Sustainable & Organic Farming - Avoiding GMO's

​Small pasture operations such as Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG) has been found to be better for the animals and better for the environment. Healthy pastures do not experience as much erosion and we now know that grass can capture more carbon dioxide than corn and soy crops. Grass also absorbs more nutrients, thereby contributing less to water pollution. And when animal waste is in a pasture, there is much less ammonia put into the environment.

 Alternatives to Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) such as pasture raised animal farms, have been shown to increase net yield per pig when compared to conventional confinement. Hogs raised in Hoop Barns are allowed to “nest” in straw bedding and participate in natural “hog” behaviors. Hoop Barns are large, open-ended structures and these hogs are often also raised on pasture. Hogs, or pigs are omnivores, just like humans. They eat plants and animal products and thrive the best on root vegetables, fruits, grass, leaves and flowers. They also will eat bugs and grubs for protein. They have even been known to hunt if necessary for their own survival. This is mainly in the wild but my point is that hogs don’t thrive on corn and soy.

Cattle and dairy cows are best fed by grass and alfalfa hay, which is much lower in carbohydrates than corn and soy. Organic or natural beef is not necessarily grass-fed beef. If the product uses the terms organic or natural, it means the animals may have been raised free of antibiotics and raised with access to pasture, but the feed is usually still corn and soy. Grass-finished or grain-finished are also very misleading terms as the feed for these animals still includes corn and soy.

100% grass-fed cattle and dairy cows are a different thing entirely. Grass-fed beef is very special. It is lower in total fat than grain-fed beef and much higher in omega-3s. The overall fatty acid profile of grass-fed beef is up to 6 times the amount of omega-3s compared to grain-fed. This is excellent nutrition for your cardiovascular system and brain health. Grass-fed beef has a fat profile similar to skinless chicken or wild deer and elk and is lower in overall calories than grain-fed. And it’s out there. Just make sure you insist on it.

Pastured and free-range poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) means that the animal was raised primarily on pasture. These animals are omnivores, like humans eating both plants and animal protein (bugs). This is the way that poultry has been raised since humans first domesticated the birds. Today, they are often still fed grain, but are allowed to supplement their diet with foraging, which is a natural bird behavior. For centuries, these domesticated birds have been allowed to freely graze around the houses, coops, barnyards, orchards and fields during the warm seasons. In the winter, they were frequently supplied with greens like cabbage and other crops including fresh vegetable scraps.  Kale was often grown specifically for the chickens. Chickens are terrifically happy if allowed to peck for grass, flowers, seeds and bugs. This will produce not only a happier hen that will lay more nutritious eggs, but also a well socialized bird and a less stressed bird. Therefore the meat will be of higher nutritional value. Studies have shown that allowing chickens sufficient outdoor access to have normal bird behaviors improves meat quality.

 With all this talk of keeping it natural, this conversation will not be complete without warning you of the dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). These are essentially plants that have had their DNA manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This is not necessarily hazardous. However due to genetic manipulation in a lab, genetic changes are occurring in these organisms instantaneously and globally. This is not according to nature, but to the whim of a scientist. This can create a very unstable situation for the organism as this is not as nature has directed. Selective breeding, which has been occurring since the beginning of time, enhanced over the centuries by human intervention occurs locally and over several generations. When it occurs without human help, it occurs slowly over tens of thousands of years. That is called evolution.

Nature does things for very specific reasons and not according to whim. The way I explain to my patients is “Dogs are from nature. A Yorkshire Terrier, however, is not. That is created by human beings via genetic manipulation to fulfill a niche created by man.”  It is not necessarily dangerous (unless you make a line of killer Yorkshire Terriers); just not natural. In the case of a Yorkshire Terrier, it is not so bad, but when talking about nutrition, whether it is bad or not, I don’t want it in my body. This is very different from selective breeding or hybridization which of course, is usually the result of human intervention. Not the same thing at all.

Most countries of the developed world do not consider GMOs to be safe. European countries as well as China have a mandate that all GMOs must be labeled on the product. The U.S. has no such law so Americans may never know when they are eating a food that has been genetically modified. It is estimated that GMOs are in 80% of conventional processed foods in the United States. Poll after poll indicate that Americans want to know if they are consuming a GMO food, however mandatory labeling seems elusive. Perhaps because 53% of Americans say they would not buy a food if it was labeled GMO. Monsanto, ConAgra Foods, Kraft Foods, General Mills, etc. have very big pockets to pay the politicians to vote down any proposed bill about GMO labeling. High risk GMO crops are (the most recent data from December 2011):

Alfalfa                                   Papaya (most from Hawaii)                Cotton (90%)

Canola (90%)                         Soy (94%)                                           Zucchini & Yellow squash

Corn (88%)                            Sugar Beets (95%)

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