What You Need To Know About Meat Certifications
Have you ever taken a look at where your food comes from? Sometimes it’s not a very pretty picture. We try our best to make health conscientious decisions and this includes sourcing our food from the best possible places. Animals allowed to thrive offer multiple health benefits over their mass farmed counterparts, but they actually taste better too!
Thankfully we’re beginning to see a resurgence of restorative and urban agriculture that is producing quality food that is healthier and sustainable. This week we take a look at the many certifications that surround meat products like organic, grass-fed, non-gmo, and pasture-raised. There’s definitely no shortage of options when we visit the grocery store, but we want to help you make the best informed decision possible for your health and your wallet. But if your city has farmers markets or local butchers, that’s where you’ll find the absolute best options!
Brian Strickland 00:00
Hey everyone, welcome back to Nutrition Made Simple a video series that we created that takes a look at ideas surrounding natural health and then we break them down into easy to understand and actionable steps. I'm Brian Strickland and today I'm joined by Adam Chauncey, who is not Ed Jones, surprisingly. And Adam is a certified health coach and a certified nutritionist with us here at Nutrition World. And we've been talking through the month of July about food, a lot of food, and we've got more to come. But this week, we wanted to take a look at some of the certifications that surround meat products specifically, it's confusing, there's a lot of different choices, we get it, you've got organic, grass fed, grass finished, cage free, free range, pasture raised, you name it, it's probably got a label for it. So we wanted to take a minute to really look into each of these in depth and explain exactly what they mean. So that you can make the best purchase possible, we're going to go and jump right into it and starting off. First, let's do beef, because that is probably one of the major ones that people are eating now. And we want to break down the difference between organic grass fed grass finished, and what each of those actually mean, and which one is going to be best for your health in the long run. So let's go let's start from the beginning. People see organic. Now we all know what organic vegetables are. But when it comes to me, it's a little bit different, right?
Adam Chauncey 01:41
Yeah, it's pretty different. So and it's also kind of the same with organic meat, what they're usually saying is, it's not the meat is necessarily organic, but it's the feed the animals are getting, that's organic. So it's, it's one thing to get grass fed, but grass fed doesn't necessarily mean grass finished, as you just kind of mentioned. So when they're not getting fed grass, and they are getting fed some type of sustenance, you want to make sure that's organic, too. And that's where that seal comes in handy. It's also good to note that non GMO does not mean organic, but organic means non GMO. So you don't always have to look for that non GMO seal if you see organic because that means it's already been certified. So yeah, that would be the main difference there for the organic side.
Brian Strickland 02:28
Yeah, so it's not confusing at all right. Okay, so just to break it down. Organic simply means that the feed that the animals are getting is organic.
Adam Chauncey 02:38
Brian Strickland 02:39
Okay. Okay, so let's move on to grass fed and grass finish, because they're two different things. Right. Okay, so grass fed.
Adam Chauncey 02:48
What exactly does that mean? So grass fed means really, not much. And that's because the USDA doesn't actually have a certification grass fed. So really, anybody that feeds cows, any kind of grass can say they're grass fed, because they're not lying. And that's where this kind of gets hairy. Grass finished is not necessarily a certification either, unless you are buying from another country, meaning New Zealand, Ireland, and there are a few other smaller countries, some farms in California as well. And throughout the US also can claim certification to some extent, but what it boils down to is, they just have to kind of show proof with Ireland and New Zealand, they do not allow for cattle to be fed highly processed grains, at least to my understanding. Now that changes with every new policy inducted so you know, I could say this now, that could change in a few months. But so far as we know, now, New Zealand and Ireland are the safest bets. And then like I said some farms in California are having their cattle certified as best you can certify without a USDA sign off that they are not only fed grass, but finished with grass, which most of the time means they're fed grass for 300 or so days out of the year. And the rest of the time it's organic pellets. Grass pellets, so they're still technically fed grass.
