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The Meat We Eat: Making Ethical Choices

Take an ethical eating pledge by committing to support farms that use humane husbandry practices.

 

Is all meat created equal?

It's a good question. The simple answer is no--not by a long shot.

Most of the meat available to consumers at traditional grocery stores is raised on
large-scale industrial feed lots. These profit-centered operations often confine large numbers of animals in close quarters, administer hormones to speed growth for quicker turn around to harvest, and feed inexpensive GMO grains laced with antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease. Commercially grown GMO feed crops, primarily corn and soy, are also heavily sprayed with pesticides. In turn, chemical residues accumulated in the fatty tissues of meat animals who eat them are likely passed down the food chain to consumers.

In addition, livestock raised on these large factory farms are often subjected to
over crowding and inhumane practices including de-beaking, tail-docking,
de-horning, tooth clipping, nose rings, use of electric prods, gestation
crates, and tethers--to name a few.

Many enlightened consumers want to make more ethically-based choices about the meat they buy. They are concerned about supporting both humane husbandry and sustainable agriculture practices which place a high value on quality of life and land.

But the grocer's meat counter can be confusing, especially since words like natural, farm fresh, and even organic in reference to meat animals does not necessarily equate with humane husbandry.

The parameters are much more straight forward when applied to produce. If labeled organic, shoppers know they are getting fruits and vegetables grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or chemical pest control.

Yet with regard to meat animals, semantics are deceiving. Consumers are led to believe that buying meat labeled "organic" equates with a high standard of animal welfare, which is not necessarily the case. In reality, the organic label may indicate livestock were simply fed a diet of certified organic grains, rather than raised in quality living conditions. An animal can legally spend its entire life in a feedlot setting without access to free-range or grass, and still be labeled "organic" by virtue of the feed it is given.

So what can consumers do to insure the meat they buy has been raised humanely? Follow these simple guidelines to make ethical eating choices:

  1. Avoid conventionally raised meats.
  2. Shop direct from the source at local farmers' markets. Ask questions about the farm's philosophy and husbandry practices. Find out if you can visit. Many ranches offer tours affording patrons an opportunity to see where their food comes from.
  3. Patronize specialty grocers like Whole Foods Market that are committed to selling meat sourced from sustainable farms where animal welfare is a priority.
  4. Look for meats labeled grass-fed, pasture-centered, free-range, and cage-free, as well as organic. Not only do the animals lead a quality life, their meat is higher in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids.
  5. Purchase meat bearing one of the following certifications:

*Certified Humane Raised & Handled; a label which insures animals have been treated humanely from birth to slaughter. The stated goal of this program is to "improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder more responsible farm animal practices." Standards for certification are stringent, and include quality of life enhancements like providing ample space, adequate shelter, fresh water, a healthy diet of quality feed free of added antibiotics or hormones, and gentle handling to reduce stress. Confinement to cages and crates is prohibited. Producers with this certification are also held to a higher standard for slaughter practices. Visit www.certifiedhumane.org for more information.                                                                                

*Animal Welfare Approved certification assures the most rigorous and comprehensive standards for animal welfare have been applied. This certification is only awarded to family farms who place the highest value on each animal's comfort and well-being. Applies to multiple species, and is based on best practice and research in collaboration with scientists, veterinarians, and farmers. Visit http://www.animalwelfareapproved.org/standards/ for detailed standards.

*The Global Animal Partnership rating program; a progressive, five tiered  system of animal welfare practices, developed by ranchers, scientists, retailers, and animal advocates, which outlines species specific standards for humane treatment. The higher the rating, the better the quality of life (rating 1 represents minimal welfare standards with a 5 rating as the highest benchmark). Uses third party certification companies to independently audit farms and assign ratings. For specific details on thestandards of each rating level, visit http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/the-5-step-program/. *Whole Foods Market uses the Global Animal Partnership rating system to rank meats sold in their stores.

I strongly encourage consumers to think twice before purchasing commercially
farmed meat. Instead, choose to spend a bit more on meats produced sustainably
and ethically. We have a responsibility to treat animals raised for our consumption with respect, dignity, and compassion. In doing so, we honor the sacrifice they make to nourish us.

