George Faison at Meat Labels: Natural No More – George Faison

Change Food

Coming last after all these speakers, many of the things that I planned on talking about have already been covered far better than I could probably cover them. But it also frees me up perhaps to talk a little more extemporaneously about the real issue that Diane invited me to speak. Which was, what’s the impact on people who are trying to sell properly or responsibly, or what I call cleanly raised meats are all about. So I’m going to forego with perhaps, you know, a definition of what natural is or isn’t. And yeah, I think it’s been properly covered. But one of the things that, you know, as my career has been around “clean meats”. That’s always been a moving definition.

When I started with Les Trois Petits Cochons Pate we were doing all natural pates. So that meant we weren’t putting chemical nitrates in there to keep the color red when you sliced into it. And that was considered really great. And then when we were involved at D’Artagnan as much as some of you here might consider us the anti-Christ through our work with foie gras. We were also involved with Bobby Everly on the poultry side of working on what constituted organic poultry. And that became a very big part of our company. So much so that I separated from D’Artagnan because I wanted to focus more on naturally raised meats. And, Paul, that was really Bill’s fault. He got in there and you know, I became acolyte. Referring to Bill Niman, who started distributing with D’Artagnan back in 1998.

But he taught me a lot about what was proper about raising animals. And none of that was really reflected on a label, not in the way that it should have been. And so when I left the D’Artagnan and was invited by the Sarrazin family to join in at DeBragga and Spitler. Our goal was, let’s bring integrity back into what clean food and good meats are supposed to be. And we knew that meats being called natural were not what everybody thought they were. And so I want to show a couple of slides. And maybe this will help get the context across.

On the right side at the top, that’s a farm. Now, you may not think it is. But 98% of the chickens and hogs produced in this country today are raised in those types of facilities on the right hand side. So the public doesn’t think that, do they, or do they? Well, let’s go here. Here’s a label. And on this label, this is what’s wrong and what’s confusing. It’s not just happening at the retail store, it’s also happening with the chefs on the food service side. And if you look at the very top, you see imagery. You see imagery that’s vey deceptive. So what’s that, what do you see when you see that picture? Oh, we think farm. Farm? Farm, which image would be better on the package? Who gets to decide? Well, we know who gets to decide, don’t we? So there it is.

This imagery though, has an impact, because it’s already setting the stage psychologically in the purchasing decision of the people buying it. Then you see down at the bottom, fresh from family farms since 1920. Again, reinforcing the impression from the picture above. So that now, your thought, “Oh, this is coming from a farm.” It’s not the farm that Andrew or George was referring to in their pictures, was it? That’s the farm. And the public doesn’t know this. And this type of fraud, and it is fraud, it’s allowed to be perpetrated upon them.

The next thing I love is the term, ‘raised cage-free’. You’ve got to love this one, Andrew, right. Here’s cage-free, take a look at the left. That’s legally cage-free. Come on folks, really? I mean they have less room than a sardine in a tin. And yet you see the animals in the crate. And I love Andrew’s definition of, you know, referring to what constitutes acceptable pork and not acceptable pork. But I mean, here we are talking about stuff that I would consider within the 2%. This is the 98% of the pork that’s being consumed in America is being raised in conditions just like this. They’re not cage-free. But the chickens, like we see in this thing, that’s cage-free, that qualifies.

The next issue on this label that I take objection to, and I don’t know if you can see it real clearly, and it’s not. But I’ll try and explain it. You see down there at the bottom, it says, ‘no hormones or steroids added.’ You’re not allowed to use hormones or steroids when you raise poultry or swine. It’s prohibited by Federal Law. Now, you notice here there’s an asterisk at the end. And that asterisk is extremely important. Because down there on the right side, on the lower right hand side, in the dark print on the even darker background, and one-third the font size, hello! Federal Law prohibits the use of added hormones or steroids in the raising of livestock or swine. So ostensibly they’re doing what the law requires them to do. But that doesn’t mean it’s clear for the consumer.

