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USDA begins posting wholesale bison meat prices

August 5th 2004, Farm and Dairy Online Edition
Initial monthly report shows strengthening demand, prices.

WASHINGTON - The USDA's move to begin posting wholesale bison meat price information is another indication that buffalo is moving into the mainstream marketplace, according to the Colorado-based National Bison Association.
"Development of the new wholesale price report is a valuable new tool that will assist marketers and buyers alike in establishing new markets for bison meat," said Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association.
New report. The new report, posted for the first time in July, indicates that the demand and prices are steadily increasing for bison meat.
"The new USDA market reporting service reflects the strengthening market that is taking place for our meat products," Carter said.
The initial market report posted by USDA was based upon price information obtained from processors accounting for 62.8 percent of the animals processed in June.
"This is a very good level of information upon which to base a national report," Carter noted.
Development. The new monthly market report has been under development by USDA for the past nine months.
The agency has been working with the National Bison Association's Commercial Marketers Committee to develop the report data collection and price reporting format.
The new market report can be viewed at www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/nw_ls526.txt.

©Farm and Dairy 2004


Dieters push popularity of bison meat to record levels

March 12th 2004, USA Today Online
WICHITA (AP) — The convergence of high-protein diets and the demand for healthier foods is making it a good time to be a bison producer.
The commercial bison slaughter last year was a record 34,444 animals, according to Department of Agriculture figures. Though that remains tiny compared to the cattle slaughter of 35.7 million animals last year, it's up 36%.

Buffalo, a red meat alternative, has less fat and fewer calories than beef. Bison are also marketed as being raised naturally, without growth hormones or antibiotics.

"I happen to be a meat lover. We tried vegetarian diets, but I have to have meat," said David Patterson, a Georgia resident who has been buying buffalo meat for three years. He buys a quarter of a bison at a time from a Kansas buffalo farm.

Patterson said he and his wife were searching for healthier foods when they tried bison meat, and have been hooked since finding out that bison meat was high in protein, low in fat and high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

Many consumers are getting their first taste of buffalo thanks to the growth of media pioneer Ted Turner's restaurant chain, Ted's Montana Grill. In the two years since the chain was launched, 19 restaurants have opened in Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, Colorado, Kentucky and North Carolina. Another 18 are slated to open this year.

"We recognize we are still trying to get most people to take their first bite of the product," said Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association. "Ted's Montana Grill not only creates a lot of visibility ... but staff are trained on how to prepare the product and how to present it so people taking their first bite are enjoying it."

Another boost came last year from the Agriculture Department's $10 million purchase of buffalo meat for school lunch and government nutrition programs.

Also helping bison sales were record high beef prices, which suddenly made bison meat seem not quite so expensive, said Richard Duff, who raises about 450 bison near Scott City.

Linda Hubalek, a bison producer in Lindsborg, Kan., said she was selling bison burger for $3.99 a pound and her top steaks were going for $19.99 a pound. At the grocery store not far away, beef prices were around $1.59 to $1.99 a pound, and the top cut, a filet, was selling for $13.99 a pound.

Demand for bison meat is on track for another record-breaking year as more consumers turn to bison as an alternative to beef in the wake of the discovery late last year of mad cow disease in a U.S. dairy cow, Carter said.

Starting in June, consumers can look for a new USDA label on bison products assuring them the animal was fed and raised naturally. The system will use an audit trail of paperwork and animal identification.

"For years it has been the industry standard, but we know now that consumers want a little more assurance," Carter said.

Hubalek and her husband, Verne, own Smoky Hill Bison Co. They sell meat from grass-fed buffalo direct from their farm to homes across the nation and also operate a visitors center at the ranch.

The Hubaleks' customers think Kansas "is a natural place to be finding buffalo meat. Kansas is 'where the buffalo roam' — the song helps us out."

Actually, Montana is the nation's top buffalo producing state with 38,000 head. Estimates put the commercial U.S. buffalo herd at 270,000 animals, Carter said.

The nation's buffalo herds are concentrated in the northern tier states and the High Plains, with the biggest herds in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas.

Kathy Jeffries, an Illinois environmental activist, bought 70 pounds of bison meat from Smoky Hill Bison in Kansas after searching the Internet for buffalo raised naturally by family farmers. Jeffries said she wanted a cleaner, grass-fed meat alternative.

"You are what you eat," she said.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.



Bison making comeback as healthier, tasty meat
Canku Ota online newsletter March 9th 2002, Issue 56
by Nicholas Pilugin, Rueters Press

NORTHFIELD, MN (Reuters) - Huddling for warmth during a Minnesota snowstorm, the three black woolly bulls bolted from their enclosure when a rancher and a visitor approached and galloped away over a hill, recalling a long-lost era.
The bulls are American buffalo, or bison, a species that once grazed across much of North America before being driven to the brink of extinction by 19th-century settlers. The slaughter of the continent's estimated 70 million bison dropped their number to only 250 animals by the early 1900s.

