Put Your Money Where Your Pork Is

What do you do when your brand message teeters fictional? Put Your Money Where Your Pork Is – which is exactly what Chipotle did last month when they discovered one of their pork suppliers failed to meet their highly branded loyalty to animal welfare.

Walk the TalkChipotle

It’s easy to say you “serve only the best”, but how willing are you actually to walk the talk? Chipotle devotes pages of their website to FWI – Food With Integrity. (BOLD, to say the least!) Their written devotion to FWI is so in depth, in fact, one could characterize their marketing mantra as bordering on the obsessive.

When you repeatedly advertise a commitment to finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment, and farmers, you better be willing to back it up. Chipotle could have easily dealt with the supply chain fail on the QT but opted instead to address it publically – a definite walk the talk move on their part.

When a national chain opts for transparency over liquidity, it’s big (and refreshing) news. Chipotle pulled their pork carnitas from hundreds of their restaurants and posted a sign reading: Sorry, no carnitas. Due to supply constraints, we are currently unable to serve our responsibly raised pork. Trust us, we’re just as disappointed as you, and as soon as we get it back we’ll let the world know. Customer no carnitasloyalty and positive press prevailed pursuant.

Chain Reaction

Another point in Chipotle’s favor was the fact they refused to name the supplier who failed to meet their standards. In lieu of finger pointing, they chose to help bring the supplier’s “operations into compliance.” It was a class move by corporate standards, but not one void of potential other subsequent fallouts.

Whenever your customer takes a public eye hit, a trickle down chain reaction can occur. Such was the case for Niman Ranch, one of the most respected brands in the business and also Chipotle’s largest pork supplier. Was Niman negligent? Certainly not, but those, not in the know would certainly wonder.

Niman prudently followed Chipolte’s lead and spoke publically about it. What ensued was a highly publicized trail of what Niman was doing to help Chipotle get back up to speed in a real time demonstration of what a solid working relationship between merchant and supplier should look like.

NimanThe crux of this public relations issue is deeply attached to what makes meat natural – how animals are raised with respect to their environments if they’re free of growth hormones, antibiotics, etc. When you are committed to honoring sustainable practices, expediency is a non-issue – it takes more time to produce things naturally.

Unlike cows that bear one calf at a time over a 9 + month gestation period, it only takes 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days for a litter of pigs to be born. 114 days may not seem like a long time, but add to that the amount of time it takes to reach harvest maturity, and it becomes vividly clear how a supply chain gap can quickly sever fluid output.

Moral of the Story

Chipotle’s challenge was twofold: 1) tarnish brand perception by operating outside of message and 2) risk the loss of an ingratiated mass appeal. Offending Millennials, now the biggest consumer population in the U.S., who rank honesty as a top priority, and Chipotle almost just as high, wasn’t worth the risk. Anything but a celeritous and straightforward move could prove fatal for years to come.

The moral of this story is transparency trumps short term gain.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Antibiotics & Pork Production

antibiotics-for-agricultureLast week news broke on China’s pending acquisition of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer. The United States pork industry harvests slightly over 100 million pigs annually, about 59 pounds per capita in pork consumption. Smithfield produces about 26 million pigs per year, over 20% of the U.S. total harvest. China’s pork industry consumes over 700 million pigs annually, about 80 pounds per capita in pork consumption.

More than 700,000 tons of pork are imported to China per year to keep up with its growing demand. The billion+ Chinese population has an insatiable appetite for pork, so much so it was announced last week that a meat company in China is willing to pay $4.7 billion for Smithfield Foods. Though Smithfield already exports to China, the acquirer will likely increase pork production volumes to help secure the food supply.

Antibiotics manufacturers may be the most happy about the acquisition because 80% of the antibiotics manufactured are used on livestock and China uses four times the amount of veterinary antibiotics than the United States.   

The Evolution of Antibiotics in Production

The discovery of antibiotics by Sir Alexander Fleming in the late 1920’s transformed medicine and changed the world in remarkable ways. Fleming’s discovery ultimately became Penicillin, the antibiotic that saved lives by curing bacterial infections. It was mass produced during World War II for therapeutic use to treat our troops and became known as “The Wonder Drug” in medicine. Medical scientists continued research, and the 1940’s discovered other naturally occurring antibiotics such as Tetracycline could be used therapeutically to cure infection.

