• By Refusing to Ban Giving Healthy Livestock Daily Doses of Antibiotics, the FDA Puts Corporate Profits Above Consumers’ Health

    By Barry Estabrook

    No one is going to accuse the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of rushing to judgment.

    In 1999, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the FDA to stop the common practice of feeding perfectly healthy livestock antibiotics, not to cure disease, but merely to make them pack on weight more efficiently. Of particular concern to the organization were antibiotics used to treat disease in humans. That petition came 22 years after the FDA itself said that such “sub-therapeutic” use of penicillin- and tetracycline-containing products in animals should be halted because it had “not been shown safe.” Studies in the mid-1970s had proven that bacteria easily evolved resistance to the antibiotics, becoming resistant “superbugs.”

    Last week, the FDA denied the petition, along with a similar one filed in 2005 by Environmental Defense. Given that the FDA allowed the first petition to gather dust for 12 years, and that each year some 70,000 Americans die from resistant infections, its reason for denial is feeble at best. Pointing out that in it was working “cooperatively” with agribusinesses and pharmaceutical companies to phase out sub-therapeutic use of drugs, the FDA said that banning the practice outright “could take many years and would impose significant resource demands on the agency.”  [Read More]

  • Use of Synthetic Preservatives, Genetically Mutated Ingredients and Weak Animal Welfare Standards Headed for Vote by USDA Panel

    Cornucopia, WI—The Cornucopia Institute, one of the nation’s leading organic industry watchdogs, is urging members of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), in formal testimony, to vote to preserve the integrity of organic food and farming at its upcoming meeting in Savannah, Georgia.

    Some of the hot button issues on the agenda, including using artificial preservatives and genetically modified ingredients, would seem Orwellian to many longtime organic farmers and consumers. The forecasted dustup will be debated by a USDA panel, deeply divided between corporate agribusiness representatives and organic advocates.

    Under the Bush and Obama administrations, the USDA Secretaries have been criticized for appointing a significant number of corporate representatives, whose primary interest appears to be loosening the federal organic standards, allegedly in pursuit of enhanced profits.

    “We think this meeting may well decide the fate of organic food and agriculture in this country,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, which represents family-scale organic farmers and their consumer allies across the U.S.  [Read More]

  • How to Cook Grassfed Meat

    Grassfed meat has a different texture, flavor, and nutritional profile than so-called conventional meat.
    Because most Americans living today learned how to cook with meat from animals treated with hormones to
    develop unbalanced physical attributes, fed unnatural, unhealthy diets in confined animal feeding
    operations or feedlots and then treated with antibiotics to address diseases that arise as a result of their living conditions, switching to pasture-based, grassfed meat takes some getting used to.

    But you already know why pasture-based, grassfed meat is better for you, your community, and your environment. Here are some tips to help you learn how to cook grassfed meat to get the most flavor and tenderness.

    How To Buy Grassfed Meat

    Until there are transparent labeling practices in place, we recommend buying AGA-certified products from your grocer or direct from the farmer or rancher. If that’s not possible where you live, find a regenerative, pasture-based operation near you and learn about their operation. Then, if they’re not AGA members, send them our way!

    How To Cook Grassfed Meat

    Many of us prefer to purchase so-called fresh cuts over frozen meat. That’s because almost none of us ever learn how to properly thaw frozen meat.

    Meat frozen immediately after processing and kept frozen until you chose to prepare it is actually fresher than cuts that are kept at varying levels of refrigeration for days or weeks, treated with coloring to preserve the look of freshness and sold ready-to-cook.

    How To Thaw Frozen Grassfed Meat

    Tip No. 1: Place frozen meat in a bowl or container in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. As the meat thaws it will release water and proteins that you don’t want running out in your fridge.

    Again, if the meat was frozen immediately after the animal was processed and kept frozen until you put it in your refrigerator, after 24 hours that meat is now a little over one day “old,” much fresher than what you will get from conventional grocers’ cooler.

    If you want to thaw the meat more quickly, place the vacuum-sealed package in cold water for several minutes.

    Do not let meat sit at room temperature for no more than 30 minutes, cook it cold straight from the refrigerator, or use a microwave to thaw grassfed meat.

    How To Tenderize Grassfed Meat

    Tip No. 2: Animals that are allowed to eat natural diets and express instinctive behavior on pasture produce meat that is less tender than so-called conventional meat. Tenderizing your meat before cooking breaks down any tough connective tissue produced by the animal’s healthy life.

