Mad cow scare could boost organic beef
Article with PDCA member Jack Goodman from 2004 but still relevant today.
BUHL, Idaho _ The hay that cattle rancher Jack Goodman tosses to his cows is free of herbicides or pesticides.
At a time when Americans are worried about the current mad cow scare, cattlemen like Goodman who sell organic beef could see their market grow substantially.
"My hay's not as pretty as my neighbor's hay -- it's got some grass in it," he said. "But that's OK. It sure doesn't bother my cows any."
For more than 25 years, Goodman has maintained a herd of Irish Dexter cattle. About 70 Dexters feed exclusively on alfalfa and pasture grass grown without herbicides or pesticides. He does not feed them animal byproducts and shuns the use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes, which could make his beef a hot commodity with consumers.
Mad cow disease, which was found in Washington state, is thought to be spread through cattle feed containing protein or bone meal from infected cows or sheep.
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture banned feeding these products to cattle in 1997 and new regulations were introduced last week, organic food advocates say the laws have loopholes and are sometimes poorly enforced.
Most of Goodman's cattle is sold as breeding stock to private owners. He said the consumer market for organic and grass-fed beef is looking up at a time when the outlook for the commercial beef market has clouded.
"As a consumer, I would be more interested in eating something that is guaranteed not to have been fed animal byproducts," Goodman said. "I wouldn't sell anything I wouldn't eat myself."
In Idaho, beef producers can be certified organic through a process of inspections and by adhering to established state standards for organic crops, including not applying unapproved materials to soil.
Goodman said the new regulations include a national identification system for cattle. They are a step forward in further preventing mad cow from entering the American food supply.
But the discovery of the disease is "the tip of the iceberg," he said.
Rebecca Mirsky, director of the Idaho Organic Alliance, said she believes the mad cow scare will encourage consumers to turn to locally grown organic and grass-fed beef.
It can be more expensive to raise beef organically and in small herds, and that cost is passed onto the consumer at the restaurant and supermarket.
Goodman sells his Dexter steers on the market for about $1.10 per pound, compared with commercial beef that hovered around an average of 90 cents per pound before the U.S. mad cow discovery.
Goodman acknowledges raising his cattle in a niche market is not as profitable as one may think.
"I do what I do because I feel we all have a responsibility to the earth; I really enjoy doing what I'm doing," Goodman said.