Dear BBQ Friend:
I really don't want to disparage the entire meat producing industry or USDA in this article. There are scientists that argue on one side and other scientists that argue on the other. Who am I to decide which one is right? The USDA claims all these chemicals do not end up in the food we eat – or in such low amounts that they have little to no affect on humans. They are so adamant on their stance that the meats in the US are safe, that they do not allow producers or ranchers to test their own animals. I read about a case where Creekstone Farms sued the USDA so they could test their own cattle for mad cow disease. They won, but the USDA appealed and even banned the test kit. I guess they were trying to avoid the appearance of unhealthy beef by sweeping the issue under the rug. It seems like there is a lot of wool being pulled over consumers eyes by all parties involved.
Always remember... the USDA has vastly increased the safety of meats over the years. Some of these antimicrobials they use are a necessary risk. Other chemicals like growth hormones and feed additives are simply there to increase profits. Approximately 80% of all cattle are administered growth hormones. But there are more natural meat alternatives these days, so the choice is yours.
So... in this newsletter, I'll just present some facts and you can make up your own mind. A little warning though - some of these facts are a little gruesome. If you would like to continue eating factory raised meats, you may want to stop reading now.
You know, I sort of knew pigs would eat just about anything, after all, they are pigs! But it seems that cattle will eat anything too. All the methods used by big producers described in this newsletter for beef, pork, and chicken are designed to do one thing... produce more meat and bring it to market faster and cheaper than ever before.
Most cattle these days are brought to market in 1-2 years as opposed to 2-3 years if done in a more natural way of years past. In their first 6-12 months, they are fed on grass in a pasture. After that they are kept in a feedlot and fed whatever is cheapest and will fatten them up the fastest. They are also implanted with a pellet in their ear which contains growth hormones. Growth hormones and antimicrobials are mixed with feed too.
What amazed me was what some of these producers feed their cattle... this can range from nutritious stuff like beet pulp and carrot tops and potato peels to totally junk food like stale bread, candy, french fries, tater tots, chicken feathers, salvaged pet food, ground-up laying hens, stale pizza dough, candy bars, and heat-treated garbage from the local municipal dump. And if that is not enough to fatten them up, they feed them chicken poop - that's right, I said chicken droppings!
Watch what you eat folks... eat more naturally raised meats! Now that I have totally grossed you out, let's move on to chickens. By the way, the chicken info applies to all poultry and the beef info also applies to dairy products as well.
Just a quick note on Independent Rendering Plants - If this newsletter is not grossing you out enough, let me try harder. You don't even want to know about these places called rendering plants. This is where dead carcasses of animals are brought to cook/render them into an edible meal product, yellow grease/tallow, and bone meal. Diseased? - no problem! All this stuff is fed back to cattle, chickens, pigs, and even your pets in pet food. They even bring euthanised pets and roadside kill and expired meat from grocery stores to these plants. They do not bother to remove styrofoam packaging, dog collars, flea collars, garbage bags, metal tags, etc in the process. Euthanizing drugs enter the stream too. Ladies, look at the ingredients list of your cosmetics. You'll see tallow listed - guess where that comes from! And guys, you don't get off that easy because a lot of this junk is used to make other products like soap, shampoo, and deodorant. There is also another type of rendering plant called an edible rendering plant (for humans) which usually works in conjunction with a meat processing plant. They are overseen by the USDA sort of like the meat processing plant is and they produce the same products. Edible tallow, lard, and gelatin are just a few of the products these plants produce.
A note on price - You can't blame all this on meat producers. After all, consumers want good meat at low prices and the producers have to give the consumer what they want. You'll find that all the natural meat alternatives are more expensive. So, you have to ask yourself - Is it worth it?
Growth hormones are not allowed to be used on chickens. Some antibiotics are used on chickens, but if an antibiotic is used on the farm, federal rules require the antibiotics to have cleared the animal's systems before they can be slaughtered. Which is supposed to be true for any meat. But trace amounts can still be found in meat and the question remains... do the trace amounts allowed by the USDA have an affect on humans?
The success of producing a bigger chicken faster is the result of great genetic strides in breeding better chickens due to their shorter lifespan. This coupled with the right nutrition and environment is what produces the modern eating chicken. Chickens are usually fed a diet of pellets made from a mixture of grains, corn, vitamins, meat, and bone meal from cattle. Sounds better than the stuff they feed cattle and pigs!