    We recommend using a mechanical tenderizer like the Jaccard. It’s a small, hand-held device with needles-like blades that pierce the meat and allow a marinade or rub to penetrate the surface.

    Another way to tenderize is to coat a thawed steak with your favorite rub; put it into a plastic zipper bag; place on a solid surface; and, using a meat mallet, rolling pin, or other hard object; pound a few times. This will not only tenderize the meat, but will also incorporate the rub, adding flavor. Do not flatten the beef unless the recipe calls for it.

    How To Prepare Grassfed Meat

    Tip No. 3: Grassfed beef is ideal at rare to medium-rare temperatures. If you prefer meat well done, cook at a low temperature in a sauce to add moisture. A slow cooker is ideal.

    Tip No. 4: Because grassfed beef is low in fat, coat it with extra virgin olive oil or another light oil for easy browning. The oil will also prevent the meat from drying out and sticking to the cooking surface.

    Tip No. 5: Very lean cuts like New York strips and sirloin steaks can benefit from a marinade. Choose a recipe that doesn’t mask the flavor of the beef but will enhance the moisture content. For safe handling, always marinate in the refrigerator.

    Tip No. 6: Grassfed beef cooks about 30 percent faster than grain fed beef. Use a thermometer to test for doneness and watch the temperature carefully. You can go from perfectly cooked to overdone in less than a minute. The meat will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat, so when it reaches a temperature ten degrees LOWER than the desired temperature, it’s done.

    Tip No. 7: Sear the beef first when roasting to lock in the juices and then place in a pre-heated oven. Reduce the roasting temperature by 50 degrees F.

    Tip No. 8: When grilling, quickly sear the meat over high heat on each side and then reduce the heat to medium or low to finish. Baste to add moisture.

    Tip No. 9: When grilling burgers, use caramelized onions or roasted peppers to add low-fat moisture to the meat.

    Tip No. 10: Pan searing on the stove is an easy way to cook a grassfed steak. After you’ve seared the steak over high heat, turn the heat to low and add butter and garlic to the pan to finish cooking.

    Tip No. 11: Never use a fork to turn meat. Always use tongs.

    Tip No. 12: Let the beef sit covered in a warm place for eight to 10 minutes after removing from heat to let the juices redistribute.

    Now you’re ready to make the switch and we’d love to see what you make! Try one (or all) of the recipes here and share your photos with us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

    If you believe in regenerating America’s physical health, rural economy and ecology, please consider supporting American Grassfed by becoming a member or donating.

  • More Action Needed! 2012 Farm Bill and the Super Committee

    Every six years or so, Congress negotiates a farm bill that governs everything from crop insurance and subsidies to food stamps and conservation issues. Grassroots organizations have been working for the past  year and a half to help craft provisions that will be more favorable to small and mid-sized farms and rural communities, as opposed to the industrial commodity farms and massive CAFOs that currently benefit from most of the dollars allocated for subsidies.

    A new wrinkle has emerged, however. As part of the agreement to pass the debt ceiling bill this past August, Congress appointed a committee of 12, six members from each house and equally representing both parties, to trim $1.3 trillion dollars from the budget. This super committee has until November to come to an agreement. Their process is to rely on input from various Congressional committees to determine the spending cuts.

    Agriculture Committee leaders in both houses have delivered a package of cuts that will mostly replace the provisions of the Farm Bill, thus effectively ending open discussion and negotiation about its provisions in the 2012 legislative session. According to published accounts, the proposed cuts include $6.5 billion to conservation programs, $5 billion to nutrition programs, and $15 billion to commodity subsidy programs.  The conservation cuts would be on top of the $2 billion already made by Congress in the appropriations process.

    If you want to make your voice heard, you need to call your members of Congress TODAY. The only way to take back our government from the corporate interests who are controlling the debate is to speak up. One voice may not make much of a difference, but when hundreds of thousands of voices join together, change happens.

    For the latest news on the negotiations, visit http://farmpolicy.com/. To learn more about the issues and how you can take action, visit http://sustainableagriculture.net/our-work/fbcampaign/farm-bill-news/

  • Action Needed! Another Proposed Animal ID Rule

    (Thanks to our friends at Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance)

    Having dropped plans for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is back again for Round Two. The agency has proposed a rule that would require livestock producers, related businesses, and state livestock agencies to incur significant expense tracking animals that cross state lines.

