The future of Meat

There are a small group of committed people who are thinking about food policy in the United States.  We should all say thank god.  The issues are wide starting with the reality of what is truly going into our food, sustainable agricultural, food production, nutrition, food labeling, etc.  If the majority of us knew the what antibiotics the cows were eating in this country in order to provide meat on the table for our eating pleasure we'd probably freak. 

I am writing about this today because Food Tech Connect is having a #Hackmeat conversation this week.  It is worth going to the site and reading all the different essays and what they are doing to create awareness around this topic. 

Livestock in this country consumes almost 80% of the grains we grow.  Of the GMO grains that are grown 98% go to livestock consumption.  Beef is a $79 billion industry and over 36 million cows are harvested each year.  The good news is there is a huge organic non-GMO movement going on and through technology we can do a better job at tracking what is going into the food that we eat. 

I spoke with Claire Herminjard who is the entrepreneur behind Mindful Meats.  She has built a company that is bringing local, non-GMO, organic pasture raised meats to the table.  At this point her production is limited to restaurants and stores but with technology the hope is that one day she can just ship directly to the consumers who want to know exactly what product they are eating.  So how is she doing this?  Almost 16% of our beef comes from dairy cows.  Certain dairy cows have Government certification that they are organic based on what they eat.  When they are done producing milk, butter and cheese those cows are sold to regular production facilities to break down for sale.  What Claire is doing is buying organic cows and breaking them down for meat consumption for the marketplace.  Those dairy cows are environmentally friendly cows.  She began to become interested in what kind of meat she was eating and through research and hard work was able to build a niche business which we can all hope will become bigger over time taking over the majority of the livestock consumption.

Another company that is Mercaris.  As the organic non-GMO businesses grow there is a need for more data and information.  There are commodity markets from grains to meats but there is not a commodity market separating out the organic non-GMO products.  Mercaris is doing this.  They are starting with agricultural crops but over time will move into other organic marketplaces.  The lack of basic market information is astounding and Mercaris is changing that.

How Good is another company that is giving stores the ability to tag all their products so that the consumer can see how each product is rated.  That rating system scores are backed by independent data.  What is important here is that each store owner can track more efficiently what products their customer wants and why.  If an owner discovers that their consumer is much more interested in non-GMO organic products then they will only want to purchase those products to stock their shelves.  The market place is the end-all.  If the market tells us they want more organic products then manufacturers will have to get into that market. 

I am fascinated with the change in the food industry.  Healthier local consumer products, organic non-GMO beef, sites where you can buy the most interesting indie food products being made across this country (aka Mouth), labeling products through private industry as the Government doesn't seem to be too quick on that one, more farm to table companies and companies such as Sea2Table that will soon be delivering fresh fish to your door. The costs may be higher but we will be healthier and perhaps because of the higher costs we will eat less. I predict that the next decade is going to be a tremendous shift in understanding and participating in the food that we eat at our table.  The health economics for our country are huge.  These changes will only be a very good thing. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Liz Rueven

    As a veg leaning kosher carnivore, I have finally found a kosher meat source that can I trust in Grow and Behold. Although they are not certified organic, the deeply committed founders,Naf and Anna, provide pasture raised, mindfully cared for, anti-biotic free, kosher meat and chicken. Their product is managed the right way, including respectful treatment of workers. Kosher keepers don’t have to compromise any more!

    1. ShanaC

      I’ve heard really good things about Naf and Anna through people I know in the Jewish world – good for you!

  2. WA

    Migrating from “Where’s the Beef” to “What’s the Beef” perhaps. Keep keepin’ the Tribe informed!

    1. Gotham Gal

      nice one.

    2. Danielle Gould

      What a great campaign idea!