For the last seven years, Larry Newland has been one of 2,000 ranchers in the United States and Canada raising the profile of bison, this time as a low-fat alternative to beef cattle.

The North American population has multiplied to 350,000 animals from 30,000 in 1985, while Newland's bison herd numbers 44 head.

"I grew up out West and there were always some bison herds out there in the parks," the rancher said, explaining his initial interest. "And then I found out how good it tastes."

While bison have a reputation for being more ornery than cattle, Newland said they become angry only when they feel threatened.

ONCE A NOVELTY
Bison meat, once a novelty on a few U.S. restaurant menus, has gained popularity over the last decade as a high-protein meat free of growth hormones and other additives that some consumers complain taint beef cattle. The bison industry is worth about $100 million a year.

While bison meat first gained a foothold in upscale restaurants, it is now available in a growing number of supermarkets and appears on the menus of more casual restaurants and even truck stops, said David Carter, head of the Denver-based National Bison Association, a non-profit association which promotes the preservation, production and marketing of bison.

Part of the meat's appeal is that 3.5 ounces of cooked bison contains only 0.08 ounce of fat and 143 calories. A similar cut of beef contains 0.3 ounce of fat and 211 calories.

Last year the American Heart Association added bison to its list of "heart healthy" foods, but bison advocates say it's the meat's flavor that lies behind the trend.

"Generally, when people taste it, they lock into it because of the taste -- and it's much healthier. We actually serve more bison than we do beef," said Ralph Rosenberg, manager of the Red Sage, a trendy eatery in Washington, D.C.

Among the converts to the Red Sage's bison dishes are Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, who recently asked Rosenberg where he could buy the meat to prepare in his own kitchen.

Perhaps the leading bison fancier is Cable News Network founder and rancher Ted Turner, who attended last month's opening of the first of several planned Ted's Montana Grill restaurants in Columbus, Ohio. The eatery features bison burgers and bison chili.

Turner owns the largest private bison herd in the United States, with 27,000 head grazing on his 1.9 million acres of western ranchland, which he has tried to restore to pre-European settlement condition.

"What we're doing, we feel, is going to significantly help introduce bison products to the American public," said George McKerrow, Jr., Turner's partner in the restaurant venture and founder of the Long Horn Steakhouse chain.

Among the suppliers of bison meat are the Hunkpapa Sioux Indian tribe in Grand Ronde, Oregon, who claim to adhere to Native American tradition that has long revered the buffalo. According to lore, hunters would set up altars of buffalo bones and offer this prayer: "Let us honor the bones of those who gave their flesh to keep us alive."

The tribe's Native Pride Buffalo Co. sells smoked buffalo meats as well as an array of hides, soap, lip balm, and even paints made from different parts of the animal.

"Our objective is not just to kill more buffalo," said Wakinyan, the company's general manager. "Our objective is to utilize every bit of that animal."

EUROPEAN TASTES
The popularity of bison reaches beyond America's shores.

"Europeans are probably a little more adventuresome in what they eat. They eat more game and specialty meat," said Dennis Sexhus, head of the North American Bison Cooperative in New Rockford, North Dakota.

The cooperative is the country's largest processor of bison meat, and will slaughter 12,000 of the estimated 35,000 animals to be harvested in North America this year. By contrast, beef cattle are slaughtered at a rate of 90,000 head a day.

Roughly 20 percent of the cooperative's sales are flown fresh to European cities.

Even as more restaurants and supermarkets carry bison meat, ranchers like Newland continue to sell the meat privately to individuals or groups of people in the Minneapolis area. Private sales account for nearly half the bison market.

Newland, who ships his bison to a local slaughterhouse, has many regular customers who buy a quarter or a half of a bison to divide among friends -- a half bison costs them $1,200. Newland butchers the rest into steaks or hamburger to sell from his well-stocked freezer.

Wakinyan, of the Oregon tribe, eschews cattle slaughter methods, killing the timid animals individually to avoid the panic that releases enzymes that can change the meat's taste.

Bison is also sold over the Internet, where many sites offer frozen steaks, roasts, hamburger and jerky.

Two major barriers to wider consumption of bison meat are its higher price compared to beef and its exotic image.

Bison fatten only half as fast as feedlot cattle, making them more expensive to raise. The result is that the meat can cost two to three times as much as a comparable cut of beef.

But Sexhus said the price comparison may be misleading.

"If you price bison after you cook it, you'd find there isn't that much of a difference because you don't have the fat and the shrinkage of other meats," he said. "What you start with is pretty much what you finish with."



Bison meat makes inroads with American gourmands
March 14th 2003, Columbia News Service
by Devin Smith

Ed Tuccio yanks the steering wheel of his Dodge pickup truck, sending a Slurpee of melting snow and ice over the wheel hub and onto the windshield. He flips on the wipers, hoots as he hits a concealed rut in the field, and bounces the vehicle toward a nearby animal holding pen.

Roughly 70 bison glance up at the pickup truck.

