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When we go to a grocery store, we see ‘free range’, ‘no antibiotics’, ‘organic’, ‘grass-fed’ meat labels. However, the word ‘free range’ is not what many people think. The word doesn’t mean chickens are freely running around in a big field, pecking around under the sun all day long. Then how are all these labels different and what do they really mean? In this post, I share with you what these words mean when it comes to labeling meats and what organic, pastured, sustainably grown meats are available.
Why Choose Sustainably Raised Meat
You may or may not have heard of animal cruelty and inhumane practices done to animals in factory-farms. Factory-farm animals are born and grown for the sole purpose of providing meat to humans. If you search for ‘factory farm animal cruelty’ on YouTube, you will see the brutal life of factory farm animals in different parts of the world. Factory-farming is a true form of animal cruelty and you won’t believe how some people treat animals as they do. The abuse and suffering humans force on animals for the purpose of making them fatter and bigger so that the animals have more meat or fat are unbelievable. The horrible living conditions and harsh, inhumane physical, mental abuse these animals face is a definition of hell. 99% of animals used for food live in factory farms. They often live in extreme confinement where they can’t even turn around or lie down comfortably. These animals are often mutilated so that they fit in tiny spaces. Cruel mutilations routinely performed include cutting off the horns of cattle, cutting off the beaks of chickens, and docking the tails of sheep, pigs, and dairy cattle. These painful practices done without any anesthesia or pain relief. Before 2017, growth hormones and antibiotics were widely used to make the factory-farmed animals grow bigger and faster which can make animals develop painful medical conditions. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration has banned some uses of antibiotics in animals to grow them faster. However, farmers still can give animals antibiotics to treat or prevent diseases. The animals are given antibiotics routinely for disease and medical conditions they develop living in crowded, unsanitary, stressful confinement and physical abuse/ treatment they receive. Once you see how these factory farmed animals live, the last thing you want to do is to contribute to this cycle of animal cruelty.
Factory farming can also impact human health with increased transfer of infectious agents from animals to humans, antibiotic resistance, food-borne illness, and the generation of novel viruses like H1N1 (swine flu) in pigs. The routine use of antibiotics in farm animals causes the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to a 2015 study, of all antibiotics sold in the United States, approximately 80% were sold for use in animal agriculture. The study also suggests that antibiotic resistance in humans is promoted by the widespread use of nontherapeutic antibiotics in animals. It also recommends that health care providers and health care institutions can refuse to buy meat raised with nontherapeutic antibiotic use and encourage their individual patients to purchase meat that is sustainably raised without the overuse of antibiotics. The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending that farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals according to the WHO article. The article also mentioned that over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance. Some types of bacteria that cause serious infections in humans have already developed resistance to most or all of the available treatments. CDC (the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention) also mentions that antibiotic use can contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance in food animals, therefore, antibiotics should only be used when necessary to slow the spread of antibiotic resistance. Look for ‘No antibiotics or growth hormone used’ stated on the packaging when you buy meat. You may not know how these animals were exactly raised with ‘No antibiotics or growth hormone used’ label. However, you can be sure that antibiotics were not given to animals routinely to remedy problems arising from harsh living conditions and forced growth. Choose meat, eggs and dairy products come from animals sustainably-raised on pasture over factory-farmed animals. You can see more details on pastured meat below.
What Is The Difference Between Cage-Free, Free Range And Pastured?
(Free Range Is Not So Free Range.)
Until I started researching the difference between cage-free, free range, pastured chicken and Certified Animal Welfare Approved chicken, I was picturing a chicken roaming around and pecking in the big field under the clear blue sky on a peaceful farm for cage-free or free range chicken. How many times have I purchased free range or cage-free chicken or eggs thinking chickens are roaming in an open space under the sky with fresh air and food? I was surprised to find out the terms were not as good as they sound. Let’s take a look how each description words are different.
Caged: Animals live in a confined, tight cage where they can’t move around. They never go outdoors.
Cage-Free: Cage-free only means chickens do not live in cages. This doesn’t say how much space chickens live in or spend time outdoors. Cage-free chickens most likely still live in a tight space with other chickens and never spend time outdoors.
