Friday, April 9, 2010

"Organic, Free-Range, Grass-Fed, All Natural, Baloney!"

I am here to clear up a few of the definitions of the terms you see floating around the supermarket nowadays.

1. All Natural -- This term is the loosest defined of all the terms you can find today. It means nothing more than that this product might have originated from a plant, animal, or mineral. Anything can be labeled "all natural". High fructose corn syrup is technically "all natural" because it somewhere along the conveyor belt met a kernel of corn. Even though HFCS is a chemically altered and broken down semblance of it's former corn-based self, it can be labeled "all natural" because it originated from something that once grew out of the ground.

2. Grass Fed -- Here's a shining example of advertising bait-and-switch. This term means that at some point in its life, a meat animal was given the chance to eat some form of grass. This form can be actual grass in a pasture, or dried hay from a field, or haylage (a fermented hay product). The time limit as to when the animal is given the chance to meet grass is not defined. The animal could have been on grassy pasture all its life, or it could have been on grass for the first 2 months of its life (which by the way, doesn't mean it ate any of that grass seeing as most meat animals are not capable of fully digesting grass until they are 3 months old at the least). Also, the way in which the animal was exposed to the grass is not defined. The animal might have lived its life roaming the free range to eat grass as it felt necessary, or the animal might have lived its life in a 5'X8' stall with no fresh air, no sunlight, and wallowing it its own filth, only to meet it "grass fed" requirement in the form of a haylage mush that was thrown on the floor in front of it once a week. Or it lived in a feedlot at a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) with 10,000 other meat animals crammed into a muddy, fly-infested dry lot with its only exposure to grass when for the last two weeks of its life it was handed a flake or two of moldy hay a day that it didn't recognize and refused to eat. "Grass Fed" is not a statement on the well-being of the animal.

3. Pastured-Raised -- Again, another extremely loosely defined term with no specifications and no time limit. This can mean either the animal was on pasture all its life, or that it had access to pasture all its life, or that it had access to pasture for 3 days of its life. Some animals are raised out in the open with a shed to get out of the elements. These animals are free to roam around the pasture and eat what they feel like, as they choose. Some animals are raised primarily in barns but let out to pasture on occasion when the weather permits. Some animals are raised solely in barns with no windows or sunlight and are "pasture-raised" because a little door to a 5'X4' outside enclosure is opened for the last 2 weeks of their lives. They usually never venture outside because they don't know what the door is for and they are afraid to use it. Again, this term is not a statement on the animal's well-being or quality of life.

4. Cage Free -- This one always makes me laugh. "Cage free" is definitely not a statement on quality of life. It means that instead of being raised all its life in a 3'X3' cage with 6 other animals, this animal was raised in a 300'X300' warehouse with 60,000 other animals! There's still no access to fresh air, sunlight, grass, clean conditions. There's still no less antibiotics, medications, or hormones being used on these animals. There's still no lack of crowded conditions. It just simply means that these animals weren't raised in a cage.

5. Organic -- Ahh, the only term with any sort of weight behind it. This term is regulated by the FDA and USDA. It means that no artificial chemicals, medicines, hormones, or toxins where used on the plants and animals that are labeled "organic". The plants where grown using natural fertilizers and organic pesticides. The animals where raised using organic feed and no chemicals. Unfortunately, this term is also not a statement on the quality of life for the animals. An "organic" meat animal can still be raised in a CAFO, can still be treated poorly, and can still be allowed to wallow in their own feces --- just as long as they are fed organic grain, they are still "organic". "Organic" vegetables are grown in large monocultures, just like their conventional counter-parts. There's not a huge difference in terms of ecosystem impact between WalMart brand regular lettuce and Whole Foods brand organic lettuce. Also, organic food is still shipped the same distances as conventional food, sometimes even further due to the lack of organic farms. You aren't exactly saving the planet by buying organic.


My recommendation for anyone that wants to spend their money on meat, eggs, milk, and plants that are actually "all natural, grass fed, pasture-raised, cage free" and beneficial to the environment, they should find a local farmer, create a relationship with them, and meet what they are eating. Meet your meat! See where it lives, find out its name, see what it eats. Maybe even volunteer to feed it and care for it for a few days while the farmer is away. Or, even better -- get your own farm! Raise your own meat cows, milk your own goats, make cheese, garden! This way you can actually be fully assured about the quality of life of your food.

Get involved with your food!!!

3 comments:

Jennifer said...

Great post! Buying your food from a local farmer is the best way to know exactly how it is raised and to actually get "grass fed" or organic food.

The Cottage Garden Farmer said...

Excellent post, sadly you can't rely on labels at all, local knowledge is best.

Duane Keys said...

Well said.