Andrew Gunther at Meat Labels: Natural No More – Andrew Gunther

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Change Food

Now, that is a really hard to act to follow on the basis that everything Urvashi does is based in science. And although everything AWA does is based in science, we work with round about 2,000 farmers across the US, and about two million acres. And we’re a third party audit program. So what we do is we actually go out and audit, we inspect, certify. And then promote farmers producing on pasture on range. And just to blow our trumpet a little bit. We’re the only organization in the US that requires pasture on range. Even the Organic Seal doesn’t require it the level we do. And we are the only certification that is birth to death. So we require to see where the animal is born, see where it dies. And we are the only organization that is accredited the ISO 65 accreditation.

Why Must “Natural” Go? Well, if we’re a free market and we accept that America is a free market and we want to be a free market. The free market in theory shouldn’t be regulated. However, for a free market to operate properly, it should be transparent. And what we don’t have is a transparent market. Because if we did, and I think we would all agree that if you see natural antibiotic-free pork, this is your expectation. I think you’d be quite horrified to see that this is an acceptable antibiotic-free all-natural pork production system. So this is the label that my farmers are here and other farmers are competing with. These guys have to do this to get their aspiration and their claim. And they’re competing with this.

So let’s just take a little look at this in terms of our chicken. So here is, I think, the bucolic picture, what most people that an all-natural chicken should look like. And here is the reality, conventional genetics. Its legs have gone on the basis that it’s too heavy. The chances are it had a vitamin E deficiency in its breed of flock. And there’s something wrong with the hatchery. This actually had breast blisters, if I had a pointer piece, here with its breasts on the floor. This here, all of this litter, it’s called litter or bedding, is going to be full of phosphorous. It’s going to be full of nitrogen. And if you lay in it for long enough it will burn a hole in you, and they’re called breast blisters. If you go where its feet are it’s called pododermatitis. And the scientists will tell you, it’s the equivalent to walking on hot coals. That is the all-natural chicken you’re eating. And I’m doing this deliberately. I’m not a person that wants to frighten you. I’m a person that wants people to look up and say, “Hey, let’s take notice of what we’re buying.”

What do you think all-natural or natural means? And most of us think that it’s possibly pasture raised, use of antibiotics, high animal welfare, environmentally responsible. Perhaps no GMOs, perhaps family farms, perhaps third party audited. And just to reinforce Urvashi’s point, this is the definition of natural as it sits in the United States today, no more, no less. So that means you can have a piece of pork from a conventionally raised pig. Put up on the basis, as long as they haven’t played with it once the animal’s dead, it can verify for this standard. What I wanted to do here is explore a little bit. And this is why Urvashi’s work is so critical. Because I’m agenda’d, I represent my farmers. I represent great family farmers across the US trying to do the right thing, try to farm sustainably, try to make a living and competing in an unfair marketplace.

That’s what I do for a living. It’s the greatest job on the planet. I get to meet great folks like you. I eat the greatest food in the world. And I get to hang out with Urvashi and Chuck and the rest of the panel tonight. And that means a lot to me. But let’s just look at the laws governing meat. And this is quite weird. You see, and I mean weird, strange, odd in an English way because you’ll gather I’m not from around here. And I’m not from Texas. But I do live in Oregon. And I do have an American driver’s license. I do on occasion get in the wrong side of a car. So this is the United States law and regulation as it applies to meat. And it’s in the CFR. It’s in the Code of Federal Regulation. It’s actually written in stone. This is the Canadian one. And God bless the Canadians. They seem to want to do three times as much as we do about regulation. And this is cute because this a European one. But here’s the interesting thing with the European one. You can’t say anything but the word ‘beef’ unless you had somebody else prove it. And each cow in the European Union has a passport. And you cannot sell it for slaughter unless it has a passport with it. And yet our industry is saying they don’t want traceability. They don’t want COOL which is Country Of Origin Labeling. They don’t want to know where their meat comes from. The precursor to understanding where your meat comes from is traceability and transparency. You need to know where it comes from.

Label confusion, Urvashi touched on this. This is Animal Welfare Institute. They’re an organization in Washington DC. AWA started as a program of the Animal Welfare Institute. And recently we’ve become independent. But this is an incredible report. This report examined all of the humane, high welfare and sustainable claims that are on file with FSIS. Now, you would expect for a claim like high welfare or sustainability, you’d have somebody look at it, wouldn’t you? It’s done by affidavit. It’s done by a letter from mum. So Tyson, Smithfield, JBS, Cargill send a letter to FSIS. And say, “Hey, we raised this chicken in this way and you need to believe us because we’re signing off on it. We’re not making any money from this, honest, God.”

