topic: how can we promote other options like grass-fed, natural or organic without damaging the image of conventionally raised beef?
Five years ago, this was a relevant question, and it’s one that has value today, as well, especially considering the hundreds of options consumers have to choose from when walking up and down the grocery store aisle. How do they decipher the labels and different claims? I believe this is a burden that we as food producers need to shoulder. We need to do a better job of explaining the many choices our customers have, without bashing one another.
Cooking Light magazine recently published an article entitled, "The grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef debate," which discusses this very important topic. The article was featured on CNN Health, and here is an excerpt from the piece:
"A large herd's worth of beef cattle has passed through the Cooking Light Test Kitchen over the past 24 years, almost all of it standard-issue, grain-fed supermarket meat. But with beef, as with everything in the American diet, change is afoot. Shoppers are seeing more and more grass-fed beef in regular grocery stores, along with meat from breeds marketed as special (like Angus), and meat from organically raised animals. The local/sustainable movement has been singing the praises of the grass-fed cow, while the grain-fed industry has been under attack by food activists," writes Kim Cross for Cooking Light magazine.
Although the magazine reprints some of the old wives’ tales about the grass-fed beef vs. conventionally raised corn-fed beef, they do aim to correct the misconceptions about Omega 3s. While my intention isn’t to spread misinformation, I think you might benefit from checking out some of the consumer and rancher comments in the feedback section of the article. These comments help us to figure out what information our customers are looking for and how best we can serve all markets.
If there’s one take-away message I can share, it’s this: Natural, organic, grass-fed or grain-fed are all viable options that serve to fit the needs and preferences of our consumers. While there are certainly differences, there is one constant among them all — beef sold in the U.S. is federally inspected, respectfully harvested and is a safe and wholesome product that enriches human lives. Share that positive news and skip the bashing. It’s the reassurance our consumers need to hear from us.
What do you think of the article? What kind of beef do you raise? What are some misconceptions about your product that you would like to correct? Looking forward to your feedback. Thanks for your participation! For additional information on this topic, link to this article about natural beef production.