"Now that was a test drive!" says Tuccio, skidding the truck to a stop next to the pen. "Did you know a bison could take a grizzly bear in a fight?"

Physical credentials notwithstanding, bison are an increasingly admired animal among Americans, particularly served with a side of roasted potatoes and some steamed spinach.

"Bison meat is gaining popularity as people are beginning to understand that it's not only nutritious, but also tastes good," said Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association (NBA), an advocacy group and network for bison farmers. "We found that the market jumped between 10 to 15 percent last year alone."

Carter said the nation's bison farmers "processed" about 20,000 animals in 2002.

Even in a region of Eastern Long Island where farmland remains one step ahead of strip malls, Tuccio's 500-acre bison farm is still a rarity. In fact, his North Quarter Farm claims the only bison for at least 125 miles.

Skating around his land in a Dodge, Tuccio doesn't look like the millionaire former head of the NBA. At roughly 55 and weighing about 250 pounds, he looks like an out-of-work linebacker. Tuccio's hands make the steering wheel look like a hoop earring.

He says bison faming first piqued his interest 20 years ago.

"I was going through a midlife crisis," he explains. "I figured it was either bison or women, and bison seemed less dangerous."

One reason bison dishes are making inroads with American gourmands is that the meat is inherently lean without sacrificing any of the flavor that's generally attributed to a high fat content.

Studies conducted by Dr. Martin Marchello at the University of North Dakota suggest that bison meat contains considerably less fat, calories, and cholesterol than the big three meats in America: beef, pork and chicken. A 100-gram sample of buffalo contains only 2.4 grams of fat, 143 calories, and 82 milligrams of cholesterol.

In comparison, beef has 9.3 grams of fat, 211 calories, and 86 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams; pork is similar to beef; and skinless chicken claims 7.4 grams of fat, 190 calories and 89 milligrams of cholesterol.

It is the very leanness of the meat, however, that makes preparing it a challenge. There's no buffer of fat in bison to camouflage overcooked meat.

At Tweed's Restaurant and Buffalo Bar, Tuccio's establishment in downtown Riverhead, the head of the last buffalo shot by Teddy Roosevelt hangs on the wall. Tuccio says he acquired the head, which Roosevelt shot in 1883, from the local Boy Scouts when they discarded it.

In the kitchen, Tuccio has hired three chefs trained at the Culinary Institute of America. The three have strict orders to never cook bison steaks more than rare or medium rare. By keeping the meat pink, the chefs get the most out of the bison's wispy fat, and in turn, preserve the steaks' robust flavor without the greasy aftermath.

Most people who eat bison say it tastes similar to beef, only sweeter. Tweed's serves it with a cream sauce on the side, but Tuccio encourages his guests to try the meat without condiments to enjoy the flavor alone.

The restaurant also serves two different brands of buffalo vodka from Poland. The liquor's unique flavor comes from blades of grass that have been "beloved by buffalo" in each bottle, according to the label.

Nearby, at Miloski's meat market, which gets its bison from a farm in South Dakota, one of the shop's six freezers is dedicated entirely to buffalo meat. Rib-eye steak sells for $18 per pound; sirloin goes for $15; the price tag on buffalo stew meat is $7.50 per pound; and a package of four shrink-wrapped bison dinner franks retails at $6. Buffalo salami: $6.50; five strips of dried jerky: $9.65; and English roast: $7.50 per pound. A package of four thin bison burgers sells for $6.

In the early 1800s, the unregulated hunting of bison decimated the U.S. population, reducing a species that once numbered in the tens of millions to no more than 1,500 by the end of the century. During westward expansion, settlers often took potshots from the passing trains, slaughtering entire herds of buffalo in the process.

"The railroads actually had bison pens near the ticket counter for passengers to see," Tuccio says. "That way they had a good idea what they were shooting at."

Now, however, the NBA reports roughly 244,000 bison in the United States with herds in every state, including Hawaii, Florida, and Alaska. Although the average private herd numbers less than 100 head, a few extend into the low four digits. Rangers at Yellowstone National Park estimate the park's public herd at about 3,500 bison, making it the largest population in North America.

Weighing between 40 and 50 pounds at birth, mature bison bulls can eventually tip the scales at over 1,900 pounds and live as long as 40 years. Although cows can reach four decades as well, they weigh only half as much as their male counterparts.

"The Native Americans subsisted almost entirely on bison," Tuccio says. "And I don't just mean for meat."

Bison farmers still follow the precedent established by the Native Americans. Pulling a coffee-colored knit hat from the glove box, Tuccio explains that buffalo fur can be used to make mittens, scarves, and hats, just like sheep's wool. Since bison hide is similar to cow leather, it is particularly valuable for making furniture, clothing, and moccasins. What little fat can be found on a buffalo is used for making soaps. Hooves provide an integral ingredient for glue.

"These animals are so unique and useful," Tuccio says. "They've really come a long way in the last 100 years."

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