The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) was established in 2011 as a community interest company to promote the benefits of producing meat from animals fed exclusively on pasture. The PFLA provides those who follow pastoral standards with a way to have this recognised, and gives customers a guarantee of authenticity through the ‘Pastoral’ logo.

PASTORAL-APPROVED-LOGO

It is impossible not to feel the energy of this young, enthusiastic, not-for-profit organisation, which can literally lay claim to the title of leading a ‘grass roots’ movement. With so much to do and only modest resources, most of the work is undertaken in an honorary capacity by members – predominantly the organisation’s directors.

Last week, representatives from the SFT attended the PFLA’s AGM and members’ summer meeting to show support for the aims of the organisation and to learn about recent progress.

The meeting was held at the North Wyke Farm Platform, a government grassland research farm on the edge of Dartmoor, run by Rothamsted Research. In addition to PFLA members, the meeting was attended by representatives from the Soil Association, the Biodynamic Association, Duchy College, Dartington College, RegenAg, IBERS and EBLEX.

Membership has increased by more than a third in the past year, the number of certified farms has risen to 33 and approved outlets to 16. This has been helped by growing attention from the media, including BBC Farming Today and Countryfile.

Anna Bassett explained the PFLA’s independent certification scheme and standards. Meat sold under the ‘Pastoral’ label is 100% grass-fed – animals receive no grain at all. PFLA members refer exclusively to ‘pasture-fed’ because there is no agreed definition of ‘grass-fed’ and most grazing animals in the UK currently receive grain as well, in widely varying amounts and at differing ages. So PFLA members agreed early in the organisation’s development that ‘pasture-fed’ would mean exactly what it says.

There is a real attempt to keep things as simple and cost-effective as possible. Assistance has been received from the US organisation, Animal Welfare Approved, to support part of the initial cost of annual inspections – currently about £250 per farm. However, plans are underway to carry out inspections in conjunction with other audits, such as those for farm assurance or organic production, which would cut the costs and the time involved considerably.

Still in its infant stages, but developing intelligently and professionally, the PFLA has managed to avoid getting bogged down in the sort of bureaucracy which puts off a lot of farmers from becoming involved in certification schemes. To date, progress has been built on trust, cooperation and the passion for the principles of the PFLA. There have also been a few generous donations from committed members, but for the organisation to expand, the PFLA now needs to extend the certification process to include abattoirs, butchers and retailers.

The organisation expects to become self-financing by 2017, but in the short run is dependent on grant funding and donations to support its development costs. Now that the certification and audit process has been established, the absolute priority is to build transparent links in the supply chains between its approved suppliers and market outlets – and for this it is seeking funding to employ a suitable person to take this forward over the next 12-24 months.

The production and the supply of grass-fed meat were illustrated by Mark Bury from Eversfield Organic, an approved outlet for pasture-fed beef and lamb. Mark has recently been made a Director of the PFLA and is enthusiastic about promoting its virtues. Being pasture-fed for life, sustainability, farming with integrity, nurturing the earth, improving pastures and having animal welfare at the forefront – these are the roots of the PFLA. The organisation’s vision is to provide the best possible health-giving meat, for which it is worth paying a little extra, and which encourages smart cooking so that everything can be safely utilised. The passion of the PFLA encompasses quality, taste, health, availability, traceability and confidence in certification and supply chain integrity.

Mark shared his considerable business experience and provided ideas on how the PFLA could tap into new niche markets. He wants to see chefs get involved in promoting pasture-fed meat and the use of less well known cuts. Packaging, pricing and marketing were all touched upon. The PFLA has so far been able to develop niche markets and to fit in well with the rise in farm shops, farmers’ markets and box schemes. But it plans to move to a larger scale cautiously over the next two years.

Mark’s presentation led into an interesting discussion about increasing consumer interest in sustainable, well-produced food. The PFLA recognises the significance of this shift and the fact that people really want to know their food is from a good source. The ‘Pastoral’ brand is beginning to tap into this and provide a means for people to know their food is of the very best quality.

Traceability and quality were both major themes of the meeting, and the ‘Pasture Tracks’ barcode system was demonstrated as a way of finding out information on the origin of the meat and how it was raised. The QR code (a kind of 2D barcode) can be found wherever PFLA-certified produce is available and can be scanned using a smartphone or typed into the PFLA website, in order to provide the customer with detailed information about the product they’re buying, the farm it came from and what happened between farm and retail outlet.

Over recent weeks, PFLA members have been discussing online how they can provide the benefits of pasture-fed meat to those on lower incomes. Members have shared their experience of direct selling off the farm and the conclusions mainly focused on complete utilisation of the carcass (nose to tail cooking) and on providing purchasers with more information about the various cuts and about how to cook them. EBLEX has been very helpful in sharing its experience and their assistant regional manager, Joseph Keating, gave a presentation pointing out the shift in consumer circumstances and choices. His advice was to tap into two-person households, as these are now the most common, which means that people want smaller cuts of meat as the demand for large joints and meals like the Sunday roast are falling. Reiterating Mark’s point that we should use the whole carcass and the more unusual cuts, Joseph showed why it is necessary to become imaginative in the way meat is cut up and presented. Ultimately this could see a shift towards a wider variety of meat cuts.

Other recently appointed directors, Sara Gregson and Luppo Diepenbroek, also advised on their activities. Sara, of Talking Grass,  explained how she presents the PFLA to the media, in particular promoting the distinction between grass-fed and pasture-fed (only the term pasture-fed has formal and auditable standards). The PFLA has a very active online discussion group in which members seek advice and share experiences. Further, all approved suppliers are being asked to write down in a structured way the characteristics of their farm and how they raise their livestock as wholly pasture-fed. Luppo is collating all the lessons learned from the discussion group, for posterity. He is also bringing together all the ‘evidence’ from approved suppliers so that this can be available to other farmers who would like to become approved pasture-fed producers.

After lunch there was a presentation about the North Wyke Farm Platform by Robert Orr the farm manager, followed by a guided tour of the research farm, looking at the state of the art facilities and some of the research that is underway, which it is hoped will form the basis of future advice to grassland farmers on how to increase productivity while also reducing reliance on non-renewable inputs, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and increasing soil carbon levels.

Featured image by Steph French

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