BISON
OR
BUFFALO?

“Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam ...”

“Buffalo gals, won’t you come out tonight ...”

“Buffalo on the nickel, buffalo on the nickel, buffalo on the nickel was all that he could see.”

What’s wrong with these lyrics? You may remember them as old-fashioned songs of Americana that have been revitalized by more recent artists like Frank Sinatra, Pete Seeger, Neil Young, and even the Muppets, singing along with John Denver!

 

What’s wrong is a case of mistaken identity. The buffalo of the songs isn’t a buffalo at all, but a bison, revered symbol of the American West. The true buffaloes are the Old World Cape buffalo of Africa and the water buffalo of Asia. Both bison and buffalo are cloven-hoofed mammals and ruminants (cud chewers) belonging to the Bovinae family.

Cape Buffalo

(Kruger Park Safari via kurtsafari.com)

Water Buffalo

(Steve Garvie via Wikipedia Commons) 


The word buffalo is believed to come from the French word boeuf. French explorers in the New World thought the huge bovines (wild cows) were “beeves” or oxen. Later, the English settlers called them “la buff,” and then, through a series of name changes, arrived at “buffalo.”

 

While the word is used interchangeably with bison, our own range-roaming ruminant is properly known by its scientific name, Bison bison. There are two sub-species, the wood bison of Alaska and northern Canada, and the plains bison that proliferated by the millions on the Great Plains. The Lakota called it tȟatȟáŋka – tatanka, or “Big Beast.” 

American Bison

(Jack Dykinga, Agriculture Research Service via Wikipedia)

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE BISON INDUSTRY?

A major hurdle the bison industry is having to overcome due to this discrepancy in terms is product mislabeling. In addition to the difference in physical appearance between the American bison, cape buffalo and water buffalo; there are many other differing factors to take into account:

-Flavor

-Meat texture

-Import vs American made

-Price

-Health benefits

Due to a lack of labeling legislation for bison, there has been a surge in buffalo imports being labeled in a way that can mislead consumers into thinking they are purchasing American bison. The National Bison Association has been working tirelessly to bring attention to this matter, both for the sake of bison producers as well as its consumers. In the fall of 2019, The Truth in Buffalo Labeling Act was introduced to the Senate.

"U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and John Hoeven (R-ND) announced that they have introduced the Truth in Buffalo Labeling Act, legislation to fix a deceptive labeling issue that is negatively impacting the U.S. bison industry. The legislation would provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the authority to prohibit water buffalo products from being marketed as “buffalo.”"

Front Label

Ingredients

 

HOW CAN YOU BE AN EDUCATED CONSUMER?

Until the legislation is passed and stricter rules are put in place to address the mislabeling concerns, we strive to educate on the matter as thoroughly as possible since the effects expand past the industry producers and end up in your shopping cart. Here are our recommended steps for knowing before you buy:

 

1) ask your butcher, they are very knowledgeable, and will where their meat comes from

2) buy American, since most of the buffalo being sold is imported from overseas, it is a safe bet that if it is from an American ranch, it is bison

3) look at the BACK of the label, on the INGREDIENTS list - if it says "bison", it legally has to be American bison (as that is where the current rules do draw the line), however, if it says "buffalo", based on the information and research provided through the Labeling Act, there is a high possibility that the product included is imported water buffalo

 

As you can see by the example above, based on the imagery on the front of the package, one would believe they are buying American bison jerky, however; upon further inspection you can see that the ingredients list buffalo. That means you are eating meat from the animal on the left - imported water buffalo, as opposed to what you are paying for, the animal on the right - the American bison (as seen below).   Quite the difference!

Water Buffalo

American Bison

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

If you are interested in reading more on this matter, the National Bison Association (NBA) is a great resource for, not only information on the labeling and bison/buffalo discrepancies, but also anything bison! Check out the articles below for continued information on specifically the Truth in Buffalo Labeling Act.

- National Bison Association

- Senator Bennett

- Morning Ag Clips