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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Have a little faith in Chipotle

Chipotle is a restaurant that many people have asked me about throughout its tenure in the ranks of fast food restaurants. Chipotle began in 1993, but many people did not hear about it until it opened up shop(s) on their main street.

I always dismissed Chipotle as another big corporation trying to "humane wash" their food, with no rBGH and pretty pictures of cows on their walls. After all, they are a fast food chain and McDonald's had a 87 percent stake in the company. Even though McDonald's sold its shares in 2006, I never looked back. I always ordered the vegan burrito... until now?

The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation just released this moving video about factory farms.

The video, "Back to the Start" features Coldplay's The Scientist, covered by country music singer, family farm advocate and co-founder of Farm Aid, Willie Nelson.

The description of the video reads:
The film, by film-maker Johnny Kelly, depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future. Both the film and the soundtrack were commissioned by Chipotle to emphasize the importance of developing a sustainable food system.
So what is this? Is it just humane washing like Horizon Organic or the Happy Cows Come From California ads?

I oddly don't think so...

It appears that Chipotle is taking, and has been taking, a critical step toward going where no fast food chain --and few restaurants-- have gone before. The foundation is a fairly new initiative, and here is what it is aiming to achieve:
The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation is committed to creating a more sustainable and healthful food supply and to raising awareness concerning food issues. This is realized through the support of family farmers and their communities, educators and programs that teach younger generations about food matters, along with support for ranchers and farmers who are working to develop more sustainable practices.

The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation is a non-profit organization established by Chipotle Mexican Grill. Over the last several years, Chipotle has contributed more than $2 million to help fund initiatives that support sustainable agriculture, family farming, culinary education, and innovation that promotes better food. This has included such beneficiaries as: The Jamie Oliver Food Revolution, the Lunch Box, the Nature Conservancy and Veggie U, Niman Scholarship, Culinary Institute of America, The Land Institute, and The Cultivate Foundation will continue with this tradition of giving started by Chipotle.
Hmmm... these are some noteworthy and respectable groups to be in bed with a fast food company...

And on their nascent website they are promoting a budding partnership with, an organization that works with family farmers to build local food systems. The campaign, Wrap What You Love, raised $96,000 for the organization.

Now this is getting interesting....

I did some digging around on the Chipotle website and what I found surprised me, and made me want to hold off on the zucchini casserole tonight and actually go out to Chipotle. Here are excerpts from their animal care section:
PIGS: There are ranchers whose pigs are raised outside or in deeply bedded pens, are never given antibiotics and are fed a vegetarian diet. It's the way animals were raised 50 years ago before huge factory farms changed the industry. We believe pigs that are cared for in this way enjoy happier, healthier lives and produce the best pork we've ever tasted.

We call this style of ranching naturally raised, and since 2001, we have sourced 100% of our pork from producers who follow these guidelines.

BEEF COWS: When we started purchasing naturally raised beef in 1999 we could hardly find any suppliers that met our standards. We’ve put a lot of work into poking, prodding, convincing, and occasionally applying guilt to ranchers in order to get more and more suppliers to meet our naturally raised standards.

Today, thanks to increased demand, we purchase 85 percent of our beef from ranches that meet or exceed our naturally raised standards. We're still working on it, and we won't rest until 100% of our beef is naturally raised.

DAIRY COWS: Currently over 35% of the dairy we serve at Chipotle comes from pasture-raised cows. We are working all the time to increase the number of our suppliers who provide pasture-raised dairy... We’re definitely working on it. Stay tuned.

CHICKEN: By U.S. law, all chicken available today must be raised without added growth hormones. But we’re overachievers. Our ultimate goal is to have 100% of our chickens raised without the use of antibiotics. We also want to avoid any supplier that uses additional additives in their feed, like arsenic. They see this as a way to make chickens grow faster. We think arsenic sounds a lot like poison.
It doesn't seem possible for a huge national chain, with over 1,000 restaurants, to serve humane food. But you can look at models that have worked, like Organic Valley, and see that it is possible. By building a network of local, sustainable and humane farms, you can create a uniform product and sell it nationally.

Clearly Chipotle has some work to do. Only 35 percent of their milk comes from pastured cows. And they don't list their farmers. But what can we do to make sure they stay their course, and all their animal products (not just a percentage) come from humanely treated animals?

1) Go out to a Chipotle, eat their food, and talk to a manager about their sustainable food. If they have response cards, fill one out.

