Only milk from happy cows — grazing comfortably in an open pasture — will make it to the shelves of Natural Grocers in Denton.
The local grocery store and all others in the nationwide Natural Grocers chain have announced the company will sell only dairy products produced by animals that are pasture-based instead of cows from confinement dairies, part of a growing movement to buy and sell products derived only from animals who have been raised in a humane way.
“Consumers love images of cows grazing in pastures, but that’s not always what you get,” said O’Neill Williams, manager of the local Natural Grocers. “It’s really difficult to determine what products come from pasture-based cows, and we want to make it clear and simple.”
Since the store carries other products from animals that have been raised humanely without additional antibiotics, such as chicken and beef, the move made sense for the Denton store and others across the country, he said. This is something regular customers appreciate and have cared about more in recent years — they want to know where their food came from and how it was made, he said.
“We want to make sure when people come into the store they are getting a pure source of natural products, organic products and products from animals who are humanely treated,” Williams said. “The customers are very excited about the stand and the products we carry.”
These foods have become more popular nationwide as well. Adele Douglass, who founded Humane Farm Animal Care, an international nonprofit that works to improve the lives of farm animals, said there has been growing demand and access to these products in recent years.
The organization certifies farm products as humane after inspecting where they are raised, and makes sure the animals are completely free to move around naturally. At the end of 2003, there were 143,000 farm animals raised under these standards and certified. By the end of 2013, it was 87.6 million animals.
“I think that this has been a long time coming, and this is now becoming mainstream,” Douglass said. “There’s now a product and people care. There’s a myth out there that if you care about farm animals, you won’t eat them. And this is not an either-or thing. People who eat animals still care about how they were raised and don’t want them to suffer.”
As the abundance of humane products grows, it is easier for consumers to transition to eating those products, she said.
The availability of these products and attention to the issue have also made their way to the University of North Texas. Students in the Mean Green for Animals student group successfully petitioned the dining services to use cage-free eggs, which are produced by chickens that are not held in cages. After learning more about the product and realizing there was no real cost difference, Peter Balabuch, director of resident dining, said the campus made the switch.
“To us, the real advantage is to bring as much value to UNT students as possible. They had a concern, and we were able to address it,” he said. “We’re a true customer-driven enterprise and exist because of the customers.”
Now, all eggs used by university dining services are cage free, and they are working to find a supplier for liquid egg products. Once they find a supplier that can meet the demand, they will make the switch. In the future, if there is a growing demand for other humane animal products, he said they will again look into new options.
“As the awareness broadens, we’re always willing to look into what our options are,” Balabuch said. “The important thing is not walking around with blinders on. If it’s important to those who purchase our products, it’s important for us to look into.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.