Bill Niman created the Niman Ranch meat empire with his progressive farming techniques. Today, he won't even eat the company's products. The sustainable agriculture pioneer, who spearheaded the food movement to raise livestock sustainably, humanely, and naturally, is speaking out against the new owners of Niman Ranch, the brand he founded more than 30 years ago. Last month, the company was bought out by Natural Food Holdings, its chief investor since 2006 — and, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, its founder believes that its meat program has already changed in fundamental ways.
When he first founded Niman Ranch in 1977, Niman set the bar for ethical ranching standards by raising cattle on grass in a free-range setting, forbidding growth hormones, and using antibiotics only if animals grew sick. He now opposes many of the company's modifications, including use of antimicrobials, the closing of company-owned cattle feedlots, and the treatment of cattle in their journey to slaughter. In response, Niman Ranch's current CEO Jeff Swain defended his company's integrity:
I think idealism . . . has to be couched with practicality . . . The company-owned feedlot was sold in 2008 because it was not financially viable . . . We believe that our protocols are stronger, the auditing of the protocols more rigorous, and the current business model is more financially viable.
He also claims the company has turned its profitability around: the company is now making $7,000 a week, rather than losing $10,000. The article raises an even bigger question: whether sustainable agriculture — and brands founded on idealism in general — can sustain a profit themselves.
What do you think? Do you stand with Bill Niman, or Niman Ranch?