2013-05-31

Cage-Free, Free-Range, And Humanely Raised: Demystifying Your Meat

BuyingPoultry hopes to be the place to cut through the confusing verbiage and where you can go and find out exactly what happened to a chicken before you eat it.

U.S. farms produce a staggering 9 billion chickens a year, and nothing seems likely to stop the growth of the industry. Over the last 60 years, poultry production has increased a whopping 1,400% (per person, we now eat double the poundage of 40 years ago).

That growth has come with issues, of course. Appalling conditions for animals. Gratuitous use of antibiotics. The rise of resistant bacteria. More manure than farms can handle. And so forth.

These days, many of us have a sense what we’re eating may not be good for us, particularly in the bacteria and drugs we’re quietly ingesting. The problem is what to do about it. Without better information about on-farm practices, it’s impossible to make informed choices that benefit companies making an effort (while disadvantaging those that don’t).

The aim of BuyingPoultry.com is to offer some measure of the information available, and to contextualize it with some expert opinion. A project of Farm Forward, an advocacy group and farm in its own right, it is currently campaigning on Kickstarter, and could use your help.

Farm Forward founder Ben Goldsmith says he’s been wanting to get the site going for three years. "It stems from hearing the same question over and over again: 'where should I buy my meat?' It was pretty obvious there wasn’t a reliable source for consumers who are interested in answers to this."

Goldsmith sees the site (and app) providing both information (for example, whether a farm is certified organic or not) and explaining what certifications actually mean. Many consumers are confused about "free range," "cage free," and other terms, he says, and phrases like "humanely raised" may have several meanings. "What we’re bringing to the table is real insight into these practices. If you find out that a company is raising free range chicken, it doesn’t really tell you much beyond that. This will tell you if that’s a relatively humane practice."

An early version of BuyingPoultry.com lists production facilities, giving "humane ratings" for each; a section for retailers that sell the meat; and whether the companies involved have revealed details about their practices. (Many likely have not: critics say the industry has stifled legitimate activism, and shut off facilities behind something-to-hide barriers).

Even so, Goldsmith hopes the resource, which he hopes will go live next year, will help shine a light and start a helpful conversation--both between ourselves and with the producers. "We creating dialogue with the companies, and we hope that becomes a popular feature of the site. It’s going to take that kind of feedback to change practices."

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