Pro­gram eth­i­cally cer­ti­fies eater­ies

One in Arkansas takes spot on list

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - NATHAN OWENS

As a way to make health­ful and sus­tain­able foods more prof­itable for pro­duc­ers and to give con­sumers peace-of­mind about what they’re eat­ing, the U.S. Health­ful Food Coun­cil de­vel­oped Eat REAL, a non­profit group de­signed to im­prove the qual­ity of restau­rant fare and treat­ment of farm an­i­mals.

With the help of in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als, the non­profit de­vel­oped REAL, a vol­un­tary nutri­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram.

Mod­eled af­ter LEED Green Build­ing Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, the REAL pro­gram grades restau­rants, food brands and other food-ser­vice com­pa­nies on var­i­ous stan­dards, in­clud­ing: menu de­sign, food sourc­ing, sup­ply-chain ef­fi­ciency, front and back of house oper­a­tions and the new­est ad­di­tion — an­i­mal wel­fare.

The goal with REAL, like LEED, is to pro­vide mar­ket­place in­cen­tives to pro­mote so­cial change, said Lawrence Wil­liams, founder and pres­i­dent of the U.S. Health­ful Food Coun­cil and CEO of Eat REAL.

For decades, cor­po­rate in­ter­ests have put an “em­pha­sis on price rather than qual­ity,” Wil­liams said.

To counter this, REAL — Re­spon­si­ble, Epi­curean, Agri­cul­tural, Lead­er­ship — awards points based on fac-

tors in­clud­ing whether the an­i­mals on a restau­rant’s menu are treated hu­manely or the eggs used are lo­cally sourced by a wel­fare-ap­proved farm. In the pro­gram’s early devel­op­ment, Eat REAL fo­cused more on fried foods and soft drink sales and not on the dis­tance be­tween the ham­burger meat on a restau­rant plate and the cat­tle ranch.

Since its in­cep­tion five years ago, REAL cer­ti­fi­ca­tion has been given to 500 food­ser­vice com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing school cafe­te­rias, food brands, and fine-din­ing and fast-ca­sual restau­rants.

Wil­liams be­gan de­vel­op­ing the pro­gram with a small team in 2012 and spent that year gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion and in­ter­view­ing lead­ers in the food in­dus­try about the cre­ation of a grad­ing sys­tem, he said.

“We worked with them for what the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion should

look like,” he said. “Not as some­thing that’s unattain­able, but as some­thing that can cater to restau­rants in the top 20-25 per­cent, when it comes to nutri­tion and sus­tain­able prac­tices.”

Ini­tial guide­lines re­warded busi­nesses that max­i­mized fruit and veg­etable of­fer­ings, mod­er­ated por­tion sizes and min­i­mized su­gar and soft drinks. Af­ter rig­or­ous in­ter­views and au­dits, they’re re­warded with an 11-inch green plate in­scribed with “REAL Cer­ti­fied.”

Soon they hope to have a de­vel­oped rank­ing sys­tem, where groups can be bronze, sil­ver, gold or plat­inum cer­ti­fied, Wil­liams said.

In Arkansas, Taziki’s Mediter­ranean Cafe is the only restau­rant chain with REAL cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The Amer­i­can Society for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals re­cently be­gan work­ing with REAL to de­velop an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards for the pro­gram.

Nancy Roul­ston, direc­tor of cor­po­rate en­gage­ment for Farm An­i­mal Wel­fare for the society, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion’s val­ues were in sync with REAL. The society works with cor­po­ra­tions and small-scale farmers to bring them in line with in­de­pen­dent wel­fare cer­ti­fi­ca­tions.

“[REAL] al­ready had health­ful, nu­tri­tional, and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards and was in­ter­ested in fur­ther build­ing out its an­i­mal wel­fare re­quire­ments,” Roul­ston said in an email. “For many peo­ple, eat­ing out is like din­ing in the dark. At many es­tab­lish­ments, there’s very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion shared about the source of the food — in­clud­ing an­i­mal wel­fare and sus­tain­abil­ity — or how it’s pre­pared.”

Af­ter a year of re­search and in­ter­views with REAL cer­ti­fied restau­rants and food­ser­vice op­er­a­tors the an­i­mal wel­fare com­po­nent was fi­nal­ized. By 2021, REAL cer­ti­fied restau­rants will be re­quired to

source a sig­nif­i­cant amount of an­i­mal prod­ucts from farms or ranches that are ap­proved by an­i­mal wel­fare groups. Lo­cal wel­fare-ap­proved meat prod­ucts, while maybe more costly, are lux­ury items that peo­ple are will­ing to pay more for, Roul­ston said.

“Con­sumers are given in­for­ma­tion at gro­cery stores but re­ceive al­most no in­for­ma­tion while din­ing out­side the home,” she said. “We know from re­search that con­sumers are ea­ger for more in­for­ma­tion and as­sur­ances … while eat­ing out and are will­ing to pay more for the knowl­edge that their meal meets cer­tain stan­dards.”

Ac­cord­ing to re­search, con­sumer health and an­i­mal wel­fare are closely re­lated.

“Sur­veys show that no mat­ter what they eat, con­sumers have no ap­petite for an­i­mal cru­elty — and they in­stinc­tively un­der­stand that rais­ing an­i­mals in un­healthy, stress­ful and filthy en­vi­ron­ments may pose health risks.”

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