  3. JLM

    .As someone from “cow country”, I have always been interested in beef. I also like to eat it.The entire GMO business is a good thing writ wrong as a bad thing. It is science harnessed to man’s interests. The hysteria that surrounds it is not based on sound science though there is no question it has to be monitored carefully as the ills are certainly possible.The quality of the beef we eat today is held hostage to genetics, breeding, herd management, grazing quality, slaughtering technique, food handling safety and brand.It is a business with more than a bit of science involved. Most folks would not know that many cows — in a cow-calf operation — are bred for the first time to a Longhorn because the birth experience of the Longhorn cow is less stressful for the Mom. The survival rate is much higher because of the reduced birth stress. Thereafter, the breeding is pure to the strain of cows but the first one is a Longhorn.The Longhorn is not really a great beef cow except that it is the hardiest strain out there and that is why it historically was so important in Texas. Today, not so much.You have never really tasted beef until you have eaten a calf raised only on Mother’s milk — never grazed. If meat were silk, this would be the best you ever found. Like butter.I used to go to a BBQ in the Hill Country at which such a calf was slaughtered, butchered and grilled. Wow. [Not so good for the kids.] Even I used to cringe a bit when the calf was suspended and its throat cut to bleed it out.The entire organic thrust on the food supply is a good thing and will result in better products as long as it is tempered with a bit of common sense in the form of disease prevention.We will pay much, much, much more for beef that is not fattened up on a feedlot which is where the nexus of organic beef really lives. Organic beef cannot go to feedlots. This is where the bad stuff happens.Left to graze the production of beef is way more time consuming and land consuming. You have to have a lot of acreage to raise cattle this way.If you have ever been to Lubbock or Amarillo when the wind is right — ahhh, those feedlots are wonderful.JLM.

    1. pointsnfigures

      There is tremendous science in food and genetics. One of the most innovative sectors of the American economy. Incredible amounts of research dollars at Ag schools-and there will be incredible B2B opportunities in the future with the changes in tech and decreasing cost of DNA research.

      1. JLM

        .Cattle breeding, simple animal husbandry, is the kind of thing that DNA research and the deployment of the RIGHT medicines can result in a physically healthier herd.Meat is always going to be better when the cows are healthier.JLM.

    2. William Mougayar

      It must be all these McDonald’s. I wonder what % of the beef production they own.

      1. JLM

        .I have always read recently that McD buys a billion pounds of beef and has started to use imported beef in the US, something they have never done before.Beef prices are pretty high just now making McD’s motives pretty obvious.JLM.

      2. pointsnfigures

        They can’t. Fed regs prevent them from owning actual herds and packing houses.

  4. JLM

    .I was just rummaging through the Shenandoah Valley on a road trip — one of my favorite things to do.I take the little black roads off the Interstate and explore those little mountain towns adjoining the Breadbasket of the Confederacy.The grass is already shoulder high and the cows are fat, docile and beautiful.If I were a cow this is where I would want to live.In Texas, cattle are measured “acres per cow” and in the Valley they are measured “cows per acre”. This is fabulous cow country and the grass is just beautiful.It is also very close to Eastern markets which makes it a lot less expensive.JLM.

    1. Gotham Gal

      lots of land and short carbon miles. makes sense.

    2. William Mougayar

      JLM, I know you love beef. Have you had Argentinean beef in Argentina? I still have the taste of it in my mouth from a couple of trips several years ago.I’m still a big fan of grass-fed beef because it is healthier than beef from feedlots. It doesn’t contribute so much to raising cholesterol in humans. The problem with feedlots is the animals have to be given hormones and antibiotics, and that can’t be good for us. I realize grass-feeding is more expensive.

      1. JLM

        .I have had Argentinean beef but only in the US. It is great.I need to go to Argentina.JLM.

        1. William Mougayar

          Definitely. Lots of huge ranches there. Your comparison to Texas will be interesting. And include a visit to the Mendoza wine region.

    3. WA

      When I was growing up, my dad’s best friend…called him uncle all my life…was a butcher in the Catskills. They kept all the hotels supplied with really really great beef. Grass fed cold weather beef he said was always the best. Combined the best in texture and flavor (think marbling) or so my perception has always been. Apologies to the Veggies here for the graphic nature of it all…

      1. JLM

        .The differing qualities of beef based on breed, breeding, animal husbandry, butchering, aging and cooking are HUGE differences.The best steaks are in many ways seemingly inferior because they contain that consistent level of fat which provides the real taste when grilled.You have never really tasted the best until you have eaten a calf that has never been weaned — raised on mother’s milk.JLM.

