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1208 PD: Natural beef redefined

Baxter Black Published on 15 August 2008

Ah, what a tangled web we weave in our search for market niches.

What has caught my eye is the USDA-AG Marketing Services’ solicitation of comments regarding changing the requirements for livestock to be called, “Naturally Raised.”

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I feel the need to explain that I am heartily in favor of grain growers, dairymen, poyoqueros (chicken cowboys) and ranchers, finding a niche market. One that has a perceived benefit to entice the consumer. For instance, “Florida Oranges,” “Seedless Grapes,” “Free Range Chicken,” “Wild Salmon” or “Buffalo Shot in Yellowstone Park!”

“Organic” and “Natural” are two niches that have entered into the livestock meat market. The concept promoted is that animals that are as close to “untouched by human chemicals” as possible, should be better for you. In my circle, I occasionally run into the “typical” organic/natural consumer. Affluent, sincere and unknowledgeable of anything about raising animals. The perfect customer!

But when I engage an organic zealot, whose message is that organic/natural meat is better for you, I delve a little deeper. Are you aware of the beef tapeworm and trichinosis in pork? Does it matter that the animals you prefer could suffer from blowflies, cattle grubs, lice, lungworms, liver flukes, chronic enteritis, bronchitis, listeriosis and a myriad of other diseases that could easily have been treated? It is at that moment I realize they don’t know and don’t care! They have no way to connect real life with perception. Like I say … the perfect customer.

The problem today is that cattlemen, regardless of whether they are raising ‘natural’ or mainstream cattle, are still cattlemen. They know the value of growth promotants, antibiotics, coccid stats, vaccines and deworming. Because of this, the erosion of the definition of ‘natural’ begins. The USDA has proposed loosening standards to permit certain of the aforementioned ailments to be treated or prevented. Which ones? Your choice. They have suggested a producer may choose to label and market his cattle as:

1) Official USDA Certified Naturally Raised, or

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2) Naturally raised by whatever definition you the consumer chooses (not certified), or

3) Natural Beef.

Well, I’m torn by which way to go. As a niche marketing enthusiast, I say keep your standards! Natural is not supposed to be for pofolk. It costs more to the consumer because we don’t spend any money on the cattle health care to promote wellness and gain. But the veterinarian in me says even healthy-looking animals have parasites and old lung abscesses. Even if we can charge more, if we don’t use modern veterinary practices, is it the right thing to do?

In conclusion, for the sake of the animals, I guess I’d let them treat and prevent disease and market them as “Virtually Natural All Beef Luxury Food.” PD

Baxter Black

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