To be "naturally-raised" or not to be

A couple years ago we made a conscious decision to stop calling our meat products "naturally-raised" and instead switched to calling them "pasture-based". Why?, you might ask. What's the difference?

Well, firstly, we were told by another farmer that the term "naturally-raised" is not permitted by the Canadian government unless the animals are basically "wild-raised", like a deer or moose that a hunter might kill - i.e. no confinement, probably not even any mineral supplements, like the kelp and pro-biotic containing mineral mix that we currently use, basically just a feed source that would be what the animals could get in the wild, etc. We did some searching on government websites and it was actually fairly difficult to find any clear directives regarding the use of the term "naturally-raised" or what it meant. What we did come to understand though is that supposedly only businesses, farms, etc. that have been government audited should use that term. Interesting that we couldn't easily find any documents that would show a standard for "naturally-raised" against which an audit could be conducted. Suffice it to say that we didn't want to spend too much time on government websites muddling through the bureaucratic ins and outs of using that term, so we have not pursued the subject further from that standpoint. If anyone has more information on this topic, about the real ins and outs of government regulation of the term "naturally-raised", we are always open to learning more.

The second and more important reason we stopped using the term is that we've noted that it is being bandied about very loosely by many businesses/producers, such that we felt it's meaning is clouded to the point of being of virtually no value. As an example, we know of producers whose cattle never see a green blade of grass in a pasture, whose hogs never see sunlight unless they're in a transport vehicle and whose layers are caged who are calling their product "naturally-raised". To our minds there is very little that is natural about the way those animals are being raised, but since there really is no true regulation of the term as far as we can see, no standard that we have found or at least there is no "policing" of its application, anyone can simply put that label on with no consequences if it is untrue. This leaves consumers in a "buyer-beware" position where they have to not only ask questions but know the right questions to ask of those they buy their food from. And because not everyone is a farmer and many are already over-inundated with information, most people wouldn't necessarily know what questions to ask.

So based on the above we decided to drop the term "naturally-raised" from most of our "literature" and instead opted for "pasture-based" and more descriptions of how exactly we raise and treat our animals. We felt this was the only way that our customers could truly know what our ethics and practices are.

One problem which we just realised with this though - a year or more after implementing the change - is that many people would use "naturally-raised" as their internet search term when looking for products of the type that we produce. So, by trying to be more descriptive about our products and inform our customers to a greater extent, we inadvertently made it more difficult for potential customers to find us on the internet - ooops. And that is part of the reason for writing this blog post - it puts more information out there while using the term we have decided not to use many times over so that people can still find us. Arrrrgggghhhh.

It's interesting, in many ways we are not for more government involvement in farming practices. But we see that when it comes to labelling and such, it becomes a Catch 22. If the government doesn't regulate it, consumers can be duped into purchasing products that are not representative of what they actually want to consume (and usually at a higher price), while more government regulation on the other hand can lead to a great deal of paperwork, public expense and can actually force businesses like ours out of the market because the load of dealing with the bureaucracy cannot be handled on a the small scale while it's a small portion of the overall costs for the mega-factory farm producers.