How Your Surf & Turf Choices Impact Your Health

Part 3 of 3 on Food Labeling

With meat, poultry, fish and seafood so readily attainable and affordable in our western land, we often make our dining choices based on price and/or taste alone, but is the "faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper" mentality of the industrial food system really one that works to our benefit? Some of us are trying to make healthier choices, but if you've found yourself in the grocery store looking puzzled at the meat label, you're not alone. Not only can the labeling be confusing, it can be deceiving too. I hope to clear up some of your confusion by defining the labels for you so you can make the best decisions when it comes to your health. While I've made every effort to be honest and transparent in this article, I've definitely spared you the nastiest details, in both images and descriptions, so don't be deceived by a "not so bad" picture.

Organic


No matter your choice of surf and turf, organic means one thing: "Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones." (www.organic.org)


Fish and Seafood

Farm-Raised

Farm-raised may sound good, but its unnatural methods can cause many issues. These sea creatures can be farmed right in the ocean or in other reservoirs, natural or man-made. Because they're usually in a very crowded space and don't have the benefit of the ocean's eco-system to play its positive role in their health, they're fed pesticides, fungicides, and antibiotics. Many of them are also fed hormones for rapid growth. Salmon, especially, are fed food coloring so their flesh will appear pinker to the consumer in the market. And now, for the first time ever, GMO salmon can be found in the market. "Federal regulators on [Nov. 19, 2015] approved a genetically engineered salmon as fit for consumption, making it the first genetically altered animal to be cleared for American supermarkets and dinner tables." (The New York Times)

For more about GMO products, go to this blog post.


A genetically engineered salmon from AquaBounty Technologies, rear, with a conventionally raised sibling roughly the same age. CreditPaul Darrow for The New York Times

Wild-Caught

This is your best choice when it comes to fish and seafood. While, unfortunately, many of our waters are polluted, at least these creatures get the health benefits of the ocean, both in their diets and environment, which is then passed on to us. For those of you living on the East Coast, like myself, be leery of "Atlantic salmon." These days it is only farmed, so while it may sound wild, it isn't. Usually the best salmon comes from Alaska. Wild-caught salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential (our bodies can't make it) anti-inflammatory fat with amazing benefits to the brain and joints, as well as many other organs and functions of the body. Most American diets are higher in unhealthy fats, promoting weight-gain and all kinds of other health problems, including depression and anxiety.

Beef & Milk

Conventional


Conventional meat comes from cows that have been raised on a "factory farm." The farm's sole purpose is to make money, often times at any cost. The dairy cows are artificially inseminated over and over again, often separated from their calves at birth or after just a few months. The calf is usually grazing on grass for 3-6 months, before it is taken to a feedlot ("A feedlot or feed yard is a type of animal feeding operation (AFO) which is used in intensive animal farming for finishing livestock, notably beef cattle, but also swine, horses, sheep, turkeys, chickens or ducks, prior to slaughter." -Wikipedia). The cows are fed a high grain diet of GMO corn and soy, antibiotics, hormone-enhancing chemicals, and can also be fed the remnants from hen cages, fish parts, and beef fat to fatten them up as quickly as possible for slaughter. The animals are packed on these lots, unable to access land for grazing, often standing and sitting in their own waste. Cows are ruminating animals, meant for a diet of foraging, so the grains can cause all kinds of stomach and intestinal issues like painful infections. It's a good thing they are usually slaughtered at 14-16 months of age; otherwise, they could very likely die of an infection or even liver damage. The cows can experience a lot of stress in these environments, especially the calf and nursing cow, when weaned prematurely. These stress hormones and any that are experienced during inhumane treatment are passed on to us when we consume the meat. (The Omnivore's Dilemma)

Organic

Refer to the first labeled paragraph for information, but note that these animals could still be on a feedlot and are still fed a diet high in corn and soy, just not genetically modified. In other words, these cows still have gastrointestinal issues, as they are not foraging on grass.

Pasture-Raised or Grass-Fed

In short, these cows get the best diets and lives, which means that you get the healthiest meat. They are free to roam on a pasture to feed on grass, so they're not prone to having GI health issues and usually have a better gut flora, which is passed on to us, improving our own gut flora and immune system. Their meat also provides us with more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. The best farm is an organic one, which also incorporates other livestock and produce, so that nature's eco-system takes care of a lot of issues that arise on a conventional farm. The animals are also less stressed, which calls for a better animal experience and healthier meat to better nourish our bodies.

