In this Deceptions in The Food Industry series, I uncover some of the most common deceptions found in the industry that produces and sells the foods we consume. Today I will discuss the fallacies of meat and other animal foods labeled “antibiotic-free” and “hormone-free”.
So, what should you do if you’re shopping in the store and you come across a package of meat or cheese with a label which reads “no antibiotics, no hormones”? Sounds great, right? Wouldn’t it make sense to applaud companies that remove these substances, which have clearly been shown to contribute to the generation of pathogenic bacteria and the increase of chronic disease?
There are many reasons to avoid animal foods raised using these substances. A discussion on Facebook some months ago prompted this article. A commenter said that there were many antibiotic-free and hormone-free products currently available on the market. I replied that this was definitely an improvement over what a shopper was likely to see a few years ago.
For those trying to make changes to better their health, seeking out antibiotic and hormone-free meats and other animal foods is a prudent choice. Research and studies show that choosing animal foods without these chemicals is better for overall health. Antibiotic-resistance has become a genuine threat to our daily existence, and the use of hormones is linked to the rise in cancer and many other diseases.
However, there are some important facts to know about these products, especially because labels can be very misleading, and may give the impression that the product is truly healthy when there are still some glaring issues present.
Why antibiotic-free and hormone-free does not guarantee a healthy product
Products labeled “antibiotic-free” and “hormone-free” may indeed be absent antibiotics or hormones. But many are likely sourced from animals or birds that are still raised in the most unnatural environments: confinement or factory farms. Animals and birds are intended to live on pasture, grazing on grass and foraging for insects, worms, and other naturally-occurring components of their customary diets.
In the modern world, we have increasingly moved toward commodity-based farming facilities which place animals and birds on feedlots. Although all cattle begin their lives on grass, conventional and even some labeled organic or “sustainable” spend the last 90-120 days of their lives on feedlots. These are the most unnatural of environments, and animals are fed grain, soy, and corn, and other artificial substances. These types of feed are unnatural for ruminants such as cattle, sheep, goats, and for omnivores such as pigs and poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, and others). When they consume this feed, their digestive tracts become acidic and the delicate balance of natural, beneficial bacteria is upset in their bodies.
Most soy and corn is also genetically-modified, and much of the grain on the market, although not yet GM, is treated with herbicides (think Monsanto’s Roundup). All of these factors set the stage for disease in the soil, animals, and human beings. For more information on how genetically-modified organisms cause health issues, read more from The Institute for Responsible Technology.
As well, animal foods from confinement sources contain lower levels of the following nutrients: fat-soluble A and E vitamins, CLA, and Omega 3s to name a few. This chart shows how these nutrients diminish in animals raised on feedlot environments.
I recommend choosing 100% grassfed and finished meats and pasture-raised animal foods including eggs, poultry, and dairy products. The best way to know how your food is raised to contact the company or farm that produces the foods you buy and inquire about practices. Find out what’s in your local community and develop a personal relationship with a farmer you know and trust. Knowing a local farmer allows you to have first-hand knowledge of how your food is raised, which can provide not only health benefits, but peace of mind!
For more information on the benefits of grassfed meat, read Why choose grassfed over grain-fed meat.
Here are some books I recommend on the benefits of and preparing grassfed meat, as well as why grazing animals can actually heal the land and improve ours and the planet’s overall health via Amazon affiliation:
Tender Grassfed Meat by Stanley Fishman
The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook by Shannon Hayes
Why Grassfed is Best: The Surprising Benefits of Grassfed Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products by Jo Robinson
Cows Save The Planet: And Other Improbably Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal The Earth by Judith D. Schwartz
The Grazing Revolution: A Radical Plan to Save the Earth by Allan Savory