What Can You Do As A Consumer?
Choose Traceable Meat
"Traceable Meat" refers to labeling or other markings that allows consumers to learn where the meat came from. Consumers may be more familiar with traceability in the context of geographic origin, as in wines, cheeses, or certain types of vegetables. But traceability can provide consumers with other types of important information about their food. In meat, such information could include the type of life the animal lived - i.e. whether the animal was raised on pasture or raised in confinement - and whether the animal was raised using sustainable farming practices or innovative waste management technologies.
While it is not always easy to determine the precise origin of meat purchased in a chain supermarket, there are several labels that can provide useful clues. When purchasing meat at a supermarket or chain grocery store, look for labels such as certified organic, hormone/antibiotic-free, pasture-raised, and labels that indicate high animal welfare standards. Some, like USDA Organic, are certifications offered and regulated by the federal government; others are private certifications reviewed by a third party. Retailers may also provide additional information or labeling to better inform the consumer. Whole Foods provide an animal welfare index for their meat products that indicates whether the animal was raised in confinement or in a pasture, and whether the animal was raised with or without the use of antibiotics.
By demanding this information, your everyday purchasing choices as a consumer can create positive change in a global industry. Seek out meat products that are produced at farms that employ sustainable farming practices, such as pasture-based grazing, or innovative waste management systems. Purchasing meat from CAFOs that consumers know have installed innovative waste management technologies (such as an anaerobic digester and waste to energy system) allows consumers to drive systemic change even within the CAFO production model.
Eat Less Meat
There are a variety of moral, ethical, and religious reasons people choose to adopt a diet that includes very little or no meat. However, eating less meat can also help to reduce your individual contribution to greenhouse gases and climate change.
Cows and other ruminant animals (including sheep and goats) produce large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, during the digestive process. Methane emissions from the CAFO method of livestock production are thus a significant contributor to global climate change. According to one study, eating one day’s meals without red meat or dairy products will reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than buying locally sourced food for every meal.
Research and visit local farms
The more informed consumers are about where their meat comes from, the more empowered they are to make responsible consumption choices that benefit farmers, rural communities, and the environment.
Visiting local farms is an excellent way to learn about the livestock production process and allows consumers to see exactly where their meat is coming from and how it is raised. Many local farms hold tours or events several times a year for the public. These events are often sponsored by local or regional agricultural advocacy organizations. Many states have formal directories of agritourism.