There has been much in the news as of late on the advantages to eating organic produced meats. National sales of organics have risen about 20% every year for the last few years. There are advantages for the animals as they are raised as well as the environment that they are grown in. In addition, there have been several studies that have proven the health benefits to eating foods produced without pesticides or hormones. Here are some quick facts to guide you in knowing the reasons behind purchasing organically produced meats.
There are certain guidelines that a farmer must adhere to in order to certify an animal as organic. Unlike conventionally raised livestock, organic herds must be kept in an environment that accommodates the natural behavior of the animal. For example, animals such as pigs, goats and cows have to have access to the pasture. Healthy animals may be given vaccinations against disease, but may not be given any hormones or antibiotics in the absence of illness. If an animal becomes ill they will be given medication, but then may not carry the label of organic once slaughtered. As well, these animals must be fed with feed that is produced without the use of pesticides.
Raising animals organically allows for a decrease in overall detrimental environmental effects of growing practices. Feeding the animals organic foods allows for a decrease in pollution from pesticide run-off into the water system. Organic crops are produced through sustainable means, using measures such as crop rotation, natural soil enrichment and pest predators, which assist in maintaining the integrity of the land and soil. In addition, certified organic foods cannot contain any genetic modified organisms, which promote biodiversity in agriculture and livestock.
Conventionally produced meats contain antibiotics and growth hormones as a consequence of normal farming practices to grow healthy, large animals. In contrast, organically farmed animals are not given any hormones or antibiotics unless they become sick. These medications are found in the meats of the animals and passed along to the consumer. Although there has not been any research that has directly correlated eating conventional meats with disease, there has been much speculation to the effects that these drugs have on the consumer of the meats. The growth hormone that is typically given to cows during conventional farming has been linked to higher rates of hormone-based cancers, such as breast, prostate, ovarian and testicular. It is not surprising that the bovine growth hormone (that which is given to cows in the United States) is banned in Europe due to these possible health risks. In addition, the antibiotics given to cattle have been linked to the high rates of resistant strains of bacteria in this country.
While there have been many studies that show organically produced fruits and vegetables have more nutrients than their conventional counterparts, there are not a lot of studies that show the same for organically produced meats. One study did show, however, that the meat of an organically produced chicken to have higher amount of antioxidants and essential fatty acids.
Cost versus benefits
There is no question that organically raised animals will have less pesticides, hormones and antibiotics than their conventionally raised counterparts. The farming practices will be gentler to the animals and the environment that they are grown on. However, is there any benefit to outweigh the cost of these food items?
Organic foods are typically 10-40% higher in cost to the consumer than conventionally produced items. This fact is due to the lower demand compared to production, higher labor input and increased marketing/distribution costs of organic foods. However, when you take into account the health of the environment and individual it seems that organic foods can weight out considerably. If you don’t want to spend the extra money up front on organic foods, here are some tips to buying organic more economically:
- Buy in bulk. Most organic farmers will sell a whole animal to individuals. Buy in conjunction with family, friends or neighbors who can also benefit from these wholesome purchases
- Buy from the source. Most organic meats and vegetables are cheaper when purchased directly from the farmer. Find a community shared agriculture farm in your area by following this link: http://www.localharvest.org/
- Purchase the majority of foods organically. If you choose to only purchase some items organically, choose wisely. Organic meats have fewer pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, which accumulate in children at a higher rate then adults. Buying these items organic if you have children will be a great benefit to their health in the long-term. If you are going to pick certain foods to eat organically these should always be on your list of organics.
The bottom line is that there IS a difference between organic and conventionally grown meat. There has been proof that there is a health advantage to buying organically. The more people that choose their meat based on health the lower the cost will be due to demand. Wouldn’t you want to offer your family healthier meats if you could?
 Lahan, K, et al. Relationships between flavour, lipid composition and antioxidants in organic, free-range and conventional chicken breasts from modelling. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2006 May-Jun;57(3-4):229-43.