Poultry & Eggs

Conventional

Conventional chickens are raised on factory farms, in large houses with up to 40,000 chickens on top of each other, with no space to move freely. Because chickens are territorial, their beaks are trimmed or burned as chics, so they won't peck each other to death in such a confined space. They are fed antibiotics to avoid diseases, as they are overcrowded and often without proper ventilation. The amonia from their waste is so strong that it can burn their legs, painfully crippling many of them, even causing death for some. For egg-laying hens, it's a much worse scenario, where they are usually packed in a cage, dealing with the same issues as in the large house. (www.peta.org) While hormone administration has been banned, these chickens are bred to grow bigger, faster, which causes health problems for them, especially when they can't support their own weight due to rapid growth. And due to high stress levels, they produce stress hormones that we end up consuming. They are also fed a GMO diet.

Free-Range

"USDA generally permits the term to be used if chickens have access to the outdoors for at least some part of the day, whether the chickens choose to go outside or not. In practice, most chickens stay close to water and feed, which is usually located within the chicken house." (www.nationalchickencouncil.org) As you can see, there's not really a difference between conventional and free-range.

Cage-Free Eggs

"Battery cages present inherent animal welfare problems, most notably by their small size and barren conditions. Hens are unable to engage in many of their natural behaviors and endure high levels of stress and frustration. Cage-free egg production, while not perfect, does not entail such inherent animal welfare disadvantages and is a very good step in the right direction for the egg industry." -Dr. Michael Appleby (www.humanesociety.org) While cage-free is certainly better than battery-caged hens, the same concerns exist as with conventionally raised chickens.

Organic

Refer to the first labeled paragraph for information, but note that these animals could still be on a factory farm.

Pasture-Raised

These chickens and the eggs of these hens have the best life and health possible. They are often raised with other animals as an entire farm eco-system, allowed their space to spread their wings and to roost. They can scratch and dig in other animal waste, which is very beneficial to their health and ours, as they consume a protein-rich diet of bugs and larvae, and even grass. *Best if also organic.

Pork

Conventional

Pork, "the other white meat," has a very dark side when raised on a factory farm. While their diet, like most other livestock, heavily relies on subsidized GMO corn and soy, it also contains rendered pig flesh. The conditions under which these pigs are raised is the most horrific, saddening part of the scandal. Pigs are considered one of the most intelligent, social animals, especially among farmed animals. In these inhumane, tightly confined environments, their stress levels are very high, which is also passed on to us, through their meat. They are fed antibiotics for survival and given hormone-enhancing drugs for rapid growth. For more detailed information on how these pigs are raised and the damage it does to them, the workers and our environment, visit this link at www.splendidtable.org.

Organic

Refer to the first labeled paragraph for information, but note that these animals could still be on a factory farm.

Pasture-Raised

Like the other meats raised on a pasture, these pigs are free to roam and have their own space. They are able to wallow in the mud, which is very important for them to be able to cool off, as they have very few sweat glands. They too, are often raised with other animals as part of a farm's eco-system. The meat should be free of stress hormones as well. If organic also, the meat is antibiotic-free.

Bogus Labels

  • Farm-Raised -All livestock animals sold in the U.S. for consumption are farm-raised.

  • Natural or All Natural -Unfortunately, there's no regulation on the use of this word, so it can be used freely and liberally, whether true or not.

  • Hormone-free -All animals truly have hormones; nonetheless, administering additional growth hormones to poultry has been banned in the U.S.

Ratings Scales


I've created this rating scale for you to easily see what's bad, better and best, when it comes to your meat and seafood choices. The scale starts with the worst option on the left of the list, moving toward better, then best choices.

Doubtful to Best

Fish and Seafood

Conventional/Farm-Raised I Organic Wild-Caught

Beef

Conventional* I Organic I Pasture-Raised/Grass-fed I Pasture-Raised/Grass-fed Organic

*(Includes Vegetarian-Fed or Grain-Fed)

Poultry

Conventional* I Cage-Free I Organic I Pasture-Raised I Pasture-Raised Organic

*(Includes Vegetarian-Fed or Free-Range)

Pork

Conventional* I Organic I Pasture-Raised I Pasture-Raised Organic

*(Includes Vegetarian-Fed or Grain-Fed)

For more information and interesting facts on the food industry, factory farms and alternative choices you can make, check out these great films: Food Inc, Ingredients, King Corn, Fresh.




To your health,



#foodlabeling #meat #organic #GMO #hormones

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