On April 19, more than 100 beef buyers, retailers, chefs and producers gathered at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture to discuss the findings of a new study and where the grassfed beef industry is headed. The Pasture to Plate summit featured an interactive lunch hosted by Blue Hill chefs Dan Barber and Adam Kaye, a workshop on flavor with Bill Niman of BN Ranch and a panel on consumer insights with Stefan Oellinger of FreshDirect, Tim Joseph of Maple Hill Creamery and more.
The main focus of the one-day summit was the release of a new study, “Back to Grass: the Market Potential for U.S. Grassfed Beef.” The study finds an urgent need for accurate labeling to ensure that consumers are getting what they think they are buying, including the humane treatment of animals and environmental and health benefits.
“The U.S. market for grassfed beef has grown at 100 percent per year for the past four years, yet consumers don’t realize that much of this beef is coming from cattle that haven’t actually spent the whole of their lives on open pasture, eating real grass,” said Jill Isenbarger, CEO of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, one of the partners behind the study.
The common perception among restaurateurs and consumers used to be that grassfed beef was tough and dry compared to that of grain-fed beef, but today, star chefs buy grassfed exclusively, saying that the quality and taste are superior to that of conventional feedlot beef. And evidence is mounting that well-managed animals can regenerate grasslands, build soil health and sequester carbon.
But the grassfed beef on the market is inaccessible to many consumers due to high price premiums; its supply chain has not benefited from decades of consolidation, vertical integration and government subsidies, as has the conventional beef supply chain.
The study finds that the price of grassfed beef could come down significantly if the industry were to establish well-managed grass-finishing operations that take advantage of economies of scale in processing, distribution and marketing. But these operations must be based on high standards for the humane treatment of animals and for land and water stewardship. Currently a number of labels and standards confuse the marketplace and the consumer, as they conflate excellent management practices with poor ones.
Together, these actions could reshape the beef industry — and unlock the benefits to human health, animal welfare, soil health and carbon sequestration that grassfed beef can provide.
The summit and the report are part of Stone Barns Center’s increasing efforts to convene professionals from all sectors of the food system on key issues and opportunities for the future of food and agriculture.
The report was produced through the collaboration of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Armonia, Bonterra Partners and SLM Partners. The lead authors were Renee Cheung of Bonterra Partners and Paul McMahon of SLM Partners; they were assisted by Erik Norell, Rosalie Kissel and Donny Benz. Dr. Allen Williams of Grass Fed Insights, LLC acted as a consultant to the project and provided invaluable input. This report was generously supported by The Belay Fund, a donor-advised fund of The Denver Foundation, at the request of Rob Gary.
Originally published on April 19, 2017