As bison becomes a more popular alternative to traditional protein options, such as beef and poultry, companies are starting to see how to investigate cheap ways to sell bison. Unfortunately, the concessions made to get bison cheaply are impacting the average consumer by framing “buffalo” as “bison”.
Water Buffalo Versus American Bison
The American Bison is what you would expect to see in places like Yellowstone or JJ Bison Farm, whereas the Water Buffalo is located in Asia and looks much different. The typical description of a bison is a large, brown, hooved, “wooly” animal with curved horns. Some people refer to the American Bison as a “buffalo” despite technically being different animals. The water buffalo, however, is seen in Asia and basically looks like a big, brown cow with a large handlebar mustache as a pair of horns. The two animals look completely different and are considered different animals overall.
The Issue with Some “Bison” Meats
While there is a distinct difference between the appearance of “bison” versus “buffalo” in the wild, in grocery stores customers can’t see a physical difference. The National Bison Association warns that there are multiple companies who are disguising the water buffalo as American bison meat, such as the “Wild Ground Buffalo - Free Range” by the East Coast retail chain. Water buffalo is being disguised as bison, but it is not being processed under a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Due to the water buffalo’s classification as a “nonamenable species” under federal law, inspection is not required in an FDA-approved facility. Due to the ability to skirt these regulations, mislabeled products are spreading to grocery stores and restaurants around the United States.
Legislation for Better Product Labeling
As water buffalo dominate the market over American bison, consumers and bison farmers agree that labeling does matter. In a study by Tyson Foods, 39% of consumers say they would be willing to switch to brands that clearly label their products. Dave Carter, executive director for the National Bison Association, has been an extremely vocal presence in the fight against the meat labeling issue. Carter presented this issue to the lawmakers in Washington D.C. Due to Carter’s hard work and diligence, senators urged the USDA to act in an open letter stating,
“Bison ranchers and marketers have worked diligently for more than two decades to build a strong market for bison meat. Their success was built on developing a relationship with the public based upon the great taste and high quality of bison meat. Because the term buffalo is widely used to describe bison, the failure to label water buffalo transparently and accurately could be misleading to the American consumer.”
While this labeling is directly derived from the misuse of bison packaging, consumers have a right to know what products they’re purchasing. At JJ Bison, we believe amending the Food Safety Standards and requiring full disclosure to consumers will benefit not just bison farmers, but the consumers who are being impacted by the mislabeling of products.
To read more about the buffalo debacle, we encourage you to review the following pamphlets by the National Bison Association, as well as sign the Change.org petition.