August 8, 2008
Feed Meat Branding - Pigs, chickens and fish are what they eat, and so are human beings
There are surprisingly strong connections between feed, livestock nutrition and human health. Learn why the feed industry cannot supply everyone with healthy meat - and how listing feed raw materials on fresh meat leads to branding.
An eFeedLink Hot Topic
by Eric J. BROOKS
We take for granted the ingredient lists on packages of processed food. Yet, we never see a list of the feed grains that was given to your salmon or barbecued pork when it was still a living fish or a live hog. Indeed, the feed, livestock and meat processing industries have never listed the feed types given to the livestock that was turned into your supermarket meat.
This article will argue that it is high time that grain growers, livestock farmers and meat processors started listing the feed raw materials used to raise livestock -and why doing so would help their bottom line. By doing so, consumers would be empowered to eat almost any type of meat they want without worrying about its health effects -if they can afford to the price of 'healthy' feed.
Fatty pork is not always unhealthy, lean fish is not always healthyâ€¦
Here is why: Unknown to the common masses, medical science has quietly destroyed popular assumptions about what constitutes "healthy" or "unhealthy" foods. For example, in the old days, we thought 'fatty beef' was always bad for us but that 'lean fish' was always healthy.
Indeed, popular opinion blames animal fat for all our heart problems and obesity--ignoring 50 centuries of Chinese pork consumption, when heart disease was barely mentioned and the masses were slender. Well, it turns out that in this case, popular opinion is completely wrong.
We know that there exists both healthy and unhealthy beef -and even both healthy unhealthy fish -and what makes beef, chicken or fish healthy or unhealthy is the feed given to livestock.
According to the July 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids causes artery damaging inflammation, which can also injure the heart and vital organ tissue. Omega-6 fat also accelerates the growth of cancer cells while slowing down the immune system's response. In these and many other ways, excessive omega-6 consumption causes cancer, asthma and heart disease, among other ailments.
On the other hand, omega 3 fatty acids are considered good for health as they rectify blood cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar levels and do not interfere with the immune system. In humans, omega 3 oils also keep fat off one's belly while encouraging weight gain in the form of muscle on one's arms and legs.
Historically, livestock and humans obtained a comparable amount of both omega 3 and omega 6 fats. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Now, we consume far more omega 6 than we do omega 3 - and this is due to the type of feed we give to livestock.
Omega 3 fats were once found abundantly in meat obtained from livestock. Today however, omega 3 fats are only found wild catch cold water fish such as salmon or sardines, walnuts and flax seed.
...Livestock feed makes all the difference...
This is because traditionally, fish, cows, pigs and chickens ate a variety of different feeds including grass, plankton, algae and worms -all of which are rich in omega 3 fats. This created fish, beef, chicken and pork with sufficiently high levels of omega 3 fats to safeguard human health.
Unfortunately, corn, wheat and soy contain massive quantities of omega 6 oil and very little omega 3. Among commercial feeds, only fishmeal has high levels of omega 3 fat but its usage is declining among all aquaculture and livestock categories.
The resulting overabundance of omega 6 oil in livestock feed leads to excessive omega 6 levels in meat. That, in turn, creates unhealthy levels of omega 6 fat in human cell walls. -Hence, at the cellular level, our biochemical composition is literally different from that of our ancestors.
In aquaculture, one finds that the algae, worms or plankton that wild fish eat to obtain omega 3 fats are no longer part of the diet. They have been replaced with aquafeed that has an increasingly high corn, soy (and therefore omega 6 oil) component.
Consequently, humans who eat farmed fish often ingest the same high levels of omega 6 fat that they would get from eating conventional meat. A recent study by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine concluded that, "For individuals who are eating farmed fish (such as tilapia) to control inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, it is clear that these omega 6 numbers do not make it a healthy choice." So beef is not always bad for you and fish is not always healthy: what always matters is not the type of meat but the type of feed.
Indeed, throughout the world of human and livestock health, we suffer the symptoms of excess omega 6 consumption. For example, cows fed diets high in omega 6 corn and soy, if they live long enough, find that their leg bones collapse towards the end of their life -something that eerily resembles the osteoporosis that is destroying the bones of aging modern women. Yet, cows fed grass and hay never suffer such bone loss in their old age.