Brian Strickland 04:25
Alright, so pretty much anyone can put grass fed on label as long as that cow has access to some grass somewhere. So grass finished is really what we're looking for if you can find it, but the thing is that it's not really a certification as Adam said. So this is where it comes becomes really important to look for locally sourced beef from a local butcher or, you know, a farmers market or something like that, because typically that's where you're going to find that grass fed and grass finished beef. And yes, it does cost a little bit more, right. But really, when you're thinking about the health benefits that you receive, it becomes really worth it because you can actually eat less of it, if you choose to do so, and get the same, if not more amount of nutrients out of that feed as you would something that was grain finished. And while we're on that subject, let's talk about it for just a second. Because grass finished and grass fed beef does have a much higher nutrient content, right?
Adam Chauncey 05:34
Oh, for sure. So I won't get into specifics on numbers because that gets confusing, but you're looking at many, many times the amount of things like CLA, conjugated linoleic acid, which is one of the good forms of omega six that's not necessarily inflammatory, but it actually helps with reducing body fat. So CLA content in grass fed cattle is much higher, different things, different types of proteins, like the immunoglobulins, like to globulins that are contained within the milk from the cattle that graze like that are always going to be higher in grass fed grass finished cattle, you've got a much lower propensity of disease from overspray from herbicides and pesticides, which is and the cattle that are grass fed grass finished, typically graze freely, so they're not huddled together, which means that they are usually given antibiotics or standing in one to two feet of fecal matter when they're born raised. You know, which is why they have to take these antibiotics and give them all that what you end up ingesting too, so that the proportion of nutrients is obviously higher, because anytime you eat better, you're going to have more nutrients contained in the body. It's the same thing with cattle. And then the proportion of problematic nutrients is a lot lower with grass fed grass finished right animals in general.
Brian Strickland 07:05
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So you mentioned the omega three versus the Omega six, there is a good omega six. That's CLA right. So typically, you're going to find higher concentrations of that and higher concentrations of those healthy omega three fatty acids as well. So let's go ahead and quickly move on to chicken and eggs, because we need to talk about both.
Adam Chauncey 07:27
Which came first?
Brian Strickland 07:30
So we've got organic, cage free free range, pasture raised. And there may be one or two more than I'm missing. But I mean, those are really the four that I've seen listed at a grocery store. So let's start just at the beginning organic, same thing more or less,
Adam Chauncey 07:48
more or less. Yeah, there's a lot of organic options out there. And that's just the same thing with cattle, it just means they're fed organic feed and most chicken feed consists of soybeans, and corn by product by product. So you're not getting very good quality, a lot of inflammatory polyunsaturated fats there because predominantly omega six polyunsaturated fats, which most people know by now are starting to catch on are much more inflammatory, right? So you want to try to get and that doesn't mean that you go for the brands say, high omega three, that just means the animals are typically fed more things with omega threes more types of vegetation, and you'll end up paying more for those even though it's not it's they're kind of falsely spiking that that number.
Brian Strickland 08:41
Right. And so for, let's talk about cage free and free range. Cage free is kind of a misnomer when it comes to actual chicken meat, because pretty much all chickens aren't, or no chickens are kept in cages that are raised for meat more or less. That really refers to the egg side. But then free range, what what's the expectation for that label?
Adam Chauncey 09:08
Yeah, and you can kind of conflate the two with chickens and eggs that they kind of are raised about the same way that the cage free is going to mean that they're most of the time in a hen house rolling around each other extremely close quarters and we're talking 10s of 1000s of chickens and more into two houses like that's, it's a lot they said houses are big, but they're not that big. So a lot of disease, a lot of death and despair among the chickens because believe it or not, animals feel that and that can also ruin the meat. It can make the eggs less quality. Obviously they're not fed good when they're in that kind of situation. So they are nutrient poor. So whether it's the chicken or the egg you're eating, you don't want I wouldn't even go cage free. I would go straight for pasture raised, which is not necessarily a certification similar to grass finished, and grass fed. However, there are ways to find out if they are just by going to sometimes the websites getting on different forums of places that have, you know, inspected these these facilities. And like Brian mentioned earlier going, buying them local, going to introduce yourself to a farmer and learn where your food is coming from, because that's really the only way to know for sure, but there are some brands out there that are fairly trustworthy.