2) Contact them to say you support their sustainable and humane food initiative and want 100 percent humanely raised animals (including dairy!).

3) Make sure they stay their course and are transparent by posting on their Facebook wall and asking them to share what farms they buy from.

4) Share this information with friends and families and ask them to do the same.

As Walter Sobcheck said in the Big Lebowski, "Has the whole world gone crazy?" Can a fast food chain actually be humane? Either Willie Nelson really needs the money (again); the lead singer of Cold Play, Chris Martin, really is crazy (as evidenced by his child named Apple), or a fast food company is taking a giant step forward in the right direction.

We shall see, but for now, I have faith.

Monday, August 29, 2011

News of the Day (NotD): Freedom for Yvonne, Germany's Runaway Cow

By Bill Chappell for NPR.

HuMAIN takeaways:

The fact that an escaped cow, headed to slaughter, could garner international attention says something about our compassion for animals... even the ones we eat. The issue with factory farms and industrial slaughter is that the eater has no connection with the animal.

But ah... here is a story about freedom -- something every human cherishes, something we can relate to -- and we can't help but root for Yvonne. Instead of wanting her on our plates, we want her roaming free.

So what if Yvonne lived here? We would undoubtedly root for Yvonne
just as loudly in the U.S. as we do for her in Germany...

So why don't we root for the roughly
5 million cows living (if you can even call it that) on factory farms in the U.S.?

Read the entire article here:

Follow @publicbill on Twitter!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First farm tour: Reedy Fork Farm

I have been writing about humane food for over a year now. I have eaten at restaurants and sourced their foods, and I have spoken to farmers about their animal treatment -- both of which have informed this blog. I even sourced a local and humane wedding.

But I have never actually gone and seen a working dairy farm.

That changed this weekend when Alex and I went to visit our friends, Susan and Andrew, who --like so many others before them in DC -- moved away for better things. In their case, it was to Durham, NC, which is a town partly defined by a thriving local food movement.

I had just written about what makes Organic Valley stand out among, what Michael Pollan labels, the supermarket pastoral (which is what we, the consumers, envision a farm should look like, idyllically displayed on a carton of eggs, a package of chicken, or a rack of lamb).

I had been wanting to expand the humane food finding expedition to include farm tours, and this trip presented itself as a great opportunity. I asked Alex, Susan and Andrew if they would mind going on a farm tour, and they were all excited.

After doing a quick search on the "Who's your farmer" section of Organic Valley's website, I called an OV farmer to see if we could come by this weekend.

George, the owner and operator of Reedy Fork Farm, was more than happy to accommodate guests, although after seeing how busy he is, I could only come to one conclusion as to why he was happy to add two extra hours onto his 15+ hour day: because, like many small farmers, you love your work so much that you are willing to give the land your sweat and tears so that you can keep it in your family.

We arrived at Reedy Fork Farm on Saturday at 2 pm. On the drive there I was nervous and giddy at the same time. Nervous because I did not know what I would find- would I see something that would make me turn my back on animal farming altogether? Giddy because I was entering a new phase of HumaneFoodFinder and seeing a working farm for the first time.

We were greeted by a large barn with "Reedy Fork Farm" on the side and an Organic Valley placard on the front lawn. A tall man with a bouncy step approached us and told us to park under the tree. George was welcoming, and it was clear that he was eager to show us around.

I want to point out that Reedy Fork Farm is unique because it wasn't always organic. George was a conventional farmer before his wife and daughter encouraged him to go organic, and was then approached by Organic Valley to join their co-op. Now the improvements to his farm, his animals, and his wallet are apparent.

George first took us over to the hutches where the calves are kept until they are old enough to go to pasture. They were curious and timid. When I first saw them in their individual stalls I did not know what to think. Is this normal to have them separated from their mothers and each other? I was so overwhelmed with George's generosity, pride in his farm and honesty that I didn't want to come out of the gate, so to speak, questioning him on the calves, when really... I did not know if this would be considered the best way to treat them.

And I am relieved I didn't ask. After visiting the farm, I did some research on my go-to guru for farm treatment: Humane Farm Animal Care. It is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. solely devoted to humane treatment of animals on farms, and they have created a standards of care for young cows.

Reedy Fork Farm was doing everything right: the animals are kept in big, clean stalls, able to see and interact with each other, go to pasture, and drink milk. George told us that as they got older they would go out to pasture all the time; ladies to produce dairy, gentlemen for beef.