  5. Brandon Burns

    I’m a fan of entrepreneurism and the private sector spearheading positive change in our society through business, but this is one area where I can’t believe the government doesn’t fucking stand up and do something. Actually, worse — it encourages the poisoning of its citizens by willingly allowing food companies to pump the animals we eat with cancerous toxinsJust ban all the bad shit. Seriously, Washington, it shouldn’t be that hard.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Your comments are so great!!

      1. Brandon Burns

        inspired by great content. 😉

    2. pointsnfigures

      Or, better yet, stay out of the way. It’s the government regs that cause organic food options to be so expensive.

  6. leslie

    I remember clearly as a kid , fresh fish delivered right to our door. It came from Elmer ,our fisherman/ milk man-“Sun Valley Dairy” , fond memories!

  7. Mike Hart

    The work these companies are doing to improve our food supply is laudable. However, I do believe it needs to be balanced by common sense. There is no real data to suggest organic beef is better for you over a lifetime. The placebo effect is a powerful thing and as long as consumers believe there is value in organic these companies will do well and prices will continue to climb.

    1. JLM

      .News flash from cow country — the only real difference between organic beef (grass fed beef) and the worst exemplar for raising cattle is the FEEDLOT.Feedlots — you can come to Amarillo and Lubbock and see/smell them — force feed cattle to put weight on their frames at a faster rate than can be done in a pasture.In many instances, the cows are being fed grain products which could be ingested in a pasture. In the feedlot, they are manually provided with no necessity to graze.Let me say that again — a feedlot may be feeding its cattle BETTER feed than pasture grass based upon the scientific content of the feeds. More protein, better growth. But grains nonetheless.Feedlots are like finishing schools in which a small parcel of land is used to fatten up the herd with foodstuffs which may fit even the most stringent definition of “organic”.It is very much like my going to a restaurant (human feedlot, no?) and eating “organic”. I don’t go out into the tomato patch to graze — much as I would like to.In a controlled situation, the herd is also able to be maintained at a higher level of health because each and every cow can be observed and treated with a heightened degree of temporal urgency.Try doing that in a pasture and you will need 100s of cowboys — Hell, yes, we still have cowboys in Texas.The organic v feedlot debate is in many ways a marketing effort and is simply not consistent with reality.Now, when the winds are from the northwest in Amarillo — well, it is a tough sell to make.JLM.

  8. ShanaC

    Food for thought (semi-purposeful pun):The price of organic sustainable meat has to come down in some sort of fashion to be done.EG: My cost for organic vegetables on a weekly basis is about $15 due to the fact that I am a member of a CSA. They do offer meat and chicken shares (as well as dairy shares) – but the prices are crazy.Further, if I didn’t buy through my csa – my grocery costs would be out of my price range and I wouldn’t even try.And I suspect that for most of the country, the cost is what is holding them back

  9. pointsnfigures

    My first angel investment was I traded hogs at the CME, so I understand the industry a little. The important thing to me is choice. Clearly labeling, and offering choice on a competitive playing field.Here is an example. You can buy a factory farmed chicken at a grocery in Chicago and pay under $2 per pound. Factory farmers enjoy a lot of subsidies from the government, economies of scale (that they built) etc.Or, I can go to a butcher, or a farmers market and buy an organic free range chicken at north of $8 per pound. I have a choiceBut here is the rub. If I am an Indiana organic chicken grower, I cannot sell direct to consumers in Illinois because of USDA regulations, state regulations etc.That restricts competition. Why doesn’t government take the gloves off and let the consumer have a choice, and the best products win?My wife has always been interested in farming. She is in Hayward WI this week interning on a sheep farm. They make cheese, have some goats, some cattle as well. The USDA is trying to shut them down. One reason is they sell raw milk cheese (like farms do in Europe). The other is on Sunday they make cheese pizza and around 60 people will show up to hang out on the farm and eat. Local restauranteurs don’t like it.The more I investigate things, the more I see it’s government getting in the way. I am all for the farm to table movement, but it’s gosh darned expensive to eat that way.I don’t think that we should be forcing people to make a choice between skipping a meal because they can’t afford the food. At the same time, it looks like to me the US govt is artificially creating a situation that makes growing food differently than a factory farm a lot more expensive.Take off the shackles. Let farmers compete. The American farmer may be the most competitive and innovative businessperson out there.