Free Range: Free rage means chickens do not live in cages and they are often kept in open barns or sheds but they have access to the outdoors. However, this doesn’t mean they roam and peck around in the open grass field. Access to outdoors could be a few small doors that lead to a screened-in porch with cement, dirt or a modicum of grass. Free range chickens may live in a little bigger space than cage-free space (but still tight spaces) and still may never go outside.
Pastured: Pastured animals spend most of their lives outdoors. They also have access to shelter. For pastured-raised chickens, they roam around and eat insects, worms and grass along with corn feed. The feed may or may not be organic so pastured meats may or may not be certified organic. What pastured-farms offer to their animals may differ a little depending on the pastured-farm. However, pastured chickens or pigs are raised outdoors on pasture with a bigger space. Pastured-raised animals are free to move around, get more exercise and live less stressful lives.
Certified Organic: Certified Organic chicken or pork can be great since you can be sure no antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, GMOs, glyphosate, or irradiation have been used. Animals are fed certified organic feed and some health, wellfare and living standards of animals are considered. However, certified organic doesn’t mean chicken or pork is pastured all year round. (USDA certified organic requirement is animals must be allowed outdoors for at least 120 days a year on pasture.) Also, space requirements are not clearly defined so the animals can still be in crowded condition. The USDA has also allowed screened porches to qualify as outdoor access for chickens. Organic label does not address inhumane practices such as mutilations, separation of mothers and babies.,transport conditions, forcible insemination.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved By AGW, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership, Food Alliance Certified: There are no federal animal welfare laws regulating the treatment of the farm animals while they’re on the farm. Therefore, inhumane abuse can go on without any consequences. How humane animals were treated when they were being raised, transported and slaughtered are difficult to know. If you would like to take a step further and ensure animal care standards are in place and compliance of these standards are verified by a third-party auditing program, Certified Animal Welfare Approved By AGW, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership, Food Alliance Certified are the best standards you may find.
Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Grass-Fed?
I thought when I buy grass-fed beef, the beef I am buying was grass-fed during the cow’s entire life. However, grass-fed may not mean the cow was grass-fed all his/her life.
Grass-Fed (and Grain-Finished):
Most cattle is raised on pasture during the early days of their life. They drink milk for about 6 months then they eat grass on pasture for about a year. Then most conventional cattle is moved to feed lots and fed grains which are made of corn and soy until the day they go to a slaughter house. They are supposed to be fattened up during this ‘grain-finished’ period from 60-200 days so that their meat can have marbling fat. A high-calorie diet, with lots of grain such as corn to fatten cattle up quickly during the last four to six months of their life cause them to develop abscesses on the liver. Therefore, antibiotics are mixed into their feed. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration has banned some uses of antibiotics in animals to grow them faster. However, farmers still can give cattle antibiotics to treat or prevent diseases like liver abscesses. Grass-fed, grain finished beef is conventionally raised beef. When you see ‘grass-fed beef‘, the cattle may have not been ‘grass-finished’ but ‘grain-finished’. If the cattle was raised in feedlot and fed a grain-based diet later in the cattle’s life, the meat coming from the cattle is not grass-fed beef. The term ‘grass-fed’ isn’t tightly regulated by the government, therefore, ‘grass-fed’ is not necessarily ‘100% grass-fed’, ‘grass-only’ and ‘grass-fed and finished’.
Grass-Fed (and Grass-Finished):
‘100% grass-fed’, ‘grass-only’ and ‘grass-fed and finished’ beef are never fed grains such as corn or soy. They are fed grass most of the time and some hay, alfalfa or wheat when pastures are not growing fast in the winter. Grass-finished cattle is sent to a slaughter house later than conventionally-raised cattle. They also weigh less (1,200 pounds) than conventional feedlot cattle (1,350 pounds). The term ‘grass-fed’ is not regulated so even some grass-finished beef may not specifically indicate ‘100% grass-fed’, ‘grass-only’ and ‘grass-fed and finished’ on the label. The label may just say ‘grass-fed beef.’ On the other hand, some grass-finished beef does indicate ‘grass-finished’ on the label.
Why Should Farmed-Seafood Be Avoided?