Consumers are already paying for high-quality feed!
High-income, well educated consumers already know many of these facts and the market has responded by producing meat and livestock that was raised on omega 3 rich feeds.
Singapore supermarkets offer "omega 3 eggs" produced by layers that were fed fishmeal and flax seed. -And they cost twice as much as regular eggs.
At the Lion City's high-end supermarkets, "wild-catch" (algae and plankton-fed) red salmon fetch up to $13 per 200g can - twice the price of farmed (soy-fed) salmon. When interviewed by FBA eight months ago, Patrick Vizzone, Rabobank's regional head for food and agribusiness correctly surmised that, "to be able to brand your fish as being high in omega 3 is valuable."
Yet, it is the feed, not the species of fish or meat that determines the price. New Zealand is well known for stubbornly producing beef and butter from grass-fed cows. Their butter sells for up to two times the price of competing brands. Similarly, New Zealand "Grassland's Beef" costs far more than the Australians, Americans or Brazilians dare charge for the same steak. In North America, everyone from alternative farmers to famous doctors such as Joseph Mercola offer highly expensive "grass-fed beef" or "grass-fed ostrich meat." Clearly, feed's huge effect on human health is becoming well-known and the market is responding.
Corn & Soy: Bad health is the price we pay for avoiding famine
With all this in mind, some readers might assume that 'we should just stop feeding our livestock and farmed fish corn and soy-based feeds, go back to traditional feed raw materials and everything will be ok.' That however, cannot be done.
Population growth makes it impossible to make our feed, livestock or meat as healthy as it was in the past. Truth is, the world simply cannot grow enough grass, flax seed, walnuts, plankton, fishmeal or rapeseed to replace corn, soy and wheat. Even Lester Brown of the environmental group, The World Watch Institute once quipped that without corn, wheat and soy-based livestock feed, half of us would not be alive. Today, that means 3.3 billion out of 6.6 billion people.
Feed, meat livestock to go the way of wine
Clearly, just to feed everyone on earth, we have no choice but to continue feeding the vast majority of livestock corn, soy or wheat based feed. Yet, running in parallel to this cold, hard fact, educated consumers are demonstrating a strong willingness to buy meat made from high quality feed.
These two facts lead to several inescapable conclusions. First, high-quality meat and fish obtained from traditional, pre-20th century feed raw materials is going the way of wine. On one hand, there are not enough grapes in the world to provide everyone with high-quality wine. -And the same can be increasingly said of meat made from high quality feed raw materials.
On the other hand, a bottle of wine lists the type of grapes used, the land it was grown on and year it was grown in. This allows the wine maker charge more for a higher quality product while empowering the consumer to make an informed decision. Should we not be doing the same with meat and listing the types of feed that went into its making?
Labeled feed & meat leads to branding, prevents commoditization
Basic marketing concepts imply that we should label all meat and fish with the feed raw materials that went into their making -and charge a price that reflects the quality of feed ingredients used. Just as wine can cost anywhere from $10 to $1,000 a bottle, so the same may one day happen with meat, with feed raw materials clearly listed.
By allowing everyone from feed makers to livestock growers and meat processors to differentiate their product, feed material labeling prevents feed and meat from being treated as raw commodities, thereby enhancing profit margins.
Sadly, grain traders and meat processors have resisted the ingredient labeling of their meat and grains. Ironically, they should be doing the opposite: By whole-heartedly labeling the feed grains that went into the meat's making, they will make it possible to widen profit margins and give a brand name to what is now just a commodity product.
Don't worry about the meat: It's all about the feed
For consumers, the news is both good and bad.
The good news is that, in principle, you can eat fatty beef or pork without worrying about its effect on your health. You can even eat all the fish you want without worrying what it does to your health -unless, of course, you buy fish that was grown with lower quality feed. Healthy eating is no longer about the meat...it's all about the feed.
The bad news is...healthy feed costs a lot of money and most people will find it very difficult to pay for meat that was grown from a natural livestock diet. You are what you eat...and you eat what you can pay!
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