And so this brings us to the really great one, fresh, all natural. Are you confused yet? Are you brainwashed? Well, I mean we know by what we’ve seen from Urvashi and they’re brainwashed. They’re confused. And the Consumer Reports put it out, 65% of consumers are confused. And I work mostly in the food service sector. And most chefs, I would say 80% of them are confused because they’re more ADD than the majority of the public. And this is important information because 40 – 45% of the consumption in America is taking place in restaurants today.

And I go with my son and he’s into this stuff, you know, being raised in my family, the way we eat and how we’re trying to live our lives. And he takes me into a little restaurant in Burlington. And it says, ‘all our pork is hormone-free.’ ‘All our chicken are raised cage-free and hormone-free’ etc, etc, around the wheel. And he looks at me and he goes, “Great restaurant, huh, dad?” This is my son! He grew up with me and he doesn’t get it. This is what’s really screwed up, is that even in a family where we’ve exposed our children to what is and what isn’t, it’s confusing. It’s confusing. And yet this type of labeling is going to continue because 98% of the poultry and swine that’s being produced by companies.

And four companies represent the majority of it. And they have marketing clout. And they have lobbying clout. And people like me are going to go out and get sued for putting a Purdue label up on this thing. Not because they’ll win. But because they’ll spend me broke defending my claims. And this is what’s happening in our country. You think Andrew’s radical, just get me wound up. But this is the truth, here it is.

And here’s the difficulty we’re getting, getting the word ‘natural’ out. I want to get rid of the imagery. I want to get rid of the claims. What constitutes cage-free? I want to get rid of the claim. What constitutes a fresh family farm? Because it has an even bigger impact from where I sit than just improper labeling and the person purchasing is being defrauded, if you will. It has a bigger impact. It has an impact on those people who are trying to produce things the right way. The 2%, hell, it’s not a matter of turning back this tide. It’s a matter of preventing the 2% who are doing the right way from becoming extinct. When you get down to 2%, you’re done. It’s that serious.

And I go into a restaurant and I go up to a chef and I go, “I want you to buy this product. I want you to buy Niman ranch pork.” And I say, “It’s naturally raised.” Well, hey, my box over here says the pork I’m buying is natural and it’s one half the price. Why should I buy yours? Well, it’s got no antibiotics ever. Well, my package says nothing about antibiotics. Take a look. What we don’t require on labeling is what is in the product. And for these chickens and these hogs to be raised in these conditions, they’re being given antibiotics sub therapeutically. 90% of the antibiotics consumed in this country are being given to the animals we consume. And it’s become such a problem with illness on farms around this country, the farms that are using it, or the people factories, if you will, not farms. You see, I’m even duped by this. On these farms, the MRSA outbreak etc.

But the use of these antibiotics has now contributed to over 27,000 deaths in 2012. The FDA, the CDC have even come out and said, “Enough.” That’s, you know, we’ve been begging them to do this for 10 years. And finally – finally they speak up. But they give the industry three years for voluntary withdrawal. Well, we’ll figure out what they do in those three years to prevent having to do it, won’t we? And this is what I’m concerned about, is because those farmers, like that I represent and those companies like ourselves. Who are out there trying to sell these meats and such, end up having to lower our price to try to compete with these companies. So we give up margin, which turns into capital.

We give up margin which turns into capital that we need to invest in our facilities, that we need to compensate our employees, that we need to compensate and reward our shareholders. And this is what’s wrong with the word ‘natural’ and all these other terms. All these other terms that you see on that label, they have not, they are, they have undermined the integrity of food in this country. And the way that other people are going about selling it, to the detriment of those farmers trying to do the right thing. Thank you.


Change Food
  • George Faison

    Partner & COO DeBragga and Spitler

    George Faison, former Partner & Chief Operating Officer for DeBragga and Spitler (retired from DeBragga 1/31/15), has always had a passion for great meat, meaning … Read More