Food Quality – Meat

When my family asked me why I wanted to go back to school to get my Masters In Holistic Nutrition, I told them it’s because I’m sick of the food industry and I want to do something about it. Money is what got us into this mess, and money is going to get us out of it. Unfortunately factory farms, big agriculture, processed food companies, etc. have financially backed big pharma, laws, politicians and regulations that are harming our health. Sure, I can go out and lobby, work for a non-profit, or even get into politics. But I don’t believe that is how we are going to change the food industry. Change will occur when we, as a community, begin demanding better food through our purchasing power. And the only way we can do that is by educating ourselves on the food industry and understanding that we do have choices. We can get healthy if we just understand what to purchase.

I intend on spending my degree and time educating those who want to listen, the people who don’t want to spend the rest of their lives in and out of hospitals, unable to figure out what is ailing them, or thinking being sick is a natural part of life. It’s not! It’s the food we are eating that is making us sick! And by making a stand with what we purchase, we will slowly, but surely start seeing better food options available to us and in time, we will become a healthier, more successful nation.  So one topic at a time, I intend on sharing my knowledge with you, so you can make better decisions for yourself.

Today let’s talk about meat shall we. I love meat and I’m not very picky about it… At least the types of meat that I eat… pork, cow, lamb, poultry, game, etc. I’ll usually try anything and typically enjoy it all. But what I am extremely picky about it is the quality of the meat we consume.

CAFO CattleIf you have ever had the “opportunity” to drive by a factory farm, or even come close (as within a couple miles of one), you will be forever impacted by the smell as well as what you see. Factory farms, also known as Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) – snazzy term huh… are the most disgusting places I could ever imagine.  I honestly wish everyone could experience one at some point in their life.  Piles upon piles of animals wading around in their own filth, excreting gas at much higher than natural levels creates an environment that is anything but pleasing. Then to think, this is the meat that is sold to us in most grocery stores, restaurants, and fast foods joints really makes my stomach turn.

I’ll take you through beef, poultry, and pork discussing terminology that is used, as well as how factory farms typically care for animals versus organic farms and what is required. I will also discuss what different statements mean, and what is regulated so you know how to choose the best quality meat for you and your family.

BEEF

Conventional Factory Farms or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO):

  • Typically holds hundreds or thousands of animals on small parcels of land.
  • Potential adverse health affects are regularly found on and around these farms to include groundwater contamination, air contamination, respiratory disease, and the creation and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Cows are herbivores, yet they are fed meat and meat products from other cattle. Although the FDA banned the feeding of cattle brain and spinal tissue to cattle in 1997, they still allow the following cattle and slaughter products to be fed to cattle in conventional farms:
    • Blood & blood products (from cattle and other species);
    • Gelatin (rendered from the hooves of cattle and other species);
    • Fats, oils, grease, and tallow (from cattle and other species);
    • Milk & milk protein;
    • Rendered pork protein;
    • Rendered horse protein;
    • Rendered poultry wastes;
    • Poultry manure (which may include spilled feed containing cattle brain and spinal tissue); and
    • Human food wastes (which may contain beef scraps).Ÿ
  • 75 years ago, steers were primarily grass fed and 4 or 5 years old at slaughter due to how long it would take them to reach the appropriate weight. Today, they are 14 or 16 months by using massive quantities of corn, protein supplements, antibiotics and other drugs, including growth hormones.
  • Sanitation issues and mistreatment of animal waste increase the risk of E. coli bacteria, which live in the intestines of animals and are commonly found in feces.
  • Due to the extremely rapid pace of the evisceration and hide removal processes in slaughterhouses, meat that is packaged for consumption is frequently contaminated with fecal matter.
  • Although the FDA claims that the use of growth hormones in beef and dairy cattle is non-carcinogenic and safe for human consumption, independent research has found otherwise.
    • Studies have suggested that the risk of cancer in humans increases when they consume dairy products from cows that have been treated with rBGH.
    • Recent research indicates that rBGH-containing milk has elevated levels of a hormone called “insulin-like growth factor-1” (IGF-1), which has a carcinogenic effect. IGF-1 is a hormone that regulates cell growth, division, and differentiation. Not only does this hormone survive digestion and absorb into the bloodstream when rBGH-containing milk is consumed, but it has also been shown to increase the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
    • Once dairy cows treated with rBGH can no longer produce milk, they are slaughtered for their meat and rBGH residue enters the beef supply.
    • Growth hormone residue in beef products also increases the risk of cancer. A study conducted by the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health concluded that the six growth hormones commonly used in the United States posed serious risks of breast, prostate, and colon cancer in beef consumers. In addition, the study suggested that when humans consume these hormone residues in beef, it disrupts their own hormone balances, leading to developmental and reproductive problems.
  •  Antibiotics are commonly administered in animal feed to reduce the chance for infection and to eliminate the need for animals to expend energy fighting off bacteria, with the assumption that saved energy will be translated into growth. The main purposes of using non-therapeutic doses of antimicrobials in animal feed is so that animals will grow faster, produce more meat, and avoid illnesses.