George explained how the calves used to be when raised conventionally. They were fed a heavy grain diet and attracted more flies. Thus George had to pay for pest removal services. Today, the calves eat an organic diet and there are hardly any flies.

After the calves thoroughly nuzzled and licked our hands, we headed to the actual dairy. George explained that the dairy cows got milked twice a day; that's instead of three times a day on conventional farms. George gets paid per-pound for milk, and before he went organic, the price was determined by.... well, read for yourself from USDA's 24-page explanation of the "...complex pricing system that has evolved in the United States to deal with milk production, its assembly (collection), and its distribution..." (A post on this is surely in order!)

Now George's milk price (and that of other OV farmers) is determined every December, and because they know how much money they will get every month, they don't need to over-milk their cows in slow seasons. This has allowed George to open an organic feed mill to supplement his dairy income.

Today, George does not over-milk his cows. Organic Valley recommends that OV cows only produce 50 pounds a day (not the 70+ that you get from a factory farm), and due to the heat, George's cows sometimes produce less. Or should I say, they get milked less.

The cows also produce milk for almost twice as long! A conventional cow at Reedy Fork Farm was productive for 4-5 years (from age 2 until it reached age 6 or 7). But now that they are organic, they produce milk for 8-10 years, (from age 2 until they are 10-12 years old). George also does not need to have a vet on-hand as often; perhaps once every month or two to check for pregnancies, which means much less of a need for veterinary care than when he was conventional. Organic Valley gives their farmers recommendations on how to care for their animals in an organic, holistic way and it is clearly working.

After our tour of the dairy, we all piled into George's truck (Winston included, of course) and went to see his pastures. The farm has about 500 acres, and the cows cut the grass for him by grazing. This was perhaps my favorite part of the trip: We got to play Crossing Guard for the cows as they were herded to be milked.

I've said it once, and I will say it again: Winston is a ladies man. As the cows crossed the street, they all stopped to check out their exciting new dog visitor. One even went so far as to kiss him. But then we started hearing a low, bellowing sound; it was the bull who was clearly not happy that his ladies were paying attention to someone other than him. Sound familiar, male fans of HumaneFoodFinder? As the bull made his way toward the crossing, George advised that we stay behind the car and he ushered him across without incident. I am pretty sure Winston is still glowing from his brief and public bovine relationship.

We didn't have a chance to see the beef cows up close as they were set back shading themselves under trees, but we did talk about them. George uses a small slaughterhouse in Siler City to slaughter his cows when ready. He does not send them to the (sadly) normal industrial slaughterhouse where tens of thousands of animals are "processed" every day.

We spent an entire two hours with George, and he hurried back to the entrance to milk the cows. Susan and Andrew bought some meat from George's wife, Cherry, and we watched the milking. The cows did not seem stressed, although they were curious about our presence. Their tails were not docked, and they were swishing them. A monitor ensured that they were not over-milked.

When we left the farm, we never had a chance to say goodbye to George. He was milking the cows, and had a long day ahead of him yet. It was four o'clock. On our ride home we were all tired from the sun, the immense amount of information we had taken in and the long drive. In the end, we knew it was nothing compared to George's or other small farmers' days.

While this was an incredible way to first experience a dairy farm, I know that most farms are not like Reedy Fork Farm. Big companies, like Dean Foods, which owns Horizon Organic, is one of largest milk conglomerates in the U.S. According to the USDA, farms that have under 100 dairy cows only produce 20 percent the U.S. That means that the majority of U.S. dairy farms stand in stark contrast to George's.

And while Organic Valley is a needed market reinforcement for small, humane farmers, it is not a necessity. On our tour George told us that he had a hard time convincing his father to go organic. But when George explained the methods involved and the positive changes that would occur from switching from present-day conventional farming to organic, his father said that was a lot like how he did things when he worked the farm in 1950.

It's incredible to imagine a world where every farm is humane and manageable. It used to be like that. What happened?

Friday, August 19, 2011

News of the Day (NotD): Doctors Take Aim At Antibiotic Resistance From Factory Farming

By Lynne Peeples for Huffington Post.

HuMAIN takeaways:

Eighty percent of U.S. antibiotics go to livestock, and 90 percent of that is given to animals in their water or feed -- not necessarily to prevent illness (the doses are too low to kill bacteria, but are just the right amount to bulk them up for a speedier trip to market). It does, however cause antibiotic resistance.

The European Union has banned the use of antibiotics for growth reasons, with no cost to the animals' health .