In the late 1940’s, the poultry industry discovered that feeding the fermentation byproducts of Tetracycline antibiotics to chickens improved their growth – thus began the “sub therapeutic” use of antibiotics: purposely adding low levels of antibiotics as growth promoters to increase yield. 

The U.S. post World War II economic boom brought about industrial farming. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) were built to mass produce chicken and pork. Smithfield Foods operates Concentrated Animal Fecafoeding Operations (CAFOs) to mass produce pork.

CAFOs house thousands of animals confined in pens where they are mass fed to fatten them up as quickly as possible. Pigs are crammed into giant buildings in stalls so small they can’t turn around. Unable to express their natural behavior in these stalls, their muscles become weak. Pigs’ immune systems in these overpopulated environments are so weakened that disease and infection spread rapidly amongst them.

The sub therapeutic use of antibiotics in CAFOs serves a dual purpose: Accelerating animal growth and staving off the increased propensity for disease and infection. This type of antibiotic administration in low doses also facilitates the rapid evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Some bacteria develop mutations that make them immune to the same drugs meant to kill them.  

An example of this type of mutation is MRSA ST398, a potentially deadly form of MRSA that has jumped from farm animals to humans. This strain has developed resistance to modern drugs while living in farm animals reared with antibiotics.  It has now leapt back from the farm animals to people and is resistant to common antibiotic drugs used to treat MRSA. 

This strain, sometimes called pig MRSA, has been detected in 47% of the meat samples in the U.S. across pigs, turkeys, cattle, and other livestock. A study published in 2011 by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGRI) showed that MRSA was finding its way into our meats. Researchers analyzed 136 samples of beef, poultry and pork from 36 supermarkets in California, Illinois, Florida, Arizona and Washington, D.C. Nearly one-quarter of the samples tested positive for MRSA. TGRI’s Dr. Paul Keim cautions, “It is our inappropriate use of antibiotics that is now coming back to haunt us.”

The overuse of sub therapeutic antibiotics also causes concern for drug residues that leach into our food supply. These residues can cause an allergic reaction and promote resistant strains of bacteria in our bodies. 

Antibiotic Manufacturers

Drug companies continually work to develop new antibiotics to kill new strains of bacteria such as pig MRSA that become immune to the previous antibiotic meant to kill them. That means big money for the drug manufacturers when a new drug is developed and approved for sale. It is also important to note there are no legal limitations in place policing the amount of antibiotics given to animals.  Eli Lilly’s Elanco Animal Health unit is one of the leading producers of medicated feed additives and represented nearly one-tenth of the company’s $22.6 billion in revenues in 2012.

China’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods may bring even more substantial money for drug companies. The Smithfield acquisition portends to increase their pork production, and that means more CAFOs to produce more pigs. More CAFOs means more pigs and more antibiotic purchase orders. This stands to reason why the drug companies may be the most happy about China’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods.

Antibiotic Free Pork

Buyers who want to avoid pork raised with antibiotics need to gain a clear understanding of label jargon and USDA guidelines. One term that often causes confusion is the word “Natural”. The USDA’s definition of Natural is:

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

The USDA approved use of Natural on the label does not speak to the exclusion of administered antibiotics. An example of this can be found on the label of Smithfield All Natural Fresh Pork: Product of the USA; No added steroids or hormones; No artificial ingredients or preservatives; USDA Process Verified.

Smithfield’s claims for its All Natural Fresh Pork is void of key claims such as “raised without antibiotics”, or “never administered antibiotics”, but does include “no artificial ingredients” as required by the USDA guidelines. It is also important to note that “hormones” by law, are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry! Producers will often add such jargon to make their products appear better wherever possible.

For those interested in a finely defined natural product that is, in fact, free of antibiotics there are stricter label definitions. Highly defined all Natural meats usually come with one or more of the following package statements: Never Administered Antibiotics; Raised Without Antibiotics, and when applicable, Raised Without Added Hormones. Products with these highly defined claims on their labels confirm that the animals were never administered antibiotics or growth hormones to accelerate weight gain and speed to market during their lifetime.

Look for companies like Niman Ranch who prohibit the use of antibiotics and CAFOs in their hog raising protocols, which they make common public knowledge. For more resources, check our complete line of antibiotic free meats.

