A Facebook friend brought up an article recently that sparked some thoughts. “Is Free-Range Meat Making Us Sick?” is the title. The gist of the article is that free-range animals can have higher parasite counts than containment animals and therefore be less healthy for consumers than believed. If you read the article, check out the comments at the end–they’re as good as the article and make bring up points about the studies cited in the article, about holistic values, and so on. One commenter said, “there is no utopia.” That was a good summary of my own thoughts. Most everything in life is a trade-off. I question some of the author’s citations, but I know that parasitism and disease is an issue for graziers as well as confinement farmers. We know that we, personally, have far fewer disease problems in properly pastured animals than when we have to contain our animals (no matter the species). We also know there are trade-offs in feed and time efficiencies. Sometimes we have to medicate and chemically worm our animals–even organic producers are required to treat sick animals but must follow guidelines to keep them out of the “organic” labelled system. “That’s farming,” as we say around here. But we don’t have a locked chemical room or have to worry about pesticide poisoning. We have a few drugs on hand to treat animals as neccessary, but only as neccessary. We are careful about “biosecurity,” but we will give tours, something a Tyson or Purdue farm can’t do. You can get sick from free-range meat. You can get run over by a truck when you cross the road. Minimize your risks: know your farmer, know the processor, handle the meat properly at home, and look both ways twice before stepping off the curb.
While I’m on the topic….My sister and I were talking about the 3 R’s last time she was here: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Recycle is very popular. Reuse is not too hard (though the guys hate bringing back Ziplock bags for washing). Reduce, though, is a tough one. Reduce requires more lifestyle change and is uncomfortable. Since we make a living selling meat, I probably should not tell you that food is a major area we can reduce in as a culture. I should probably tell you protein is an important food group. We like biscuits and sausage gravy and omlettes for breakfast as much as anyone. However, I would propose that food is an area we need to consider reducing to impact our world. CAFOs exist to supply large quantities of dollar-cheap meat to our super-sized citizenry. We like dollar-a-pound bacon, $0.60/lb chicken, and Thanksgiving sale turkey. Our eating habits and expectations have changed considerably since FDR promised a chicken for every pot. We eat a lot of up-front cheap protein. But it’s costing us at the back side. Just in our small corner of the world there are manure dispersal issues, soil that requires petroleum fertilizers to produce corn year after year after year, and diseases in the crops and animals that are resistant to the antibiotic on the shelf at the feed store. Again, we echo a call we’ve heard: eat less, but eat better. Support a farmer you know, support a local processor, and make a good impact on our world.