A 2009 study in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal found that U.S. hospitals spend more than $20 billion annually on antibiotic-resistant infections.

Check out this "technical review" report from the USDA that they promptly took down after they realized they didn't want you to see it:

Read the article here:

@lynnepeeps on Twitter!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Humane dairy at Bar Dupont? Sort of.

Last night I went to Bar Dupont to send off my friends heading north to Boston. They swear it's not because July was the hottest month in DC history, but I'm skeptical.

I was planning to pop in for a drink and then head to an Asian food place where I could eat something beyond the the usual bar food: french fries, chips and salsa, over-dressed salad...

But on the menu I saw that they had a weekly cheese selection. Here's where they get their cheeses, and what I could find out about the dairies:

Rogue Creamery in Oregon (Cow). I couldn't find anything out about this farm online; there is plenty of information about the cheese, but nothing about the animal treatment.

Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia (Cow). Their farm is very transparent on their humane practices:

We practice sustainable farming methods, managing the land and cattle for health rather than high production. Our primary tool to achieve this goal is intensive grazing management. This involves giving our cattle fresh grass every day; they are not allowed back on the pasture already grazed, allowing the grass to regrow and preventing overgrazing. We use no herbicides or pesticides on our land. Our only crop is grass. We are therefore able to provide excellent nutrition for the dairy herd while improving the health and fertility of our land.

Our milking season begins in late March when all calves are born coinciding with the grass growth. The cattle are never confined, but instead are born and raised on pasture. The cows graze a diverse mixture of perennial grasses and legumes supplemented with some grains, salt and Norwegian kelp. In the fall, when the grass growth wanes, the cows begin to wind down their milk production. Christmas Eve is the last day of the milking season and the beginning of a two month rest for the cows and our family. We avoid routine use of hormones or antibiotics by constantly monitoring our herd's health. We work toward developing and selecting cows with a healthy immune system.

Montchevre in Wisconsin
(goat). I looked on their website and it seems as though they get their milk from Rainbow Gate Farm, which is a goat farm in Iowa. I am not sure if that is the only provider, or just a featured farm. I went to the farm's website, and it doesn't say how many goats they have, or the condition in which they are treated. It also has a section on disbudding (de-horning) baby goats, and it walks the reader through the process. I was a little concerned to see that they did not use anesthetic when disbudding the baby goats. By the way, "disbudding" is a euphemism for burning off the horns. Many farms do this, but humane ones use anesthetic. Needless to say, I passed on this one.

Carr Valley in Wisconsin (sheep). They have an extensive award-winning cheese collection... But there is nothing on their website about where the milk comes from that makes this cheese worthy of an award.

After doing my research, I ordered a cheese plate with just the cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy. While the other might very well be just as humane, this wasn't available on their websites.

I was very happy to eat at least one delicious, humane cheese. But I of course have a request for Bar Dupont.

Dear Bar Dupont:
There are many local, humane dairies right in your neck of the woods that are transparent about the treatment of their animals, and just as delicious! You won't have to ship cheese across the country (I will stop the environmentalist-Emily there), and you are supporting humane, transparent farms.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What sets Organic Valley above the rest

You're at the supermarket. You're looking at the dairy case. You see Horizon Organic, Organic Valley, and maybe five other organic brands. Is there a difference? And if so, how do you choose?
I have long said that Organic Valley is by far the best option, but I have never fully explained why, or more importantly, compared them to their top competitor: Horizon Organic.

I first learned about their practices right around when I started HumaneFoodFinder. It was a little over a year ago when
Mercy For Animals exposed the abuse at Conklin Dairy Farms. They asked their members to contact the mayor of Plain City, where the farm is located.

I -- like so many other animal advocates -- emailed the mayor. Whether Mayor Sandy Adkins meant to or not, she emailed everyone who had contacted her regarding the Conklin Dairy case in the "To" address line, instead of the "BCC" line, and just like that, a humane listserv was formed!

So we started emailing each other what we were finding out. Someone from Florida, after watching the undercover video from Conklin Farm, emailed Organic Valley to ask them about their treatment of animals. Organic Valley sent the following reply, which the Floridian forwarded to the group:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding your concerns. I came across this video/newsbreak yesterday and alerted my team of the issue. Humane treatment is something we take very seriously within our cooperative. The mistreatment of animals is just not tolerated for any reason.