Seafood can be wild-caught or farmed and about half of all fish consumed worldwide each year are farm-raised. Although ‘Atlantic Salmon’ sounds like salmon came from the Atlantic ocean, almost all Atlantic salmon is farm-raised according to Dr. Perlmutter. Just like other farm-raised animals, fish live their life with life-long suffering. Farm-raised seafood live their life confined in tanks with dirty water with too many fish crammed into tanks. Dirty water leads to high diseases and parasites. As a result, they are fed antibiotics and chemicals regularly to control the spread of disease and
Farm-raised seafood is not only routinely fed with antibiotics, but also fed low quality feed which is a a mixture of corn, grains, fish oil and ground up, wild-caught fish. For salmon, the fish meal also includes food coloring to give salmon the pink color. The natural color of farmed salmon is grey, not the red, pink color you may normally see in wild-caught salmon. Wild salmon normally eat krill and gets its color from red algae. However, since farmed salmon do not eat their normal food but fed fish meal made of corn, grains, fish oil and ground up wild-caught fish, they do not have a natural salmon color. Synthetic astaxanthin which is given to the fish feed to make the color of fish pink is made from petrochemicals. You will not want to eat farmed salmon which was routinely fed antibiotics, GMO feed (over 90 percent of corn in US is GMO.), color dyes and additives. Organic consumers association calls farmed salmon the most toxic food in the world. Farmed-raised salmon also contains higher levels of contaminants and other toxins than salmon caught in the ocean. Also, pesticides such as emamectin benzoate are often used as one solution to treat sea lice. A 2017 study found pyrethroids which is an insecticides, in 100 percent of farmed salmon samples and 50 percent of wild salmon samples. Although the level found was not at high enough levels to pose a threat to humans, the study suggested that pyrethroids can have toxic effects in mammals. Fish or seafood farming also pollute the environment with antibiotics and chemicals. Escaped salmon from farms carry a lot of viruses and pathogens that aren’t native to the escaped area. They can transfer disease to wild salmon or other fish and affect the eco-system.
Wild-caught seafood, on the other hand, live in a natural environment, eating natural food, are not given antibiotics and do not have the same risk of disease and infection as farmed seafood.
Do Pastured Meat or Wild-Caught Seafood Have More Nutritions Than Factory-Farmed Meat Or Seafood?
Grass-Fed, Grass-Finished Beef
- Grass-fed (grass-finished) beef usually contains less total fat than grain-fed beef which result in grass-fed beef having fewer calories.
- Grass-fed (grass-finished) beef have up to five times more omega-3 than grain-fed beef.
- Grass-fed (grain-finished) beef have twice more of Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain-fed beef.
- Grass-fed (grain-finished) beef also have other antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin E.
Pastured Chicken or Pork
- Pastured chicken or pork contain more omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised ones. This is because pastured chicken or pork eat grass and other natural foods which are major sources of Omega-3 fats compared to corn and soybean-based meal farm-raised chickens and pigs eat. (over 90% of corn in US is GMO corn and 94% of soybean in US is GMO soybean.)
- Pastured chicken meat tends to have a lower Omega 6:3 ratio, tends to be higher in iron and be higher in antioxidants, Vitamin E, for example.
- Pasture-raised eggs have higher Omega 3s, a lower Omega 6:3 ratio, increased vitamin D, and more antioxidants.
- Pasture eggs have twice as much vitamin E, 38 % higher vitamin A, twice as much long-chain omega-3 fats, 2.5 times more total omega-3 fatty acids than farmed eggs.
- Pastured pork have high amounts of vitamin D and vitamin A whereas farm-raised pigs have minimal amounts.
- Pastured pork have 74% more selenium than farm-raised pork.
- Wild-caught fish have higher levels of omega 3. Farmed fish are fed corn, soy, vegetable oils which contain very little or no omega 3’s. As a result, farmed fish accumulate higher levels of saturated fats and a higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio when the ideal ratio is reversed. High omega 6 and lower omega 3 ratio may cause inflammation to the body.
- Wild-caught fish may have as much as 20% more protein compared to farmed fish.
- Wild-caught salmon has higher amounts of natural minerals, including calcium and iron than famed salmon.
Organic and Sustainably Raised Meats
FarmFoods – Sustainably Raised Meat
FarmFoods believe in knowing where the meat is from, how the beef was raised, and what principles the farmer is following. FarmFoods brings 100% grass fed and finished, pastured chicken (on pasture every day), pastured heritage pork, wild-caught seafood.