Here’s a startling fact. They found there was an inconsistency and lack of transparency. They found that it doesn’t meet consumer expectations. They found in the same science that Urvashi uses, the consumer thought one thing and it wasn’t happening. They found that that would lead to misleading and deceptive labeling. And they found that it harms farmers who use accurate claims. And here’s a fact. 85% of a used foyer of the files examined had nothing in them, not just a letter from mum, nothing, not a thing. And the company was allowed to make the label claim. As consumers we have to be appalled by that lack of oversight and transparency. So what we don’t get with natural, we don’t get any environmental benefits; we’re still using soy, GM soy. 85% of the soy in the US is fed to food animals. Phosphates and other pollutants, we’re very busy turning the Gulf of Mexico into some kind of red zone where no fish will grow. And our air quality is absolutely being destroyed. And the people that live near these factories and plants are, you know, just being absolutely destroyed. And it takes one of our first nation families to make this statement. That when all the fish have gone from the rivers and when all the trees have been chopped down, only then will we realize we cannot eat money, because that’s where we’re going.

But there is a solution. And as consumers we can take action. We can sign Urvashi’s petition. We can set light… We can make purchase decisions. I was trying to be facetious then, ‘we can set light to the FSIS office.’ That’s a French thing isn’t? They go and burn down government offices if they don’t do things… You can take a minute to learn things about your food. And we’ve developed these notices of how your food is. So here’s your all-natural claim running across the top. It’s absolutely nothing. You get to grass-fed livestock, there’s some positives. The problem with the pasture raised claim is there’s nothing, nobody’s looking at it. And then organic, that’s got some pretty stuff going on. And then animal welfare approved at the bottom. And we’re a little bit confused about sustainable use. Because we think actually feeding a Monagas corn, which you could feed to a human, so feeding a chicken, corn, you could feed to a human may not be sustainable. So you care about animal welfare. You’ll notice again, here’s our superstar claim. It can use all of the things in theory, we should hate. And then you come down to AWA and you know we are as tough as it gets in our certification. There are other certifications out there. And if you can’t buy ours then go ahead and least buy something that’s certified. That somebody’s gone out and taken a look at for you. And then you care about social issues.

And this is a real big one for me because in order for something to be sustainable, it has to take care of the environment. It has to take care of the people that work within it. And when the people that work within a food animal production system in the United States, cannot afford to buy the meat they produce. That is not sustainable. And that includes the farmer. A lot of farmers cannot afford to buy what they are producing to sell. And social justice is a big issue. Most of our animals are killed in plants where the workers are either undocumented or here on temporary visas. Earning well below minimum wage with actually no healthcare, no benefits. And routinely abused, and living three to four families in a double wide, so that we can have this so-called cheap meat. So what I’m urging you all to do is just to take a look, take five minutes on the internet. And my analogy is, if you buy a car, you get on the internet and you check to see the credentials of that car. If you buy a house you get somebody to come in and inspect your house. You’re putting poison and toxins in your body potentially at every meal. And nobody takes two minutes to see how that animal was produced or where that food comes from. That seems insane to me. We’re slowly killing ourselves with toxins. And I’m a survivor of pre diabetes, all sort of issues in food diet, I’ve changed. I haven’t stopped eating meat. I’ve just changed the way I eat meat. And here we’ve got some solutions for you.

We’ve done Food Labels Exposed where we’ve done the hard work. It used to be called Labeling for Idiots. And it was written by my team for me. You know, because I’m English and I have no idea what it says. But they’re available outside, they’re online. We’ve got a crazy little app, which tells you what they mean. Consumers Union and Urvashi didn’t actually push it as hard as she did. They’ve done a brilliant comparison of label claims online. Blow our trumpet, we do relatively well within it. But it tells you those claims you can really take seriously and you could look at its solution. So this is all free. They’re all free resources. And we love it. And thank you. This is one of my chicken producers, as chicken should be natural. And if you see that egg box you know that that’s the life the chicken’s had. And as consumers you can make a difference and we can do it now. Thank you very much.

Video Length: 00:10:37

  • About Andrew Gunther

    Program Director Animal Welfare Approved

    Since 2008, Andrew has spearheaded Animal Welfare Approved’s unprecedented growth. AWA farms are now recognized as being at the vanguard more.


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