Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Better Way to Buy Meat

Much of Europe is reeling from the discovery that many beef products have been adulterated by the substitution of horse meat.  Cases tend to be mainly ground beef and processed or packaged foods containing meat such as frozen pasta dishes.

The scandal has drawn attention to alternate means of sourcing safe meat products.

Crowd funding schemes allow like-minded people to pool their money and invest in businesses and charitable projects. Some farmers are using crowd funding sites to raise funds to buy livestock, and offer discounted produce in return.

Farmer Natalie Rose of Rosewood Farm in Yorkshire rears Jersey beef calves. In 2012, she needed to solve a temporary cash-flow problem due to maternity leave so asked for investment on She asked for £2,000 but ended up raising nearly £3,000. In return, she offered investors a lifetime discount of up to 10% on the beef.

"It was a huge success," Rose says. "People realised the value of the discount on their meat and saw it as a better use of money than leaving it in a savings account that hardly earns any interest."

And then there's Cow Pooling

Known as cow share schemes, or "cow pooling", this works in a similar way to groups who bulk-buy wholefoods. Groups often set up independently and buy whole cows, pigs and sheep directly from farmers.

There are also new websites, such as Green Pasture Farms, from which groups can buy. It costs about £1,900 for a whole cow. If a group of 10 individuals buys one (the site also sells sheep and pigs), the meat is delivered in 10 boxes to 10 households in one transaction. It's £190 a box for about 16kg-18kg of meat.

Individuals can also buy an entire animal themselves. Under this scheme they pay the upfront cost – fixed at today's price – and receive a regular box of meat over, for example, a two-year period until the whole cow is eaten.

"Of course it won't be the same cow in the second scenario as the meat is freshly delivered to the customer each time, but they will get the equivalent weight of a whole animal," says Simon Whyatt, owner of Green Pasture Farms. "It is top of the range meat from farms with high welfare standards."

The Buy Direct Option

Local farms often sell whole animals at a bulk-buy price. Bill Mellor, a farmer at Higher Farm near Stockport, for example, sells half lambs (£65) and boxes containing a tenth of a cow for about £170-£180.

To take advantage of this you will need freezer space, because unless you are throwing a banquet it is going to take a long time to eat. "When customers look at what a large amount of meat it is, they're often surprised," Mellor says. "Compared to supermarkets it works out cheaper and is far better quality."

There are many benefits to these systems.   One is that the animal stays with the farmer throughout its life, right up the the point where it's slaughtered, butchered and delivered to the customer.  It doesn't go as a young adult animal to some feedlot where it's tossed into a mega-herd in various states of health for fattening and dosed with antibiotics to keep it from keeling over.  It doesn't go from the feedlot to the industrial packing plant where it's slaughtered and butchered and then transported to the retailer, the grocery store.  It doesn't wind up in the grocery store depot where it's packaged and then shipped to the stores to be put on the shelves for sale.   Every one of those steps is a cost buried in the price sticker on the product you select from the cooler shelf.

You don't know where that meat came from.   You have no idea how the animal was treated or mistreated.  You don't know what sort of antibiotics and hormones were pumped into the animal along the way.  You'll never know how paltry is the portion of the retail cost that is actually received by the farmer or the corners he's had to cut just to stay afloat.

Another overlooked benefit is that you can deal with a farmer in your own area.   And that farmer, earning a decent return, can establish a better, local supply that adds to your community's food security.   His animals don't have to be transported from one end of the country to the other and back again.

Whether it's beef or pork or poultry it only makes sense to go back to the way our grandparents did it, back when they knew what they were eating.


Anonymous said...

We should eat the rich. We know they have been pampered, so eating them would present no moral issue. However, they may have ingested antibiotics and hormones, so that might present some health risks.

We could start by eating bankers and oil executives, and eventually work our way down to politicians. This meat is a finite resource, however, and we would soon face a 'peak meat' crisis.

But it would be tasty experience while it lasted.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well the headhuters of New Guinea used to refer to whites as "long pig" so I suppose you have a point.