Respectful treatment of animals is a central tenet of Organic Valley's philosophy. One of the mission statement's 7 goals is to "promote a respect for the diversity, dignity, and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil, and global life." In furtherance of this goal, Organic Valley has developed and mandated humane treatment standards that exceed those of the USDA's organic

Our mission statement defines organic as a "philosophy and system of production that mirrors the natural laws of living organisms with an emphasis on the interdependence of all life." In practice, this means that we follow the precautionary principle: we oppose both cloning and injecting bovine growth hormone, which harm animals; the foundation of all our livestock production is to minimize illness by providing low-stress environments, promoting robust immune systems, practicing preventive medicine, and using natural remedies as needed. Our farmer members can rely on some of the nation's foremost holistic animal husbandry experts who are affiliated with the cooperative.

Our farmers provide living conditions that permit their livestock to carry out their natural behaviors as much as possible. This includes providing a healthy environment, fresh air, access to the outdoors, clean water, 100% organic feed, and clean, dry, roomful bedding. Organic Valley animals are raised on small to mid-size family farms. As part of maintaining animal health, Organic Valley and Organic Prairie farmers do not "push" their animals. For example, a dairy farmer may be satisfied with 50 pounds of milk per day from a cow, rather than the 70 pounds per day expected by a conventional farmer, because this
reduces the stress on the animals and increases longevity.

Our pasturing requirements are more stringent then the USDA's. We require farmers to pasture their cattle for as much of the year as a region's seasonal climate permits, providing organic grain as a supplement, when needed, to grass or dry forages. The amount of time depends on location, season, weather, and farmers' individual feeding programs. Most of our farmers are in the northern USA, where pasture is available for approximately half of the year.

Confinement operations are prohibited in our cooperative. Animals cannot be forced to live on concrete. Living quarters must allow enough space for animals to get up, lay down, groom, and interact with other animals. Inhumane practices like tail docking, white veal production, and debeaking are prohibited.

Organically raised hogs must have access to the outdoors, and, for sows, farrowing crates and housing with wire or slatted floors are prohibited throughout the animals' lifetime.

Female calves are very valuable and are raised as herd replacements or sold to other dairies. Our farmers can raise male calves as steers for the organic meat market or they can sell them to other farmers that specialize in beef. Organic farmers pay a higher price for organically raised calves, since they will receive a higher price for the meat at the end of the process. We encourage our farmers to go through the Organic Prairie meat program to raise their cattle for organic meat production.

Organic hens are never caged, with natural sunlight in the hen house, no forced molting, and free access to the outdoors, weather permitting. Shelter must allow 1.75 square feet of floor space per hen, and pasture must allow 5 square feet of space per hen.

Organic Prairie works exclusively with processing (slaughter) plant partners that are certified for organic processing and federally inspected.
Most importantly, all our slaughter plants undergo an annual rigorous third party Animal Welfare audit, which audits to measurable standards
that are over and above USDA-FSIS requirements. This third party animal welfare audit ensures that the animals are handled humanely, and that their last day is as painless and stress-free as possible.

To learn more about animal care, please view:
Emphasis Mine.

And thus I started my love affair with Organic Valley.

But it goes further than that. Look at the two websites -- the comparisons are striking:

Organic Valley states that they have 1643 farmers in their co-op. And every farmer is listed under
Who's Your Farmer.

When you click on a region in the U.S., each state drops down, and you can find farmers in your state. Each farm has a profile on the website (the owner(s), and their City or County/State). You can of course do more research and Google the farm, and many of them have their own independent sites.

Now look at Horizon Organic. Under "Why Organic" you can click on
Our Farms. It states that they work with "600 organic family farms," and they list two farms as examples and then list two farms they manage in Idaho and Maryland. They also display their Standards of Care, which is a 26-page document that covers animal welfare, organic feed, environmental impacts and other issues.

While it explains in detail how Horizon Organic believes animals should be treated, it does not say that this is audited. However, at the end of the Animal Welfare section of the document, it does state that treatment activity "...records are audited annually by our farms’ designated USDA certifying agent and are periodically reviewed by internal quality assurance teams."

To be fair, I do applaud Horizon Organic for taking these steps; however, this is far from transparent. Organic Valley lists all of their farms. Organic Valley conducts annual inspections on the farms, and it does not rely on the USDA, which is very often lax, to audit animal treatment.

I would love to see Horizon Organic be more transparent, and it is great that there's a market that buys Organic Valley because it has such high standards and is so transparent. Onward.