For more farm to table news in the North Bay, visit Karen's website and "like"her facebook page.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Maggie February 01, 2013 at 12:58 AM
Great article, even though I'm a vegetarian and wish people just wouldn't eat meat, or at least only eat it once a week or something... just wanted to say that "cage-free" is not acceptable on egg packages because it can mean that thousands of chickens are in a barn crammed in overcrowded unhealthy conditions. The only true" humane" eggs are marked "pasture raised" or are from a local farmer or friend that you know. For produce I have this thing that states you can also tell by the produce codes, on stickers on the produce, that they use to enter your purchase at check out (the PLU codes). A 4-digit code starting with 3 or 4 means conventionally grown. A 5-digit code starting with 9 means organic, and a 5-digit code starting with 8 means genetically modified. The source for this information is www.plucodes.com
Tina McMillan February 01, 2013 at 08:37 AM
"COSTCO, the wholesale grocery club famous for jumbo-sized packaging, sells organic ground beef in addition to a selection of conventionally-raised beef. Costco organic ground beef is produced by Dakota Beef of South Dakota. Dakota organic beef is feedlot fattened by a cooperative of organic ranchers in the Midwest. Costco has been selling 100,000 pounds of organic ground beef per week, and hopes to eventually offer the product in 300 of its 400 stores, according to Jeff Lyons, Costco’s Vice-President for fresh foods." http://santacruzwire.com/index.php/food/24-business/198-buying-beef-in-santa-cruz.html Shopping at Whole Foods is not practical for many people living on a budget. This Santa Cruz article describes organic beef sold in different stores and explains the range of meanings attached to the label. I have used Costco's organic chicken thighs and organic ground beef in a variety of recipes. The chicken thighs make a wonderful chicken soup and the ground beef a great spaghetti sauce. It helps to find products that are both good for you and reasonably priced. This link provides a link to "Thrifty Mama" where there is a list of organic products and prices for foods sold at Costco. http://www.thethriftymama.com/costco-organic-price-list.html
Karen Pavone February 01, 2013 at 05:30 PM
Thank you for your diligent readership Tina. Again, my article speaks more to humane agriculture practice as a consideration in meat consumption. As you mention above, Costco's Dakota organic beef is feedlot fattened by a cooperative of organic ranchers in the Midwest. This strikes a cord with me for several reasons. Feedlots are profit-driven factory farm enterprizes. Their primary concern is to fatten animals as quickly as possible for a short turn around to slaughter. Feedlot conditions, as I have accurately described in my article, do not provide consideration for quality of life for their animals. I believe this should be a factor when choosing to eat meat. It is true consumers will pay more for animals raised with sustainable, humane agriculture in mind. For me, this means eating less meat--but choosing to support quality production in ALL areas when I do buy meat. Did you also know that cattle are ruminants designed to digest diets of grass? Feeding grains like corn and soy, even organic, wreaks havoc on their digestive systems, contributing to significant release of green house gasses in our environment. I stand by my point that consumers need to educate and advocate for what they want to eat--"organic" doesn't necessarily mean animals were humanely raised, which is deceptive to many consumers who believe they are supporting sustainable agriculture by buying organic meat.
Craig Belfor February 02, 2013 at 03:09 PM
Treating animals humanely and then killing them is like serving jello at Auschwitz. Will Rogers said " Anyone who likes sausage or politics shouldn't watch how they're made".
Tina McMillan February 02, 2013 at 04:07 PM
"Surprisingly, WHOLE FOODS MARKET, the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods, is the only market in Santa Cruz to offer organic, grassfed beef raised in California. Whole Foods’ grassfed organic beef is from Panorama Grass-Fed Meats, based in Petaluma. Panorama’s cattle are mostly raised in Northern California, with some of the animals sourced from ranchers in Oregon and Washington. The cattle are free-range, and never placed in a feedlot. Whole Foods also sells a “natural” brand, Country Natural Beef, which is based in Oregon and produced by a cooperative of more than 100 family ranches scattered from Colorado to Hawaii. Country Natural Beef producers do not use antibiotics, hormones, beta-agonists or anti-microbials, and the cattle are finished in feedlots for 3 months before slaughter. However, Country Natural feeds very little corn in its feedlot, according to rancher and spokesman Doc Hatfield. Instead, the feed is largely a mix of potatoes and the nutritious chaff and germ removed from wheat in the production of white flour, which is easier for the cattle to digest than corn, Hatfield said." One of the two brands sold at Whole Foods uses feedlots but with very little corn, to fatten the cows prior to slaughter. Panorama, the non feedlot producer includes nearby ranches: Lunny Ranch Inverness, CA Diamond W Ranch Petaluma, CA Hicks Valley Ranch Petaluma, CA I haven't compared the cost. Does anyone know the price difference?
Tina McMillan February 02, 2013 at 04:25 PM
I am still trying to figure this out in part because cost is a factor for most families. It is not about needing to eat meat every day but about all the costs associated with buying food, paying for housing, paying for transportation, paying for medical care and so on. I don't like the idea of meat shot up with antibiotics just before slaughter. It seems to contradict the idea of "organic" which is why labeling is not always a clear indicator of what you are eating (this was the GMO issue of labeling foods but not all foods last November). It use to be that Costco sold Dakota Beef which claims no antibiotics or hormones on its label, which would mean that the fattening process would have to use feed that didn't cause problems in digestions. But now Costco sells its own brand, Kirkland. Here is a link to the Kirkland site: http://www.costcoconnection.com/connection/201205?pg=107#pg107 It says that there are no antibiotics or hormones used and that they process their own beef in a plant in Tracy. The previous brand Dakota also said no antibiotics or hormones. It seems like you would have to use antibiotics if you used feedlots and primarily corn to fatten beef prior to slaughter. Is it possible that the ranchers that supply the Costco Beef do not use this practice?
Karen Pavone February 05, 2013 at 06:05 AM
Great reminder about eggs Maggie! I will have to investigate the sticker codes on produce. Thanks for the link! Fascinating!
Karen Pavone February 05, 2013 at 06:21 AM
I empathize with your position Craig, but it remains a fact that a lot of people eat meat. I hope to educate those that do, so that they choose to support ranchers who consider quality of life for their animals equally as important as their profit line.
Craig Belfor February 06, 2013 at 01:32 AM
If you really want a subject you can sink your teeth into, check out meat glue. Much of the filet mignon that you buy in restaurants is glued together scraps, sold at the higher price, and if not cooked properly, can make you sick. Google "meat glue", and see how we're being cheated when we buy filet mignon.

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