Last weekend I bought my first organic buffalo meat. I bought it off the back of a pick up truck that drove in from Iowa. I purchased (and shared it with a group of friends) the front quarter of animal 447B from Tall Grass Bison in Promise City, Iowa. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you might recall that I was a vegan many years ago. But even today, while my diet is not nearly as restrictive, I don’t enjoy eating much red meat. Since my vegan days, I’ve remained leery of the “factory farming” techniques that most commercial feed animals are raised in. But that’s part of the reason why this buffalo purchase opportunity intrigued me: we could identify the buffalo we were buying (animal 447B – maybe they should have included a photo), and we met the ranchers who raised and slaughtered animal 447B – they were the one’s driving the truck. More importantly, animal 447B was grass-fed in a stress-free environment that allows for the bison’s natural herd social structure to remain intact and none of the animals were treated with antibiotics or hormones – truly organic right down to the soil the prairie grass was grown in.
While I like the idea of organic foods, I especially like the idea of organically raised animals. Here’s why. Most animal protein contains fat. The hormones, antibiotics and pesticides that are ingested by animals raised in the modern “factory farm” are ultimately stored in their muscle fat, which winds up on your plate. You might be opposed to using antibiotics and hormones on yourself, but by eating an animal that spent its life ingesting these substances, you might have well as taken them directly yourself. Because from the farm, to the animal, to your plate, to the fat cells of your body those same antibiotics, hormones and pesticides continue to “live on”.
Factory farmed animals are fed hormones to decrease the time it takes them to grow and “fatten up” for market. This helps to increase the rancher’s yield by producing more animals in a given amount of time. When those hormones make it onto your plate and into your body they help to do the same thing for you – grow and get fatter for market. According to a French study, researchers found that the synthetic chemicals used in animal hormone injections disrupted the human hormone balance once they made their way into the bodies of the people who ate the meat. This imbalance altered they way certain genes work to regulate fat storage, increasing the likelihood that the consumer would get fatter. The more fat you have, the more of these chemical hormones you can store and the fatter you get. Is it any wonder (high fructose corn syrup aside) that we have an obesity problem?
This accelerated growth cycle of factory farmed animals increases their stress which makes them more susceptible to illness from bacterial infection. The solution is to fortify the animal’s food supply with antibiotics. And in the same way, these antibiotics make it into your system. Research in Spain demonstrated that these antibiotics reduced the number of naturally occurring “good” bacteria in your digestive tract, leaving that system susceptible to harmful microbes that create digestive imbalance and irritation.
Pesticides are used on the animal’s original source of food when it was grown. Just like the other two examples, these pesticides make their way into the animal, then onto your plate and finally into your cells. The pesticides diphenyl, paraquat and maneb have been shown to damage nerve cells and according to research in Brittain, have been liked to Parkinson’s disease. The same research demonstrated that pesticides can affect human fertility by reducing the sperm counts in men who ate animals that had ingested the pesticides. Other research in Italy has shown that pesticides used in factory farming can weaken your immune system, making you susceptible to more illness as well as an increase in allergic reactions.
On the flip side, organic animal products have higher nutritional content then their factory farmed brethren. There’s ample research demonstrating that meat from animals that were grass-fed had 60% more Omega-3 fatty acid, 200% more vitamin E, and up to 3 times as much conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is a cancer fighting fat than can also help you to lose weight. As for chicken, one study found that organic chicken contained up to 28% more Omega-3’s. Other research support similar differences in milk and eggs produced from organically raised animals compared to ones raised in factory farms.
So what does “organic” actually mean and what’s with all of the different terms used to market the stuff we eat? For meat, the USDA allows the producer to label the meat as organic if the animal was raised without antibiotics and growth hormones and fed an organic diet. See the compete definition for all foods here. While organic foods follow standards established by the USDA, the same is not true for labels that use the term “natural”. While the term might connote the idea of being preservative free with no artificial ingredients, there are no standards to define it and “natural” foods aren’t necessarily organic.
While I don’t expect that the buffalo meat we purchased will be overwhelmingly obvious in the difference in taste or nutrition, I do find comfort in knowing the people who raised, slaughtered and prepared the meat. To me that’s essential in trying to live a sustainable lifestyle. Now, let’s fire up the grill!
– Paul Kulpinski, LMT