 

USDA Organic Certified Beeforganic beef

  • Must be fed a certified organic diet, can be grain or grass, free of pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals. If grain fed, the grains must be non-gmo, but may also provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.Ÿ
  • Must have unrestricted access to outdoors.Ÿ
  • Never allowed to receive antibiotics or hormones.
  • Are allowed vaccinations to prevent common disease.Ÿ
  • Must be born and raised on a certified organic pasture.

Grain Fed Cattlegrain fed

  • Grain is difficult for cows to digest; therefore they produce high amounts of gas (methane), which is normally expelled by belching.
  • Much of the grain fed to cattle (specifically on conventional factory farms) is genetically modified. GMO grain has been popping up the news lately showing that it is making animals sick. Genetically modified grains and grasses can be spliced with other plants, bacteria, even animal cells. This sick meat is then passed on to us. Ÿ
  • The feces of cattle fed unnatural corn- and soy-based diets contain significantly higher levels of E. coli than cattle that are fed grass or hay because the intestinal tracts become far more acidic on grain based diets.Ÿ
  • The meat we consume from grain fed cattle contains higher amounts of Omega 6 fatty acids, which can lead to gut inflammation.

Grass Fed CattleGrass fed

  • Under USDA regulations, grass fed means that grass and forage are the feed source for the duration of the cows life after weaning. Cows can’t be fed grain or grain byproducts.
  • They must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Hay, silage, crop residue without grain, cereal grain crops in the pre-grain stage and other roughage sources are acceptable feed.
  • In addition to containing lower levels of unhealthy fats, grass-fed cattle produce beef with higher levels of healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, making it much healthier meat.
  • Several studies suggest that grass-based diets elevate precursors for Vitamin A and E, as well as cancer fighting antioxidants such as glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity as compared to grain-fed contemporaries.

 

Pastured or Pasture Raised

  • Pastured beef is a loose term that is not regulated for cattle.
  • The cattle could be raised on a pasture yet still fed grain in troughs.

 

Grass Finished

The USDA has not defined exactly who can use the term Grass Fed. Therefore, a cow can be grass fed most of it’s life, but grain finished which means it was fed corn, soy, and other grains as well as possibly injected with antibiotics and hormones the last couple months to year of its life. This is done to fatten up the cattle, acquire more marbling, and mature the cow faster. It makes it much cheaper to “finish” them to a desired weight. Grass finished means a cow has been grass fed its entire life to maturity.

*Just as organic does not mean grass-fed, grass-fed does not mean organic. Pastured animals sometimes graze on land that has been treated with synthetic fertilizers and even doused with herbicides. Unless the meat label specifically says it is both grassfed and organic, it isn’t.

THE VERDICT: The best choice for beef is organic grass fed, grass finished beef. If you don’t know if the beef is grass finished, ask the butcher. They should know where their beef comes from. If you can’t get grass fed, grass finished AND organic, choose the grass fed, grass finished.

