Because of the rapidly increasing “green” movement and growing concern for the environment, organic food is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds–and that includes meat. Raised without the use of growth hormones, antibiotics or other harmful substances, organic meat involves sustainable farming practices that help keep the environment clean and pristine. Compared to conventional meat, choosing organic can benefit your body as well as the planet.
To reach organic standards, meat must be free from antibiotics, growth hormones, bioengineering and ionizing radiation, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Organic meat farmers adhere to guidelines that promote ecological balance, including the use of renewable resources, the conservation of water and the avoidance of farming methods that pollute the air, water and soil. Many organic farmers raise their animals in pastures rather than closed feedlots, resulting in “pastured,” “free-range” or “cage-free” animal products.
When meat satisfies the requirements for organic processing in America, it receives a “USDA Certified Organic” label to distinguish it from conventional meat, the United States Department of Agriculture notes. Although organic meat is not available at all grocery stores, you may be more likely to find it at natural health shops, farmers markets, food co-ops or straight from local farms.
Organic meat is said to offer benefits for health, animal welfare and the environment. According to Princeton University, organic cows that are grass-fed tends to have less total fat and higher levels of omega- 3 fatty acids in their beef rather than conventional beef, making it a better choice for heart health than conventional beef fed a grain-based diet. In addition, organic farming bans the use of purported cancerpromoting growth hormones and antibiotics in animals, leading to fewer health risks in humans and minimizing the evolution of antibiotic- resistant strains of bacteria. Organic meat may also reduce animal cruelty and suffering. Organically raised animals often have drastically better living conditions than animals raised in feedlots and commercial farms, Princeton University explains.
“Overall, if people are going to consume meats, investing in organic, free-range meats from a reputable and local trusted food market such as Whole Foods is the best option,” says Mary Harris, who is not only the Director of the Monmouth Area Vegetarian Society (MAVS), but also a Specialist Professor and owner of a local business called Heaven and Earth in Bayville, NJ.
Some forms of organic meat may still pose health risks. Fatty cuts of meat, whether organic or not, contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. These are two substances that can raise your blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease, according to Mayo- Clinic.com.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the National Organic Program as part of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. This program oversees the production and handling of organic foods in a way that promotes wise use of resources and ecological balance of the soil and environment.
According to the Organic Trade Association, the philosophy behind organic meat production is to provide conditions necessary to meet the health needs as well as the natural behavioral needs of animals by leaving them in their natural environment. Organic livestock live outdoors to feed on grass, exposed to fresh air and sunlight and they are fed only 100 percent organic feed.
Organic livestock do not eat animal byproducts of any kind, plastic pellets or any other foreign substance.
The USDA National Organic Program requires farms to allow on-site inspections to ensure they are following the organic standards set in the program, so that they can label their food as organic when it goes to market. Farmers must keep detailed accounting of their production and handling plans to show proof their livestock was fed organic food since they were in utero.
A growing concern that has been brought to light by the movie Food, Inc. by Marion Nestle, author and department of nutrition and food studies chair at New York University, is the use of genetically modified food such as corn. Corn is one of the biggest food crops, used in a large percentage of foods as a filler. Nonorganic farmers feed it to livestock. However, Nor thwester n Health Sciences University suggests that feeding grain causes the guts of livestock to become compromised, and in combination with pesticides and antibiotics, provides a lower standard of food than that that comes from organically fed animals.
Experts aren’t sure yet if organic foods actually contain more nutrients than conventional foods, but there are health benefits to consuming less pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals that are added to conventional foods.
Meat, poultry and dairy items are among the most important products to consider when buying organic for several reasons. Most conventional livestock comes from concentratedanimal feeding operations (CAFOs). According to Food, Inc., the print accompaniment to the documentary film, these are industrialscale facilities where thousands of animals are fed and housed together in very close proximity.
In these cramped conditions, disease can spread quickly; therefore, farmers dose each animal with antibiotics. Karl Weber, the editor of the film, asserts that increased use of antibiotics on livestock leads to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that can eventually pass to humans.
Organic animals don’t need antibiotics because they don’t live in such tight quarters. USDA organic standards prohibit farmers from giving any medical treatment to animals unless they are sick, including antibiotics and synthetic pesticides.
Organic farmers and ranchers are also prohibited from giving their animals hormones or supplements to promote growth. Conventional feedlots engage in this practice in order to make livestock grow faster, so that they can be slaughtered sooner, which lowers the cost of raising them.
According to Weber, ingesting hormones from meat can lead to hormonal imbalances that may cause cancer. Organic, grass-fed beef is also higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower cholesterol, beta-carotene and vitamin E.
Organic meat can be two or three times more expensive than the pesticide, herbicide, synthetic fertilizer, hormone and antibiotic laden, factory farmed versions. The good news is that there are ways that will help you save money without having to compromise on health, safety and the future of the planet.