business news in context, analysis with attitude

Interesting piece in the Detroit Free Press this morning about pasture-based farms, which specialize in grass-fed animals that have not been injected with drugs or hormones, have not been kept in restricted spaces, and haven't been fattened up with grains they ordinarily would not eat.

According to the story, "David Conner, research specialist at Michigan State University's Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, said studies show that pasture-based farms have a higher profit per animal, and that the farmers are generally happier, most likely because they don't have as many conflicts with their neighbors over smell and other issues.

"He said that a study he conducted last year showed that 80% of Michiganders believe pasture-raised meats are healthier, but that most mistakenly believe they are getting them already, probably because of unclear labeling. More than 90% also said that given the opportunity, they'd be very or somewhat likely to purchase pasture-raised milk and beef, and that they would pay an average 41% more per pound.

"Those who have made the switch say they started because they were trying to be healthier, but kept going because they like the taste."

And, the story notes, "There is plenty of debate about the health benefits of non-conventionally raised meat. Studies have shown that grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids than feedlot raised meats. Animals raised without hormones, antibiotics or other supplements don't have traces of those chemicals in their systems.

"But how meaningful that is in terms of health isn't universally agreed upon. Erica Wald, a registered dietician for MFit, the community health promotion division of the University of Michigan Health System, points out that while there are plenty of small studies identifying some advantages, they haven't risen to the national level yet."

KC's View:
This may not be precisely the moment in the nation's economic history to see a big increase in the sales of products that cost an average of 41 percent more per pound, but that doesn’t mean it is always going to be this way.

Besides, such farms are going to well positioned if there are new food safety problems in the mainstream beef industry, such as the ones that forced the major beef recall that created so much concern among consumers. And if their products actually do taste better? Well, that will just be another benefit…