BEST: Grass fed, Grass finished, Organic

BETTER: Grass fed, Grass finished

GOOD: Organic

POULTRY

CAFO ChickenConventional Chicken Farms:

  • Chicken feed can include Roxarsone, an antimicrobial drug that also promotes growth. The drug has generated controversy because it contains arsenic, which is highly toxic to humans.
  • Arsenic-containing compounds are used in chicken, turkey, & hog feed because it induces faster weight gain and creates the appearance of a healthy color in meat from chicken, turkeys, and hogs.
    • Arsenic-containing compounds have been approved additives to animal feed since the 1940’s.
    • Arsenic is a known & powerful carcinogen.
    • “Arsenic residue has been found in chicken meat and has not been shown to be safe for human consumption given the latest science.” (David Wallinga, M.D. of the IATP)
  •  Antibiotics are administered regularly to chickens due to being housed close together which spreads disease rapidly.
  • Antibiotics are commonly administered in animal feed to reduce the chance for infection and to eliminate the need for animals to expend energy fighting off bacteria, with the assumption that saved energy will be translated into growth. The main purposes of using non-therapeutic doses of antimicrobials in animal feed is so that animals will grow faster, produce more meat, and avoid illnesses.

USDA Organic Certified Chicken Farms:

  • They must be fed certified organic feed for their entire lives. Organic feed cannot contain animal by-products, antibiotics or genetically engineered grains and cannot be grown using persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
  • Prohibits the use of drugs, antibiotics or hormones (federal regulations prohibits the use of hormones in the raising of any poultry).
  • Are allowed vaccinations to prevent common disease.
  • Must have outdoor access (although this is loosely worded and not well defined as to how much outdoor access).
  • The meat from organic chickens contain higher levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids and more omega 3 fat.

Free Range or Free Roaming:

A full access free-range chicken farm.

A full access free-range chicken farm.

  • Poultry has to have been allowed access to the outside. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside. In some cases, there may be only access to dirt or gravel or a mere 5 minutes a day.
  • There are no USDA standards regarding the use of the term “free range” for egg-producing hens, although you might see that term on egg cartons. Free-range hens for egg production typically are uncaged in barns or warehouses with some outdoor access. There are no USDA restrictions on what they’re fed, and beak cutting and forced moulting is allowed.

*The USDA doesn’t define free range in terms of beef, pork or other nonpoultry animals. So if you see this term on these products, keep in mind that it has no standard meaning.

Cage-free

  • Under USDA regulations, cage-free means that laying hens live uncaged, typically within a barn, warehouse, building or other enclosed area.
  • They must have unlimited access to food and water and the freedom to roam within the enclosed area during their egg-production cycle.
  • Cage-free doesn’t mean the hens have access to the outdoors.
  • Cage-free birds can engage in some natural behaviors, such as nesting and spreading their wings. However, practices such as beak cutting are allowed. Poultry raised for their meat are rarely caged.

Pastured

  • Pastured is a loose term that is not regulated with chickens.
  • It suggests the birds live on a pasture and get some of their food from a pasture environment.
  • Even though pastured chicken might not be labeled antibiotic-free, it’s likely the farm doesn’t use medication. It’s extra work to pasture birds, which indicates a greater commitment on the farmer’s part. Plus, the chickens are less likely to need antibiotics when they live on a natural diet with plenty of space.

100% Vegetarian Diet

  • The animal did not consume ground up animal products, feces, or byproducts.
  • Indicates they were fed grains and possibly grasses.

Pesticide Free

  • Feed is free of pesticides.
  • Poultry housing is free of pesticide use so the birds are not subject to pesticides.

Antibiotic-Free

  • The chickens are raised without the use of antibiotics.
  • If any chickens become sick, they are removed from the group and not sold for meat consumption.

THE VERDICT: I recommend first choosing pastured birds and eggs. Although sometimes a little more difficult to track down, these birds are typically more nutritional and haven’t been through the stress of factory farms. Research the farm the pastured chickens come from to see what their environment is like.  If pastured cannot be found, go for organic. Although organic birds may not spend much time outdoors, at least you can guarantee you are not getting the added arsenic, fertilizers and chemicals that can be found in conventional farming.

BEST: Pastured, Organic

BETTER: Pastured

BETTER: Free Range, Organic

GOOD: Organic

 

PORK

Just like chickens, the FDA doesn’t allow hormones in pigs.