    Though less sweeping than the NAIS, the proposed animal traceability rule is still a solution in search of a problem. The USDA has again failed to identify the specific problem or disease of concern, and the real focus of the program is helping the export market. While the program will benefit a handful of large corporations, the costs and burdens will fall on producers, vets, sale barns and weigh stations, and the states. These new regulations will harm rural businesses while wasting taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on the real problems we face in controlling animal disease, food security, and food safety.

    Some of the specific requirements for cattle pose particular problems. Along with new identification requirements imposed on all breeding-age cattle, the proposed rule would require identification and paperwork on non-breeding feeder cattle, despite the lack of evidence that such requirements will help disease control. The proposed rule provides for a temporary exemption for cattle headed to slaughter, but then phases these animals into the program except for personal use only. In addition, anyone issuing official ID tags will have to keep records of the tags for five years, and sale barns will have to keep copies of paperwork for five years, even though many of these cattle will have been consumed years earlier.

    State agencies will have to build database storage, management, and retrieval systems in order to handle all of the data, creating problems for many states’ budgets. The proposed rule doesn’t address what the consequences will be if states’ systems don’t meet the federal government’s goals. The sending and receiving states can agree to use alternative identification methods, such as brands and tattoos, but otherwise the brand and tattoo will no longer qualify as an official identification method.

    Small-scale, pastured, and backyard poultry will be particularly hard hit by the proposed rule. While the large confinement operations will be able to use “group identification,” the definition of the term does not cover most independent operations. Since thousands of people order baby chicks from hatcheries in other states, these birds cross state lines the first day of their lives. Even if the farmer or backyard owner never takes the bird across state lines again, they will have to use individually sealed and numbered leg bands on each chicken, turkey, goose, or duck to comply with the language of the proposed rule.

    Under the proposed rule, horses will have to be identified when they cross state lines. Official identification includes a physical description, digital photograph, or electronic identification. Although most, if not all, horses shipped across state lines are already identified in one of these ways, the language of the proposed rule creates a new complication. Whether or not a physical description is sufficient identification will be determined by the health officials in the receiving state, leaving vets and horse owners struggling with significant uncertainty as they attempt to anticipate what will be required.

    The draft rule also covers sheep, goats, and hogs that cross state lines, essentially federalizing the existing programs which have been adopted state-by-state until now.

    The proposed rule is fundamentally flawed because it is not designed to address the real problems we face, and it imposes burdens on independent producers for the benefit of Big Agribusiness’s export markets. At a time when farmers and ranchers are facing significant economic problems, the last thing we need is additional burdensome rules hindering the economic viability of small rural businesses.

    ACTION ITEM You can submit comments either online or by mail:

    Online: www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=APHIS-2009-0091-0001 By Mail: Docket No.APHIS–2009–0091, Regulatory Analysis and Development

    PPD, APHIS, Station 3A–03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737–1238

    Please also send a copy of your comments to your Congressman and Senators. If you don’t know who represents you, you can find out at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.

    Here are talking points you can use for your comments:

    1) The agency should withdraw the proposed rule.

    2) If the export market would benefit from the proposed rule, as the agency claims, then the agribusinesses that export meat should pay the costs and offer economic premiums to livestock producers to encourage them to participate in a voluntary system.

    3) The agency needs to identify the specific diseases of concern and analyze how to best address those diseases, rather than continuing to push a one-size-fits-all generalized tracking program.

    4) The agency’s analysis does not address the full costs of the program, and this is a waste of money at a time when both private and government resources are already stretched thin. This is an unfunded mandate on both state governments and private businesses.

    5) At the very least, significant changes need to be made:

    • Apply the requirements to breeding-age cattle only and exempt feeder cattle from all new requirements.

    • Exempt all direct-to-slaughter cattle, both for custom and for retail sales. (The proposed rule provides for a temporary exemption, but then phases these animals into the program except for personal use only.)

    • Recognize the brand as “official identification” among and between all states that currently have official state brand programs and “official supplementary identification” for all other states.

    • Do not impose any new requirement for identifying poultry. There has simply been nos howing that imposing new requirements on small-scale poultry operations is needed, and the new requirements will cause significant harm to small farmers.

    • Provide that a physical description qualifies as an official identification method for horses without having to be approved by the health officials in the receiving State or Tribe.

    DEADLINE: The deadline for comments is Friday, December 9. The deadline was originally 30 days earlier, but FARFA led a group of 49 organizations in urging Secretary Vilsack to extend the comment period, and he agreed.

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