Use care when marketing local beef

By Garth Ruff, Beef Cattle Field Specialist, Ohio State University Extension

I am a big supporter of local food production and direct marketing. When done properly in some production systems there are opportunities to capitalize on demand for locally produced food, serve as a direct link for consumer education, enhance economic sustainability of the farm enterprise, among other benefits.

I have taught dozens of programs on local foods and direct marketing in the last five or so years. In each of those programs I remind participants of these two things with regards to labeling and direct marketing;

  1. Do not misrepresent your product and
  2. Do not misrepresent or make false statements about the product of other producers.

Recently several friends of mine have shared with me several instances of both of the above scenarios. In one such instance a freezer beef producer’s (who shall not be named) attack on beef produced by other producers and the beef industry was egregious enough to get me wound up; and I try not to get too wound up about things seen on social media. Spreading falsehoods about the wholesomeness of beef is something as an industry we should not tolerate, and I hope that you as producers feel the same

To hopefully prevent another rant on this very topic, let’s review some examples of what not to do when putting together a direct marketing plan. Do not misrepresent your product. This is the less aggravating of the two offenses but is an offense that can be misleading to consumers. In most cases the misrepresenting one’s own product, standard, commonly used terminology is being used to describe quality are being used without verification.

In simpler terms, one cannot market beef as Choice, Prime, or Certified Angus Beef if that beef carcass has not been graded by an USDA grader. Grading is optional, and the service comes with an associated cost.

Per the Ohio Department of Agriculture web page: Companies can choose to have the meat and poultry that they sell graded by USDA; it is not mandatory. This is the only mark of identity you have for knowing the quality of the product. If a meat or poultry product is graded by USDA, there must be a USDA grade shield or mark on the carcass, package or product label. Only the official USDA grade can be used as a guide to the quality of the meat. If the company claims it is selling Choice beef, for example, it must be proclaimed on the package or product label within the USDA shield or another approved marking.

I truly believe that these fouls are often unintentional, due to a lack of awareness of the rules. It is the second type of foul where producers misrepresent or make false statements about the product of other producers that are intentional and gets me fired up. While these comments are fewer in number, they are more damaging to the industry, often pitting direct marketed product against producers of commodity beef. Keep in mind with regard quality, that most commodity beef has been graded by USDA can the above-mentioned quality based claims can be made.

There are several reasons to why one would want to distinguish locally produced, direct to the consumer, beef in the marketplace. However, falsehoods about the wholesomeness, safety, and quality of commodity beef should not be made unless there is scientific data to back it up.

In the beef industry there are multiple lanes for producers and consumers to drive in. Not every lane fits every producer or consumer, which makes for the opportunity to make decisions both in production and purchasing of beef. That opportunity to choose, is one of many reasons that make the beef industry unique. Lastly, regardless of which lane we are in as producers, we should all continue to drive towards a common goal of producing a high demand product with a positive consumer eating experience.

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