Grass Fed Beef and Other Food Production Themes
"The land has not lost its essentiality as the basis to sustain people, but the relationship has become so distant that most people do not know anything about agriculture and its importance to mankind."
Ricardo Ayerza & Wayne Coates CHIA
There are many reasons for us to be concerned about the type of agricultural methods that were used to produce our food. Not least of these is the effect they have on omega 3 (n
-3) PUFA content and other nutritional qualities.
Where did my food really come from?
Intensive farming methods result in food that is very different nutritionally from that produced using a more traditional form of agriculture.
The purpose of intensive farming is to produce the maximum amount of food at the lowest cost. This approach inevitably results in low quality food.
Intensive farming methods typically involve:
- Neglect of animal welfare
- Routine use of drugs, hormones and toxic chemicals
- Processed, artificial animal, fish and plant feeds
- Pollution as a side-effect
The impact of intensive farming methods on the n
-3 and n
-6 content of food can be very significant, especially for meat and dairy products.
Can't we just buy certified organic produce?
The standards for organic certification vary greatly across food types. The organic label is quite meaningful when applied to meat and dairy products, for example, but perhaps much less so for farmed fish.
To fully understand the meaning of the term "organic" we need to examine in detail the published standards of the various certification agencies. These include The Soil Association in the UK and several organizations in the United States operating under the umbrella of the USDA.
Find out about the Soil Association and its organic certification standards
What did the livestock eat?
There are many authentic, independent research studies that demonstrate the major impact that livestock feeding regimes have on the PUFA composition of the eventual food products.
When you buy meat insist on knowing what the animal was fed. Look for a traditional diet and feeding method in all cases, which means grazing.
Cattle should be roaming freely in pastures in the spring and summer and fed on hay and grass-based silage during the colder months.
For chickens, foraging in pasture is ideal but as a minimum you should expect a good organic standard to be applied, such as that of The Soil Association.
Feedlot Livestock: We should avoid food products from animals that have been reared on a feedlot or in battery conditions. Apart from violating animal welfare principles, the corn and soy-based diets that are typically provided result in poor quality food that is deficient in important nutrients.
Check the differences in PUFA content and n-3 to n-6 balance between grass fed and grain fed food products
What drugs was the livestock given?
There is a world of difference between the occasional, appropriate use of drugs to treat a specific medical problem and the routine blanket use of hormones and antibiotics as part of an intensive farming system.
Look for organic certification as proof that drugs have not been used indiscriminately.
Apply the same rules to dairy products as for beef. Ask for milk that comes from cows fed on grass.
Dairy products from grass fed cows has a number of health advantages:
- Higher n-3 content
- Better n-3 to n-6 balance
- Higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- Higher levels of other nutrients
Although CLA is a trans
fat, it is produced in the cow's rumen (stomach) by the natural process of biohydrogenation and is believed to provide significant health benefits, possibly including cancer preventative effects.
Learn more about the benefits of grass fed dairy products at Jo Robinson's website
Choose to eat wild fish where possible. The term organic, when applied to farmed fish, may not have the same significance as for meat.
We see the term "sustainably sourced" on fish food labels in the supermarket, but what does it really mean? Is this assurance enough to guarantee the quality of the food?
Sustainable Fishing: Look beyond the label. The UK supermarket Waitrose has published its Responsible Fishing Policy Statement on its website. It has also made a film called "The End of the Line", available on DVD. The sustainability criteria published by Waitrose are specific and compelling.
Fish farming, whether organically certified or not, suffers from a number of drawbacks.
Learn how Alaska applies sound ecological management to salmon fishing
Get Joanna Blythman's insight into organic fish farming
Vegetables and pulses
The term "organic" tells us that, subject to carefully controlled exceptions, chemicals have not been applied either to the plants themselves or the soil.
Organic fare is grown without the use of herbicides and artificial chemical fertilizers. Only restricted use of certain approved pesticides is allowed. The UK's Soil Association also prohibits genetic modification.
During the twentieth century artificial, inorganic chemicals were used for the first time with the introduction of intensive farming methods.
Nuts and seeds
Organic certification is as relevant to nuts and seeds as it is to vegetables and pulses.
Algae are easily grown in aquatic environments without using artificial fertilizers. The lakes may be naturally formed, like Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon, or man-made.
Find out about algae supplements