Meat conference in Winston-Salem focuses on sustainable practices | Dishing It Out

The NC Choices Carolina Meat Conference is holding its annual conference downtown at the Millennium Center. The conference draws about 300 farmers, meat processors, chefs and others interested in meat production in North Carolina.

The conference is organized as part of NC Choices, an initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. The Center for Environmental Farming Systems is a partnership of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and North Carolina State University.

The NC Choices initiative is designed to promote sustainable food systems throughout the state. It assists farmers and others with educational programs, networking and technical assistance.

The conference, which began Monday and concludes Tuesday afternoon, offers a variety of seminars and workshops. More than 40 speakers and 20 sessions have been covering such topics as pasture-raising of livestock, pork butchery, dry curing, marketing, and tax and business strategies.

The conference in particular focuses on humane treatment of animals, sustainable livestock and farming practices, and efforts to engage consumers who are interested in locally, sustainably raised meat.

Keynote speaker Urvashi Rangan spoke Monday night about the efforts to produce meaningful food labels for sustainably grown products. “There are super-high numbers” in surveys that show consumer support for local farm food, pesticide- and chemical-free food, and environmentally friendly practices, said Rangan, an advisor on food-safety issues and a member of the FDA Food Advisory Committee. “People want these kinds of foods and they are willing to pay more for them.”

Food labels, though, need improvement to help consumers navigate through the many layers of sustainable practices. Some, such as “natural,” are virtually meaningless in their present uses and can be even misleading.

But some new labels, such as the private Regenerative Organic Certified, which is said to go beyond Certified Organic, show promise.

A 2013 survey by NC Choices put sales of local meat in North Carolina at $20 million a year. The survey also found that more than 90 percent of N.C. meat farmers planned to maintain or expand their businesses.

“In 2011 when the Carolina Meat Conference first started,…

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