Sources used:

http://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Antibiotic_Use_for_Farm_Animals

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-antibiotics-residue-20130526,0,4432412.story

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-0530-china-food-20130530,0,7044429.story

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/02/11/chinas-overuse-of-antibiotics-in-livestock-may-threaten-human-health

http://books.google.com/books?id=OIwNri9k3vgC&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=tetracycline+fermentation+byproducts&source=bl&ots=FEsPKhSkLk&sig=zXKmP7o19r7__4-Y_Q6571zLFXk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=9QuqUfGGLqi7ywHw74HoAQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=tetracycline%20fermentation%20byproducts&f=false

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/02/11/chinas-overuse-of-antibiotics-in-livestock-may-threaten-human-health

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/science/drug-proof-pig-mrsa-makes-leap-736987

http://www.choicesmagazine.org/2003-3/2003-3-01.pdf

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From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine MeatsFacebook  Buedel Fan Page 

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What Makes Meat Natural?

Many consumers assume that when a meat label says “Natural”, it is better for you, better for the environment and that the animals involved were raised without growth hormones or antibiotics in their natural environments.  However this is not necessarily always the case.  Many national brands loosely use the term “Natural” on their products without any of the above attributes being met – and it is perfectly legal to do so.

The USDA provides clear and specific definitions for “Natural” and “Organic” product labeling. It is important to understand that foods which meet USDA organic certification are authorized to use the “USDA Organic” seal, which has the word ‘organic’ on it. “Natural” labeling requirements per the USDA are quite different.

What the USDA Means by Natural

The definition of “Natural” according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the agency responsible for ensuring truthfulness and accuracy in labeling of meat and poultry products is as follows:

NATURAL  A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means the product is processed in a manner which does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

Food labeling can be ambiguous and tough to digest at times (pardon the pun). The easiest way to grasp a firm comprehension for industry terms is to connect the dots between definition and application.

The USDA definition of Natural for fresh meats, such as beef, pork, veal and lamb, means the meat is processed (harvested at the packing plant) without using food additives during processing such as: flavor enhancers, food colorings, binders, nitrites, phosphates, and the like.  Again: USDA Natural means that meat was harvested at a packaging plant without using food additives.

Fresh meat packing plants that harvest beef, pork, veal or lamb and fabricate them into sub primal cuts for retail and food service, do so without fundamentally altering the meat with artificial ingredients or added colorings – this is standard practice today.

Technically then, meat packers can label many of their brands Natural and many do. This is evidenced by the plethora of brand names in the market today making natural claims on their labels poised with pictures and stories of beautiful farms and green pastures making you feel warm and fuzzy about the product you’re purchasing.

What You Expect from Natural …is probably missing

The USDA’s definition of “Natural” does not speak to the exclusion of growth hormones and antibiotics, or humane animal treatment or sustainable farming practices. But that’s what most consumers, Restaurateurs and Chefs are looking for when they want truly “Natural” meats.

How to Find the Natural You (Really) Want

For those looking for a more complete natural product, there are stricter label definitions for “Natural”  to keep watch for. Highly defined all Natural meats usually come with one or more of the following package statements:

Never/Ever Growth Hormones or Antibiotics  Animals raised in this program were never, ever, given growth hormones to accelerate weight gain and speed to market, nor were the animals given antibiotics during their lifetime. These animals are raised on an all natural 100% vegetarian diet up to harvest.

Humanely Raised  Animals are raised outdoors in open pastures where they are free to roam with plenty of access to food and water.  As compared to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, “CAFOs”, where animals are raised in confined indoor industrial farming pens.

Sustainably Raised  These animals are raised in harmony with farming practices that preserve the land and water for future generations such as seasonal crop rotation and fewer animals per acre.  (The Chipolte restaurant chain presented an excellent illustration of sustainable practice in their last Super Bowl commercial.)

Quality, Cost & Satisfaction

One of the easiest ways to shop for high quality Natural meats is to become familiar with the brands which produce at this level.  Niman Ranch and Tallgrass Beef  are two industry leaders who employ the stricter definition of Natural. These types of brands do cost more than commodity meats and those brands claiming the lesser USDA definition of “Natural” on their label because it costs more to raise the animals these ways.

There is a growing trend for “Farm to Fork” foods and meats.  To make sure your values and needs are being met when choosing “Natural” meats, match your desires to the appropriate label definitions.

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From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

 

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