DENVER, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- With America's concern about staying fit and eating healthy, the bison industry plans to soon roll out a new seal of approval assuring the consumer that their next buffalo burger or sirloin is lean, nutritious and raised according to strict standards.
"We want to let people know where it came from and how it was raised," said Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association, which represents about 2,000 ranchers, processors and marketers in the United States.
American buffalo meat is increasingly found in restaurants and grocery stores as gourmet or specialty meat, but industry leaders have decided during the past year that a source-verified marketing system will enhance consumer acceptance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week awarded a grant of nearly $250,000 to the Denver-based bison association to help develop the data management system, production standards and marketing campaign for verified American buffalo meat.
"We will provide consumers with an additional measure of assurance that our ranchers stand behind the quality of every product that carries the source-verified meat," Carter said.
The NBA's standards already prohibit members from using hormones and antibiotics as growth stimulants. American buffalo meat is widely known for its tenderness and flavor, as well as low levels of fat, calories and cholesterol compared to beef.
"We are developing specific protocols that will allow us to actively promote our products as high-quality, natural meat produced on American farms and ranches," he said.
The bison industry has an advantage over beef operations because of the NBA code of ethics and smaller operations, Carter said. While only 19,400 bison were slaughtered under federal inspection in all of 2001, the beef industry processed 90,000 animals a day.
"We will be able to trace the animals through, make sure that the ones that go into this program meet the protocols, put a seal on there, and then any of the private marketers can pay a fee to use the seal," he said. "The fee they pay will go into a program to tell everybody what that seal is about."
Carter said the program will be intensely marketed for about six weeks in a city to be selected and then a case study will be conducted to determine how it worked and what lessons were learned before taking it to a larger market.
A recent consumer study completed for the bison association indicated that promoting the meat's flavor and tenderness are key to building a greater demand for American buffalo meat. The industry needs to do a better job of selling those qualities, he said.
Sales of the meat continue to climb, but ironically the sale price of live animals have been down the past couple of years. An informal survey conducted last spring by the NBA found sales of the meat were up 10 percent to 15 percent over 2001.
"The market is growing," Carter said, "As I like to say, we've gone through our infancy but we're sure struggling with adolescence."
(Reported by Phil Magers in Dallas)