What is ‘Ethical Beef’?

When people talk about ‘ethical meat’, what does it mean?

This great question came my way from nocrumbsleft via the girlcarnivore last week while I was in Denver.  Kita, AKA Girl Carnivore, attended the Top of the Class seminar for beef advocacy where I held an honorary position as ‘faculty’.  I love the passion that Kita has for all things meat (even the farmers that grow it!), and I have a great respect for her ability to bring people together online for important discussions.

DSC03744As I offer “Anne’s answer” to what is ethical meat, I am going to operate under the premise that it is ethical to eat meat, and instead address the question from the standpoint of what farming practices enable meat to be described as ethically raised. To my knowledge, there is no official definition or label for ethical meat, so please bear in mind that anywhere you see the term ethical meat you are reading someone’s opinion.

For the sake of this article, I am going to focus on beef since that is the meat that I grow on my farm.  I personally define the word ethical as ‘morally correct and striving to use practices that do not harm either people or the environment’.

Anne’s short answer to the question is,

“Farmers behave ethically by employing core values that encompass good animal welfare, environmental stewardship, and effective safety practices in their quest to raise food.  Ethical farmers grow ethical beef.”

As a city girl turned farmer, I have often pondered what makes quality food.  After twenty years on a farm, I seem to always circle back to the role of the farmer.  The very heart of food exists with the farmer.

Farmers care for animals day in and day out:

  • Working with a veterinarian to ensure good welfare
  • Making decisions of how to use and protect the natural resources on the farm
  • Striving to incorporate safety into daily farm practices

To me, food is simply an extension of the person who toils to grow it.  Perhaps the long winded answer to this question manifests itself in another question:

“How do you know that the food that you buy was grown by an ethical farmer?”

Doing the right thing tops Anne’s priority list.  Whether it is caring for my cattle and our farm, mothering my three girls, or mentoring other youth in my community through coaching athletics — I take the responsibility of doing a correct and careful job to heart.

I recognize that many of you (my beef customers) don’t personally know me, so it is hard for you to trust me.  This creates a dilemma as every time you decide to purchase my beef, you must take a leap of faith trusting that I am competent and honorable in the care that I offer to my cattle.

Almost five years ago, I found a beef farmer program that not only provided a framework to my daily cattle care, but also offered an audit tool to verify my competence.  I settled on Progressive Beef  because it was the most comprehensive and practical QSA program that fit my core values of quality animal welfare, environmental stewardship (sustainability), and food safety.

Progressive Beef provides me with 39 different Standard Operating Procedures to ensure a daily culture of good ethics on my farm.  Crew training and in depth documentation requirements pair up with audits that verify the behaviors and management practices of my crew and I.  The core values of the program become a promise of competence when I pass the audit; thereby lending credence to my claim of being an ethical farmer.

In essence, Progressive Beef closes the gap between the farmer and his/her beef customer when a personal relationship between the two is unattainable.

Aligning our core values within the Progressive Beef QSA allows for both of us to enjoy ethical beef.


Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

6 responses to “What is ‘Ethical Beef’?

  1. Adele Hite, MPH RD

    I know from reading your blog that ethical labor practices are part of your ethical farming practices, an aspect of producing food that I think is incredibly important. I do have some concern that your high standards of concern for treating workers fairly and ensuring safe working conditions may not transfer to the rest of the production line. Does Progressive Beef help ensure that those standards in the processing end of things?

    • This is a great question, Adele. The Progressive Beef QSA predominantly covers the feed yard sector of the industry and there are components that work to ensure good crew safety. Routine worker safety meetings, company safety protocols/plans, and required training sessions help to ensure that our farm crews are set up for success. On top of these, OSHA standards govern equipment and work conditions.

      As you know, my feed yard crew is like my family. My foreman, my cowboy and I have worked together for 20 years. We are a very connected “team”. While I cannot speak for others, I do not think that I am necessarily “unique” in the relationship that I have with my crew.

      Thank you for asking a great question!

  2. Mike

    I applaud you for being such an advocate for the consumption of ethically produced Nebraska beef. As a consumer, I eat a considerable amount of meat. I appreciate individuals who promote quality animal care because I want good tasting, quality meat on my table. Animal agriculture has come a long way thanks to responsible producers such as yourself.

    • Thank you, Mike — for both your kinds words and for eating our beef! I very much appreciate your note. Yes, animal agriculture has made tremendous strides over the past couple of decades. I appreciate you being a loyal customer!


  3. Tom

    I love your way of thinking about food quality. It really does all begin with the farmer and their practices.

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