Organic & Grass-fed vs. Conventional Meat

by Lauren on June 1, 2012

This is a post I’ve been putting off for a while: the debate between buying conventional vs. organic & grass-fed meat. There’s quite a bit of information out there advocating organic produce: ie. EWGs Dirty Dozen, increased awareness of GM foods, etc. But I find there’s not a lot of information out there advocating organic & grass-fed meat.

I just finished reading “The End of Food” by Thomas Pawlick (a journalism professor, and authority on organic farming), and I felt compelled to share what I’ve learned about the importance of eating organic or grass-fed meat.

For those of you that don’t know, here’s a little background information on grass-fed meat:
“Since the late 1990s, a growing number of ranchers have stopped sending their animals to the feedlots to be fattened on grain, soy and other supplements.  Instead, they are keeping their animals’ home on the range where they forage on pasture; their native diet. These new-age ranchers do not treat their livestock with hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. As a result, the animals grow at a natural pace. For these reasons and more, grass-fed animals live low-stress lives and are so healthy there is no reason to treat them with antibiotics or other drugs” (1).

Pros of eating organic and grass-fed meat:

Organic & grass-fed farmers do not use antibiotics in the feed
In order to prevent the risk of animals getting sick, and consequently a decrease in production, most conventional farmers add preventative low-dose antibiotics into the animal’s feed.

Risk to Health
Overexposure to low-dose antibiotics can cause certain strains of bacteria to become resistant (ie. Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli). This bacterium continues reproducing a large population of resistant strains creating superbugs that can no longer be killed by antibiotics. Small doses of antibiotics can make their way into our meat, which means the resistant bacteria can end up in our bodies.

Organic & grass-fed farmers feed their animals natural diets
Alternatively, many conventional farms feed their animals “by-product feedstuffs,” (1) which can include things like:

-bubble gum
-sterilized city garbage
-bakery wastes
-potato wastes

With organic & grass-fed meat you get what you pay for
On the other hand, most conventional chicken that you buy at the grocery store is a “meat mix” or enriched (2):

Meat Mix: hydrolyzed pork proteins or parts of other animals (cattle & pigs) are combined with water & salt & injected into the chicken making it swell up. This increases the size & weight of the chicken, which means you’re paying for 40% water and bits of other animals.

Enriched: the packaging will say “pre-seasoned” or “moisture enhanced” meat, which means it’s been injected with water, salt, flavorings, phosphates & antioxidants.

Humane treatment of animals
Organic and grass-fed farms do not over-crowd the animals, and allow them to roam free in the fields or wire-enclosed chicken runs. They eat grass or in the case of chickens, hunt for seeds & bugs.

Unfortunately this is not the case for many animals that are raised on huge, conventional farms. I won’t go into detail about how some animals are treated, but there is information available if you’re interested in reading about it (see below). To be honest, reading about how some animals are treated was one of the deciding factors for me to start eating organic or grass-fed meat.

Better for you
Organic and grass-fed meat is better for your health. Organic animals & eggs are never exposed to any pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones or GM foods. Grass-fed meat is lower in calories and higher in nutrients (vitamin E & omega-3) and eggs from free-range hens are higher vitamin E, folic acid and vitamin B12 (2).

Meat in moderation
Organic and grass-fed meat is more expensive than conventional meat; however, you get what you pay for, and your intake of meat should be kept to a minimum anyways. I would recommend eating chicken 1-2 times per week, and red meat once every 1-2 weeks.

Red meat is especially important to keep to a minimum. It’s high in heme-iron, which is easily absorbed by the body, opposed to non-heme iron (from vegetarian sources), which is only absorbed on an ‘as-needed’ basis.

Risks of too much heme-iron
Iron is an oxidant (opposite to antioxidant) and can create free radicals in your body, which can increase the risk of cancer & pre-mature aging. Iron can also oxidize cholesterol turning it into a form that is more readily absorbed by the arteries; increasing the risk of high blood pressure & heart disease. Excess heme-iron can also cause joint pain & inflammation. Men are at higher risk of excess heme-iron because they don’t get rid of some every month like women do.

Avoid cold cuts
Most cold cuts or cured meats (ham, bologna, hot dogs, bacon, pepperoni etc.) contain nitrates; a preservative used to add flavor & to help meat retain its red-pinkish hue (otherwise it would turn grey –  eww). When nitrates combine with our stomach acid they produce a compound called nitrosamine, which has been found to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). They are also high in saturated fat (bad fat).

Just don’t buy hot dogs
Hot dogs are made up of 58% water, 20% fat, 3% ash, and 6% sugar. Less than 13% is actually animal protein, and the “protein” is made up of scrapings from animals’ bones after the main cuts of meat have been taken (2).

Where can you buy organic & grass-fed meat in the GTA?

Healthy Butcher (Toronto & Kitchener locations)
Beretta Farms (Etobicoke): you can order online, and some Loblaws locations carry their whole roast chickens (my fav!) and beef
St. Lawrence Market provides a list of all farms in every province that carries organic & grass-fed meat
Community Shared Agriculture programs

Organic & grass-fed meat resources:

(1) Eat Wild
(2) The End of Food, by Thomas Pawlick
OACC (image credit)
United Poultry Concerns, by Karen Davis
The American meat factory, by Rick Dove
Slaughterhouse, by Gail E. Eisnitz

Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to make sure I included all the important information. Hopefully this post will inspire you to become more health conscious when buying meat & support your local organic farmers!



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