Secret #4: Opt for Humanely-Raised Meat & Poultry.
The classic idiom “you are what you eat” applies just as well to farm animals as it does to humans. How animals, that are raised for meat, eggs and dairy, are treated can make a big difference in our diets and our ecosystem.
Most animals in the U.S. are raised in confined animal feeding operations – “factory farms” – where they are crammed together into warehouses or small cages, forced to stand in their own urine and feces, given hormones to make them grow faster and larger and produce more, are not allowed to express their natural behaviors, are bred in ways that cause physical deformations, and are fed a sickening variety of waste products including meat judged unfit for human consumption, manure and even plastic (supposedly to replace natural sources of fiber like grass and leaves). They are also stuffed full of growth hormones, arsenic (routinely fed to chickens and pigs), and antibiotics to make them grow or gain weight more quickly. These animals are more prone to toxicity, disease and injury, and are depressed and stressed. Nevertheless, animal suffering and dignity are immaterial for factory farms as long as they can minimize costs and maximize overall production per unit cost.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
In December 2010, the FDA published data confirming that more than 70 percent of all antimicrobial drugs used in the United States are devoted to non-therapeutic use in livestock (‘non-therapeutic’ is defined as the use of antibiotics in the absence of diagnosed disease). The Union of Concerned Scientists estimate that every year livestock producers in the U.S. use 24.6 million pounds of antimicrobials in the absence of disease for non-therapeutic purposes: approximately 10.3 million pounds in hogs, 10.5 million pounds in poultry, and 3.7 million pounds in cattle. The tonnage would be even higher if antimicrobials used therapeutically for animals were included. Nevertheless, according to a 2011 study, conducted by The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, nearly half of the factory farmed meat and poultry in the U.S. are contaminated with staphylococcus aureus (“Staph”), a bacteria linked to a wide range of human diseases, and more than half of those bacteria were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.
Humanely-raised animals, on the other hand, are raised based on Animal Care Standards that were developed by the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), a leading non-profit certification organization dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter.
These animals are never kept in cages, crates, or tie stalls, must be free to carry out their natural instincts and behaviors (for example, chickens must be able to flap their wings and dust bathe, and pigs must have space to move around and root), and must be fed a diet of quality feed, without animal by-products, antibiotics or growth hormones. Producers must comply with food safety and environmental regulations and processors must comply with the American Meat Institute Standards (AMI), a slaughter standard written by Dr. Temple Grandin, a member of HFAC’s Scientific Committee.
Not all steaks and eggs are created equal though. Beyond the fact that humanely-raised animals are treated with respect, gratitude, and compassion and enjoy a much higher quality of life, their by-products have been proven by study after study to be healthier, have less saturated fat and fewer total calories, have higher levels of heart-healthy Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) fats and omega-3 fatty acids, have higher amounts of Vitamin A and E, and have a lower incidence of bacterial contamination. For example: Eggs from pastured hens have less saturated fat, less cholesterol, double the omega-3’s, 3 times the vitamin D and substantially more vitamin A and E than factory-farmed eggs; meat from 100% grass-fed animals has substantially less total fat, less saturated fat, less cholesterol, more of vitamins E and C, and 3 times the omega-3’s of farmed meat; milk from pastured cows contains more omega-3’s, more zinc and iron, and more vitamins A, E and K. So, as you can see, the corners factory farmers cut do not just increase production and animal suffering, they also produce an inferior product.
Eggs that come from humane conditions are “pasture-raised”. These chickens spend their days outside in the grass, scratching in the dirt, eating bugs and some grass as they would naturally. Please be aware that the terms “cage free” and “free range” are empty terms and do not imply humane conditions but rather good old factory farms. The key words for humanely-raised meat are also “pastured”, “pasture-raised” and “100% grass fed” or “grass finished”. The terms “grass fed” and “free range” are not good enough since all cattle are grass fed before they are shipped to feedlots. Eggs, meat and dairy products should also be “organic”, “free of hormones” and “free of antibiotics”.
Secret #5: Opt for Sustainable Seafood.
Over 70 percent of world stocks of wild fish are fully exploited or are already overfished. Aquaculture – fish farming – is seen as a way to satisfy the world’s growing appetite for healthful fish and at the same time a means of sparing wild fish populations and allowing their numbers to rebound. It is growing three times faster than any other agricultural sector, suppling nearly half of all fish consumed worldwide, and is expected to be a $202 billion industry by 2020. It produces a wide variety of both freshwater and saltwater fin fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic flora and fauna. Some species spend their entire lives on the farm, while others are captured and raised to maturity there.
There is a growing concern over the apparent lack of sustainability and ethics in this industry. Most farmed fish spend their entire lives in cramped, filthy enclosures, and many suffer from parasitic infections, diseases and debilitating injuries. Waste products, including feces, uneaten food, pesticides, veterinary drugs and dead fish, are flushed into the surrounding waters where they add to the contamination of the water supply. Genetic engineering is used to accelerate growth, and hormones may be injected into fish to change their reproductive behavior. In some countries, fish farmers also add antibiotics to the fish’s food or water, and residues of these drugs have been found in fish sold for human consumption. Some farmed fish was also found to be tainted with mercury and PCB’s.
The aquaculture industry, both in this country and abroad, lacks rigorous standards aimed at protecting the marine environment. Viral, fungal, and bacterial diseases that arise in fish farms have been known to spread to native fish populations. Pests such as sea lice proliferate in fish farms and spread out to afflict wild fish. Animal welfare, environmental and food resource management agencies worldwide have been involved in the effort to promote responsible, sustainable fish farming.
Sustainable seafood is seafood that is either caught or farmed in ways that consider the long-term vitality of harvested species and the well-being of the oceans, as well as the livelihoods of fisheries-dependent communities. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is the best resource for supporting consumers that are interested in consuming sustainable seafood. It relies on a team of more than 20 scientists who weigh factors like fish population, harm to habitat, harm to other species, and management practices to determine the sustainability of a fishery. These factors produce ratings of green (best), yellow (good alternative), or red (avoid). To consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list before buying seafood or ordering at a restaurant, you may download its free app.