100% grass-fed, grass-finished beef, no antibiotics, non-GMO, hormone free, sustainably raised
All Beef is grass-fed and finished on pasture with no antibiotics or hormones.
Pastured Chicken, no antibiotics, non-GMO, hormone free, sustainably raised
All chicken is raised outside on pasture 24/7/365 where they can forage grasses, bugs, seed, and worms. They are never given any vaccines, antibiotics, hormones or drugs.
Heritage pork, pastured, no antibiotics, non-GMO, hormone free, sustainably raised
All Pork is from pastured, hormone free heritage pigs brought up on a nutritious all-vegetarian diet (forage and feed) given no unnecessary antibiotics.
*Heritage pork is originally from a rare breed. A heritage breed can still be raised in a confinement farm style. Therefore, ensuring that the heritage pork is pastured is important.
Wild-caught, no antibiotics, non-GMO, hormone free, chemical free, no preservatives
All Seafood is Wild Caught by small-scale family fishermen.
Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics – Sustainable Seafood & Meat
Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics believes nothing has a greater impact on our lives than our food choices, and that food should benefit the body and please the senses without harming the planet. Since their first day in business, they’ve sold only sustainably-caught seafood, donated a portion of our profits to planet-protecting programs. They offer 100% grass-fed beef, pastured pork, only wild-caught fish and seafood. They seek ingredients that are certified organic and Fair Trade Certified™ whenever possible. They only offer products that are naturally gluten-free, and most of their products contain little or no added salt. They kosher-certify whenever possible, and virtually all their products are Paleo-, Keto-, and Atkins-friendly.
Organic Grass-Fed Beef
Raised on nutrient rich pasterland, their organic Waygu beef meets stringent guidelines that prohibit the use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotic, and animal by-products. Beef is certified organic, 100% grass-fed and certified humane treatment.
Pigs are raised humanely, without drugs, that forage freely on nutritionally rich, chemical-free pasture. No antibiotics, no growth-promoters, non GMO, no added sugars, no nitrates, nothing artificial
All Vital Choice seafood is sustainably wild-harvested. They limit their offerings to fish and shellfish from fisheries that are certified sustainable or considered sustainable by experts such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Their wild-caught fish are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
They only offer wild-caught fish, which is nutritionally superior to farmed fish and free of the antibiotics, pesticides, and GMO feeds used on fish farms.
Wild-caught seafood such as prawns, shrimp, shellfish, crabs, losters, scallops and squids are harvested sustainably.
They only offer environmentally responsible seafood that is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or deemed Best Choice or Good Alternative by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
I didn’t know all cattle are grass-fed shortly in the early days of their life. In a sense, all cattle were grass-fed sometime in their life and they can be called grass-fed. What really makes real grass-fed beef stand apart from farm-raised beef is if cattle was 100% grass-fed their entire life. It is important to know that grass-fed labeled beef is grass-finished, 100% grass-fed and pastured. I think grass-fed beef usually means grass-finished but you have to keep in mind that that may not be the case. Also, the terms that we see often in the supermarkets or grocery stores such as cage-free or free range, do not describe real living conditions of farmed animals as good as the terms sound. Cage-free and free range meat (or eggs) are definitely better than meats (or eggs) from caged animals. However, horrible living conditions and suffering for animals still applies which also affects the quality of meats, nutrients from meat and our environment. Unnatural, horrible living conditions, inhumane treatments, animal feed with GMO ingredients, chemical additives, antibiotics, growth hormones, factory-farmed animals live a life of suffering and also have the risk of disease, infection and contamination. Furthermore, factory-farmed animals could have bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant diseases developed from constant antibiotic feed to animals, can transfer to humans and threaten human health. Watching how the factory-farmed animals are raised made me wish the day that meats do not come from factory-farmed animals any more. If you are not a vegan, choose pastured meat, sustainably-raised, humanely-raised meat. You may also look for Certified Animal Welfare Approved By AGW, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership, Food Alliance Certified label on the meat you are getting. I don’t think there is meat that can guarantee 100% humane treatments during the lives of animals. However, we can at least try to reduce the suffering of these poor animals by what we choose.
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