A note on mad cow disease... I'm just going to breeze over this subject because I could write a book on this problem. But basically all those practices of feeding cattle the brains and nervous systems (spinal cords) of other cattle has been banned due to the prions in that material that can not be killed by heat. I believe they also banned chicken feces as a feed source too. As I understand it, this stuff can be fed to chickens and pigs though. This gets even more complicated – rendered parts of pigs and chickens and sheep who have eaten rendered cattle brains can be fed back to cattle.
No hormones, but apparently they do use arsenic, caffeine, Benadryl, fluoroquinolone antibiotics, and prozac in chicken feed. Arsenic decreases infections and gives the flesh an appetizing shade of pink. Caffeine is fed to chickens to keep them awake and eating all the time to fatten them up. Benadryl and prozac are administered to keep them calm to produce tender meat.
Raising chickens is big business and most chicken farmers get their chicks from the big businesses that pay them to raise the chickens. They are also mandated by the big businesses that they have to use a certain required chicken feed and they are not allowed to know the ingredients. Time to slaughter for the modern chicken: 6 weeks.
Again ... just watch what you eat. Organic chicken is readily available in most supermarkets these days. I use Publix Greenwise organic chicken thighs in BBQ contests.
I once watched an episode of Dirty Jobs with host Michael Rowe. His job on this episode was to help out on a pig farm near Las Vegas. Don't even get me started on the episode about the Talapia fish farm at the waste water treatment plant! Oh my God!
Well, the pigs don't fare much better than chickens and cattle, or do they? This pig farmer in Vegas was going to the big casinos with those huge buffets and bringing back days old food scraps and spoiled milk shakes and feeding it to his pigs as pig slop. I think his pigs might have been eating high on the hog compared to some bigger hog farms. As with cattle, the producers will feed them just about anything that is cheap and fattens up their hogs quickly.
Pork is sort of like chicken... no growth hormones allowed. Buuuutttt... this drug called ractopamine is approved and most big producers do use it. It's more of a steroid than a growth hormone and it builds lean muscle and not fat. Doesn't sound like something I want to be eating. And it makes you wonder what other "loopholes" are allowed in meat production.
I don't even have time to cover all the other bad aspects of meat production like genetically modified animals, smeat (synthetic meat), cloned animals, imported meats from other Countries, animals produced, transported, and slaughtered in very inhumane ways, etc, etc.
Don't get me wrong here, I'm not suggesting that you go vegan on me. After all, we're all barbecue lovers! But you can make better choices that will produce better and healthier barbecue. It's well known that grass fed beef is higher in vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and other healthy stuff like CLA. Same goes for chicken and pork fed on a healthier diet.
Learn where your meat is produced and how. Try to buy the most naturally produced meats as possible. Labels can be misleading, so go online and do your due diligence. Most producers of naturally raised meats will brag about it on their website. Look the brand up and read all about how they feed, raise, and produce their meats. A good option to national brands are local producers that sell at your local farmers market. They don't produce huge quantities, so talk to them and see what they can do for you. Sometimes you have to wait for them to kill a pig to get your supply. A good example is Springer Mountain Farms...
From their website... "Our chickens are fed a pesticide free, vegetarian diet of corn and soybean without the use of antibiotics, growth stimulants or hormones, or animal by-products. 100% of the corn and soybean that we use is grown right here in the United States. We do not import from other countries. The corn and soybean meal is extensively tested on-site in our USDA Certified laboratory...".
All those labels can get confusing: organic, free range, natural, no hormones, minimally processed, fresh, kosher, certified, etc. Except for organic, most of these labels can be very misleading. For instance, free range technically means this... "Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside". So, if a producer crammed their chickens into a building with a little "cat door" in one corner that they never used, then they could put the "free range" label on their package.
To be honest with you, I'm not sure organic is healthier for you either because there is a whole list of pesticides, herbicides, anitbiotics, etc that are allowed on organic food. The only difference is they should be natural vs synthetic. These natural chemicals don't work as well, so they have to apply more of them. It's interesting that these natural chemicals were not even tested as carcinogens at first because they were assumed to be safe and natural. But when they did test them, about half of them were carcinogenic. The same rate as synthetic. So... anybody up for a little rotenone-pyrethrin dressing on their arsenic and prozac laden chicken salad?
Remember... the USDA does do a good job of ensuring our meat is safe in the US. The problem is none of these chemicals have been proven to be unsafe at the allowed levels. And until they are proven to be unsafe at the allowed levels, they will be allowed because big money speaks louder than healthy money. They only test one chemical at a time and these chemicals all add up and some even accumulate. These combinations and accumulations are never tested for safety.
In other words, it's up to you to decide if your meat is safe or not safe to barbecue! ...GIGO