Your Purchasing Power: Consumer Demand is Changing Big (and Small) Food

* This is a guest blog post by Emma Green, an environmental studies and biology major at St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Emma RosterYou buy local and humanely raised meat, compost food scraps, and shop at farmers markets whenever possible — but do these small, individual actions make a difference? Yes! Your actions are part of a large and growing movement to build a more fair and sustainable food system, from farm to fork.

While it may not always feel this way, consumer food choices play a big role in determining the quantity and variety of crops grown by farmers as well as their methods of production and harvesting. These changes in production are often dramatic, for instance the U.S. organic industry saw an 8.4% increase in sales just between 2015 and 2016.

These changes toward ecologically-sound and healthy food options are not just affecting farmers’ markets, coops, and MOM’s Organic Markets, they have even seeped into the food standards of one of the most unlikely candidates, McDonalds.

Organic Sales Growth ChartResponding to demands from consumers like you and declining sales, McDonald’s has launched a sustainability project routed in the ideals of the modern consumer. In a move to combat the rise in antibiotic resistance, McDonald’s poultry suppliers have stopped administering antibiotics that are used in human medicine and are only giving antibiotics to chickens that are sick.

In addition to poultry, Cargill, a beef supplier to McDonald’s, has recently launched a line of beef that is “pasture-crafted,” where the cows are raised grass-fed and then finished with grain before slaughter. Grass-fed beef is healthier for the consumer and better for the environment, with less greenhouse gas emissions than grain-fed beef.

As the largest restaurant chain in the world, this consumer pushback has major implications for the future of the food industry. While we encourage consumers to support small and mid-size local farmers and ranchers who raise their livestock on pasture, the cumulative effects of small shifts from giant corporations like McDonald’s who rely on industrial agriculture can be immense.

Grassfed Cattle -USDABecause consumers are demanding transparency, healthy options, and sustainable farming, this revolution in how our food is produced has been sweeping the entire nation. Sales of grass-fed beef have skyrocketed from $17 million in 2012 to $272 million in 2016. Access to these products has also increased. The number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. increased from under 2,000 in 1994 to more than 8,700 registered in the USDA Farmers Market Directory today.

These progressions are because of consumers like you who make informed choices in the food they buy. So this New Year, resolve to ask the butcher for pasture-raised beef, shop at a local farmers market, stay engaged with your local farmers and ranchers, and buy organic – because your actions are building a new, sustainable, and healthy food future.