    1. William Mougayar

      Sad truth. I love farm to table and consuming local/seasonal produce, but it’s hard to find it from a consumer perspective (I think Canada is fairly similar to the US in this respect).I like what your wife is doing in WI. These types of gastronomical adventures on the farms are amazingly well done in Italy. Nothing beats a freshly made Bufala mozzarella right from where it’s made in Campania.

      1. pointsnfigures

        She is having a different experience than Gotham Gal! The people have been so harassed by the USDA and other agencies they have no money. They don’t own an oven (can’t afford it). Don’t own a washer or dryer (can’t afford it) They cook out of a crock pot.

    2. Gotham Gal

      I totally agree. Let the farmers compete. Give them data to do it

      1. pointsnfigures

        and the freedom from govt intervention (and less subsidies so markets determine prices)

    3. Brandon Burns

      What are the other government created problems? Is there a good resource you like that lays it all out?Or maybe we need to create one…

      1. pointsnfigures

        Plenty. Big Farm is similar to Big Bank or Big Medicine or Big Education. There is a standing army of expanding bureaucrats that don’t add value. There is a revolving door of big corporate types that add “credibility” to the agency and slant regs in the direction of the big guys. They detest startups and free markets. It’s yet another reason Obamacare and big massive bureaucratic programs won’t work.

    4. JLM

      .With the recent $0.5T — trillion — Farm Bill, much of what you decry is institutionalized yet again.The biggest impediment to the simplification of the food supply — both from the perspective of quality of food and business competition to reach the consumer — is government regulation.Food is regulated by the Feds, the States and locally. One may be able to have dogs, but not chickens.The farm lobby — which today is the factory farm lobby — holds the Nation in a stranglehold of price supports, subsidies, impediments to real competition and a regulatory and legislation maze of such gargantuan complexity as to be a true impediment to innovation.JLM.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Yup, the Farm Bill has it all if you can read through the legalese and fine print. The bulk of the Farm Bill is for food stamps, then subsidies.

  10. William Mougayar

    How about not using growth hormones? Eating beef that has been grown with artificial hormones is not good for our health either.This farm near where we live is focused on that:

    1. Gotham Gal

      The hormone consumptive in livestock cant be good for us.

        1. pointsnfigures

          It depends. I have a friend that raises lambs for only high end chefs. With sheep, you have to use some antibiotics to keep them healthy. The stockyards use them for a few reasons. First, they are corn fed-cows don’t eat corn and it messes with their digestive tract. Second, they are confined in close quarters, so disease can spread pretty fast and it’s important to keep it under control. I’d rather have them using antibiotics than not using them-but then I’d rather see more grass finished beef than corn fed (which cuts down on the use of antibiotics!)

  11. JimHirshfield

    How about #vegan? Not trying to pick a fight, just sayin’ all the resources that go into raising cattle could be more efficiently used to raise humans. 😉

    1. Gotham Gal

      Not for me but I get it

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Are you vegan, Jim?

      1. JimHirshfield

        Yes I am.

        1. pointsnfigures

          enjoy eating dirt. : )

          1. JimHirshfield

            Ha ha ha.Enjoy eating feces.

          2. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Well played 🙂

        2. Kirsten Lambertsen

          I really admire people who are vegan. I try to eat vegetarian as much as I can, but veganism is for the pros 😉

  12. pointsnfigures

    and just a point of fun, I wouldn’t want to eat the cow that gothamgal posted. dairy cows don’t taste too good-but I’d drink gallons of raw milk and eat lots of cheese from her.