CAFO pigConventional Pig Farms

  • Raised in confinement in overcrowded stalls with no access to outdoors. This confinement leads to aggression in which they will nose and bite each other. Because of this behavior, piglets typically will have their tails clipped and teeth cut down.
  • Just as in chickens and turkeys, arsenic-containing compounds are used in hog feed because it induces faster weight gain and creates the appearance of a healthy color in meat.
  • Their feed is typically low in fiber and ground down in order to save costs. Due to the unnatural diet, pigs will typically get ulcers and experience other health issues which will affect the meat.
  • Pigs are apt to get worms. Conventional pigs are given meds to kill these worms which have shown to be hazardous to the environment. The meds are also so strong that the pigs have to be pulled from being slaughtered for a minimum of 30 days at it could harm anyone who eats the meat.
  • Antibiotics are regularly administered to pigs due to the unsanitary environment in which they are forced to live.
  • Pregnant sows are typically kept in immobilizing crates, which prevents them from turning around and sometimes even laying down. They defecate and urinate where they stand causing diseases and infections. So far only a couple of states have passed laws to prevent these gestation crates.

Gloucester old spot pigs on Hindon organic farm, Exmoor, SomersetOrganic Pig Farms

  • They must be fed certified organic feed for their entire lives. Organic feed cannot contain animal by-products, antibiotics or genetically engineered feed and cannot be grown using persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
  •  Not allowed to be given deworming medicine and must treat worms in a natural manner using things like rosemary and garlic.
  • Never receives antibiotics or hormones.
  • Not allowed to have chemical preservatives like nitrates or nitrites.
  • Must have outdoor access although amount of time outdoors is not specified.

Free Range / Pasture Raised / Free Roaming / Raised Outdoors

  • The USDA standard to make any of these claims for pork is that hogs have had continuous access to pasture for at least 80% of their production cycle.
  • This assumes that much of their diet comes from rooting and foraging outdoors.

No Antibiotics Used, Raised without Antibiotics

  • “No antibiotics added” on the label means that the animals were raised without using antibiotics.
  • Documentation has been provided to USDA demonstrating this.

Naturally Raised

  • There is currently no USDA standard for making a “naturally raised” claim on pork products, and definitions may vary from one naturally raised pork product to another.
  • Attributes that may contribute to a hog being “naturally raised” might include raised without antibiotics, growth promotants or animal by-products in the feed, use of deep straw bedding, raised outdoors, etc.
  • These attributes will likely be stated on packaging or in marketing materials.

VERDICT: Get to know your pork farms. Many pork farmers can’t afford the organic certification process but follow many if not most of the organic certification standards. Only purchase pork that is allowed outside and not confined in stalls. Research the brands that are available in your local grocery stores.

BEST: Pasture Raised, Organic

BETTER: Pasture Raised

GOOD: Organic

 

The number one “complaint” I hear when I talk about purchasing quality meats is “it’s too expensive.”  Yes, there is a premium price on quality meat, but there is also a premium price on your health when you are sick. I would rather put my money into food I know will not be supplying my body with the byproducts of hormones, antibiotics, chemicals and sick meat than paying for extensive medical bills later on in life. The more we demand quality food, the lower the cost over time. Pay for it now or pay for it later, but you will pay for it one way or another…

 

Sources

EPA U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Organic Farming
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FACTSheets/Meat_&_Poultry_Labeling_Terms/index.asp
Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/MY00431/TAB=indepth
Centers for disease control and prevention  http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/Docs/Understanding_CAFOs_NALBOH.pdf
Michigan State University    http://www.animallaw.info/articles/arus13nyujlegispubpoly407.htm
John Robbins   http://www.johnrobbins.info/blog/grass-fed-beef/
Nutrition Journal  http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/10
Organic Consumers http://www.organicconsumers.org/madcow/riddle010404.cfm
Livestrong http://www.livestrong.com/article/153250-what-is-the-difference-between-eating-organic-chicken-regular-chicken/#ixzz265Sk3oEW
Mark’s Daily Apple http://www.marksdailyapple.com/chicken-labels/#ixzz2PEHqa6re
Pork.org http://www.pork.org/Programs/3260/NicheTeminology.aspx#.UVnHPnBhXa4

 

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