Eating fewer animal products is a good choice for the environment. When and if you choose to eat animal products you can make a significant difference for your health and the environment by taking these steps, and here’s why:
Choosing to support farms that caretake the environment and the animals they raise in an ethical manner, is a very positive way to spend your food dollar. Animal agriculture produces surprisingly large amounts of air and water pollution, and causes 80 percent of the world’s annual deforestation. It also requires large amounts of water, and livestock worldwide consumes half the world’s total grain harvest.
By supporting local, sustainable and organic farms in your local community you also support the larger community of which we are all a part. By eating animal products raised on such farms you provide the healthiest choice for your family and support the farms that support healthy and ecological neighborhoods.
1. Free of antibiotics, added hormones, GMO feed and other drugs; no GMO animals
Animals raised organically are not allowed to be fed antibiotics, the bovine human growth hormone (rbGH), or other artificial drugs. Animals are also not allowed to eat genetically modified foods. Further, animal products certified as organic can not have their genes modified (for example, a scorpion gene cannot be spliced into a cow gene).
How: The animals are raised in a healthier environment, fed organic feed, and often eat a wider range of nutrients than those raised in factory farms (such as would be the case of free-range chickens and ranch cattle). The animals are not from a test tube.
Highlights: Organically raised animals have been shown to be significantly healthier than their factory-raised counterparts.
More: Visit the Organic Trade Association Web site for updates on the U.S. federal organic standards.
2. Mad cow safeguard: Animals aren’t forced to be cannibals
The practice of feeding cattle the ground up remains of their same species appears to cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a horrific disease that destroys the central nervous system and brain, can be given to humans who eat the cows. The disease in humans has a very long latency period, and is called Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.
How: Animals are fed 100 percent organic feed without ground up animal parts.
Highlights: By eating 100 percent organic meat you are protected by a label insuring the cow has only been fed 100 percent organic feed.
3. More humane, ethical treatment of animals
Factory farms treat animals like commodities, and they are kept in tightly confined pens and often never move more than a few feet their whole lives.
How: Buy meat and eggs raised from chickens raised outdoors free ranging and grazing.
Highlights: Animals are more likely to be raised without cruelty.
4. Animals free-range and graze
The words “free-range,” and “ranch raised” are clues that the animals were raised in a more humane way. Their diet tends to be more well-rounded; the animals are not confined and spend time outdoors in the fresh air.
How: Free range chickens eat more grubs and bugs than their industrially-raised counterparts; free range animals graze as they are inclined.
Highlights: Humane and ethical treatment of animals; more nutritious food.
Small farms use it, industrial farms pollute with it.
How: On small, diverse farms, manure is used to naturally fertilize soil. Industrial farms produce so much manure, on the other hand, that it is a human health risk. The overspill of manure can contaminate wells with E. coli and other pathogens. In one region of North Carolina, for example, hog farms produce 10 million metric tons of waste annually.
Highlights: Sustainable farms use their manure productively as organic fertilizer. The manure is “pure,” coming from animals fed organic diets.
6. Animals are integral to small farms
Using animal manure is considered recycling of nutrients. No farm can cope with all the animal offspring, so selling some makes economic sense. Sustainable farms tend to provide and sell a range of products, and organic eggs and animal products would be included.
How: Most organic farms have a few cows, chickens, etc.
Highlights: The animals—many of diverse gene pools—serve a purpose besides providing food.
7. Fewer chemicals used
Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are not used on the food or land. Residues of persistent chemicals such as DDT, PCBs, dioxin, and many pesticides concentrate in animal fat. Eating organic animal fat reduces your exposure to these chemicals.
Farmers working on organic farms are exposed to fewer chemicals.
How: Organic agriculture works for a healthy balance of the soil, including using crop rotation and other techniques to improve soil fertility, instead of controlling the environment with chemicals. The animals are not fed food containing pesticides, and so the amount of persistent pesticides in their fat is reduced.
Highlights: Safeguards groundwater, farmers’ health, topsoil, habitats, and neighborhood health.
Industrial farms rely on just a few species of cattle, chickens, pigs, etc., whereas small sustainable farms tend to raise a wider variety of livestock. Entire species of livestock can die out if they are not raised on farms.
How: Support our food supply by buying food representative of a wide gene pool. Every time you even buy a brown instead of a white egg you are helping to support diversity.
Highlights: Support diversity by supporting diversity on your local farms. Buy their milk, eggs, and meat.
9. Factory farms use huge amounts of resources
The factory farm industry is run with cheap, nonrenewable fossil fuel. Producing, transporting, processing, and marketing the food all depend heavily on it. Without cheap fuel, industrial agriculture would be impossible because it would be too expensive, notes organic farming expert Fred Kirschenmann. The heavy pesticide use on industrial farms contaminates groundwater and soil. Kirschenmann believes industrial farms are responsible for the loss of over half of U.S. topsoil.
How: Organic farms uses less energy with careful ecological management, and using natural ecological balances to solve pest problems. Buying animal products from local farms further reduces energy by reducing the amount of miles the food travels to your table.
Highlights: Organic farms use 70 percent less energy than industrial farms, and since they don’t use pesticides they help preserve ground water. The farming techniques of organic farms builds topsoil and doesn’t contribute to its erosion.
10. Your dollars support the farm you buy from
If you buy your meat from an organic farmstand at a farmer’s market you support that farm. On the other hand, if you buy non-organic meat that isn’t local, free-range, or ranch-raised from a supermarket chain, you most likely support a multinational food conglomerate.
How: You can contribute to the well-being of your community by supporting small, local, diverse organic farms.
Highlights: Buying organic animal products is better for your health, your local community, and the larger community as a whole.
By the Care2.com staff