Are all animal products created equal?
Updated: Feb 27, 2020
Have you ever heard of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation)? If you purchase your meat at the store, this is most likely the place your meat comes from. Imagine a building, often time with no access to natural light, where thousands or more animals are crammed into tight spaces, surrounded by feces, injected with hormones to maximize growth and fed diets that include feathers, plastic, poop and lots of antibiotics, among other things (1). Some of you may have become vegan or vegetarians because you have heard about or seen the horrible conditions these poor animals are raised in. As you can imagine, the animal products sourced from places like this are not the best for our bodies.
The good news is that not all animals are mistreated like this and you can find happy animals that are allowed to thrive in their natural environments, eating grass and bugs and allowed to soak in as much sun as they like. Proteins and fats that come from this kind of happy animals are far superior in nutritional content and health benefits.
Ruminants (cows, goats and sheep) have a four chambered stomach and the first step in their digestion process is fermentation in the rumen. When animals are fed grass, fermentation happens close to a pH of 7 (neutral) while in animals fed grains/starch diet the pH becomes a lot more acidic. Lower pH in the cow’s stomach leads to rumen acidosis, which can lead to the cow’s death or a multitude of symptoms such as weight loss, temperature, diarrhea, increased respiratory rate, lethargy. Up to 32% of grain fed ruminants can also develop liver abscesses (2), which requires the use of preventative antibiotics, one of the main causes of antibiotic resistant bacteria. If quality of life (human and animal) is important to you, than this is something you shouldn’t ignore.
The ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 in the meat and dairy of grass fed animals is around 1:1 while in conventionally raised is closer to 7:1. (3) Omega-6 and Omega-3 are essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce, but are essential to our well-being, so we need to obtain them from our diet. An ideal, healthy diet, should be composed of a 1:1 to 4:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. The standard American diet can contain as much as 30 times more Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3, which is a major factor in the increased chronic inflammation and the disease that comes with it.
The meat and dairy of grass fed animals have 3 to 5 times higher amount of conjugated linoleic acid, “a powerful antioxidant that slows down the growth of cancerous tumors. It also prevents plaque from forming in your arteries and causing atherosclerosis. It reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, lowers triglycerides and helps with weight control and metabolism.” (4)
Consumer Reports (2015) conducted a study around the safety of conventionally raised versus grass-fed beef. They found that “beef from conventionally raised cows was more likely to have bacteria overall, as well as bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, than beef from sustainably raised cows. We found a type of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus bacteria called MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), which kills about 11,000 people in the U.S. every year, on three conventional samples (and none on sustainable samples).” When testing 300 samples of ground beef, they found that conventionally raised beef was “twice as likely to be contaminated with superbugs than were all types of sustainably produced beef. But the biggest difference we found was between conventional and grass-fed beef. Just 6 percent of those samples (of grass-fed) contained superbugs (versus 18% in the conventional raised). […]We know that sustainable methods are better for the environment and more humane to animals. But our tests also show that these methods can produce ground beef that poses fewer public health risks.” (5)
When eggs from pastured hens were compared to eggs from commercially raised hens, in cages, it was found that pastured eggs contain twice as much vitamin E, 38% higher vitamin A concentration, 2.5 times more total omega-3 fatty acid and less than half the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. (6) A study conducted by Mother Earth News found that pastured eggs have between 4 to 6 times more vitamin D than the conventionally raised eggs. (7)
While chickens and pigs can’t survive on grass alone, incorporating grass into their diet and allowing them to roam freely in the sun will allow their eggs and meat to be rich in fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K2). (8) Conventionally raised chickens and pigs are often times fed a diet with added arsenic and part of it ends up in the meat we buy at the store. Arsenic is highly carcinogenic to humans and we should strive to limit our exposure to it as much as possible. (9)
According to Dave Asprey, “grass-fed animals play a key role in sustainable agriculture that benefits the entire planet. Studies have found that well-managed grazing systems can manage soil carbon levels and reduce the production of greenhouse gasses like methane. […]Sustainable grazing systems can even improve water filtration, which has the very great side effect of improving soil carbon.” You can read more about the environmental impact of grass-fed beef in his article titled Don’t give up meat for the planet. Grass-fed beef is the better answer to climate change. (10)
It’s not surprising that animals raised in natural environments and fed a species appropriate diets are healthier, and provide us with healthier food. While grass fed proteins and fats tend to be more expensive, it is a lasting investment in our health and it helps lay a solid foundation for our well-being.
If you are in the WI/MN area and need a source for high quality animal products, sustainably grown produce, honey, ferments and more, check out Pleasant View Farms. Their goal is to "use sustainable farming methods that will make our soils come alive with vitamins and minerals so that the animals that live on the soil will be digesting this nutrition, soaking up the sunshine and becoming a nutrient dense food for us." Check out their Shop Now tab for a list of all the locations that host farm drops for them.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1867957/ What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846864/#B40 A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef
Food; What the heck should I eat?, Dr. Mark Hyman
https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/food/how-safe-is-your-ground-beef How safe is your ground beef?
Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat https://www.iatp.org/sites/default/files/421_2_80529.pdf