Graham Butler, BSc, CNPA, RH
Its pretty hard not to notice the growing number of organic products available to todays consumer. At one time the exclusive preserve of health food stores and farmers markets, organic produce and, more recently, meat products are now taking up substantial shelf space in your local supermarket.
It’s pretty hard not to notice the growing number of organic products available to today’s consumer. At one time the exclusive preserve of health food stores and farmer’s markets, organic produce and, more recently, meat products are now taking up substantial shelf space in your local supermarket.
For the meat eaters among us, the availability of main course offerings beyond tofu or tempeh has been a major turning point in our acceptance of organic fare. More people now have the opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of their purchases and at the same time accrue a few added health benefits along the way.
What does “organic” mean when applied to meat products? In Canada organic is defined by private certification agencies such as the Organic Crop Improvement Agency (OCCP) and Pro-Cert Canada (OCPRO). Certification gives the consumer assurance that no genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), steroids, antibiotics, or pesticides have been used in rearing or processing. This makes for more informed decisions on the part of consumers, particularly those who can’t buy from producers directly. It also means that the type of animal-based feed responsible for recent Mad Cow outbreaks is not acceptable under organic certification rules.
In addition, many organic farmers try to maximize the use of grass feed or natural forage This has economic advantages for farmers of grazing animals or ruminants such as cattle, sheep, goats, and some game species. It also yields nutritional advantages for consumers. However, the benefits of natural forage decrease with the use of supplemental feeding (usually grain based) or hay, so it’s a good idea to know a bit about the feeding methods employed by your supplier.
The saturated and essential fatty acids (EFAs), as well as the overall fat content of the meat from animals fed fresh grass or forage differs greatly from that of conventional meat. Specifically, studies at the University of Wyoming found that meat from grass-fed cattle contained up to 3/4 less fat than conventional beef, with significantly fewer calories per serving.
Meat from grass-fed bison was found to be equally low in fat, making it a healthy alternative for people who want to add variety to their meat choices while lowering their overall consumption of fat. Bison is high in iron and magnesium, contains the antioxidant selenium, and is a rich source of zinc, which aids in protein metabolism and storage and release of insulin.
More About EFAs
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is an essential fatty acid that has been the subject of considerable research over the last three decades. It first came to light as a potential cancer-fighting nutrient through research at the University of Wisconsin. Since that time we’ve learned a lot about CLA.
CLA appears to
Source: Summarized from data from the National Dairy Council (USA) (2005)
Why is CLA of concern to the organic meat consumer? Because meat derived from grass-fed animals can have up to 500 percent more CLA than conventional meat. Dairy products may also be similarly enriched, as can free-range eggs.
Few of us know that the ratio of essential fatty acids is as important as the concentration. Irish researchers have discovered that commercial beef is very low in omega-3 fatty acids, leading to a less than ideal omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acid ratio which can sometimes reach as high as 20:1. Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, has a ratio as low as 0.16 to 1–ratios often associated with those cold-water fish species your doctor recommends you consume more frequently.
Although it’s great that you can buy organic meat in the supermarket, don’t deny yourself the experience of visiting your local farmer’s market or health food store, or consider buying direct from a producer. In any event, learn as much as possible about the meat you buy. Organic certification is just the beginning.
Elements of Certified Organic Meat