Brian Strickland 10:35
Yeah and a lot of local farms will do free tours as well. So if that's something you're interested in, I mean, contact the farmer asked him if that's an option, and so you can see for yourself exactly what conditions animals are raised in. And that can be really, really helpful. Now, as far as products that are widely available in a grocery store, really the only one that I've ever seen that carries that pasture raised label is Vital Farms. And they are pretty widely available in almost all grocery stores now. But with that being said, the importance of buying local, obviously, we're a small business and we believe in buying as many local goods as possible. You can find really good quality pasture raised eggs for the same price, if not cheaper. So do your homework, find a local farmers market, find a farm, find other small businesses that carry those kinds of products. And we just really encourage you to do your research and buy those products are going to give you the most for for your dollar. Just very quickly, let's hit on seafood, because obviously that's the thing as well, not as big of a thing in the area that we're in, we're pretty much landlocked, so everything comes from a good point away. But obviously, there's a difference between farm raised and wild caught. Can you give us just a few pointers on that?
Adam Chauncey 12:00
Sure. I mean, my number one thing with with most meat products is the one paying attention to seafood especially is you always want to buy the cleanest you can get that's obvious across the board, it's probably most important with seafood. And seafood and poultry would probably rank one two there, you can kind of interchange them, but seafood. We're talking when this stuff is farm raised, it is atrocious, it is disgusting. These fish eat their own feces, they are fed absolute garbage food. Some of these fish aren't even technically a species in the wild like farmers tilapia. So you have to be very mindful of what you're getting there. The easiest way to combat that is to simply buy wild caught cold water fish, those are going to be the least likely to have heavy metal contamination like mercury, they're also the most likely to be clean, just in general. Yeah. And they're going to taste better. You'll notice the difference in the way it looks when you're cooking it. I mean, the difference in a cold water salmon and an Atlantic or a a farm raised salmon is three to four shades of color, right? And it's very, very different. So once you start changing the same over the next, you know, going back to that you get a good pasture raised hen egg, it's usually going to be a darker yellow, almost an orange. Yeah. And so far as we know, sometimes the farmers will feed the chickens astaxanthin and different things to falsely do that. But the taste you can't falsify. Absolutely. So when you find it both with chicken, eggs and fish, the taste is going to be the predominating factor. And you will notice,
Brian Strickland 13:41
Yeah, so I can attest to this firsthand. I made the mistake buying salmon from a place that will go unnamed, but it's a large, large quantity seller where you can buy things in bulk. And it was fine. Like it tasted like salmon, right? So it did the trick for a while. But then I actually purchased a fillet from our store, which is wild caught direct from Alaska brought straight back. And I actually cooked that the color was not anything like what I had first bought and then the taste was nothing like what I first bought. So there is something to it taste and texture with animals that are raised humanely in in these kind of conditions. Not only do they do more for your health, but they actually taste better too. So it's well worth it. And on that point as consumers, yes, it's going to cost more money, right? Sure. But in your opinion, do the benefits outweigh that cost?
Adam Chauncey 14:49
I kind of put it to you like this. I mean, it's like a hand crank window versus an automatic window in a car. The automatic cost more than anything you might hand crank anymore, but you get my point. You can see that it's there. I mean, the price point is going to be higher, but you're paying for a lot more than just quality, the major taste of the meat. Because when you get a sustainably sourced animal like salmon, like pasture raised regenerative agriculture, farmed beef and chicken, you're also helping out with a lot of other underlying issues. A big topic right now is, you know, global warming and the like. And there's a big push for cattle regulation and reduction in meat. But in the same token, yes, two to 3% of what they believe, is an estimate of carbon production is from not sustainable agriculture. So from also what I'm looking for, from factory farming, right? So when you look at the flip side of that to regenerative agriculture, you're looking at at worst carbon neutral, and most carbon negative, and it's regenerating the soil, it's making the vegetables for all of us that love veggies, it's making that soil more sustainable and making it more nutrient dense, you know, all this stuff has to happen. And you know, we can do organic farming and everything all we want. But unless the animals are trampling on the ground, and pooping on the ground, and turning that field over constantly, it's just not sustainable. So you're doing a lot more for yourself and the environment, when you actually spend the extra one to $2 a pound. It's not that much to get the cleaner types.
Brian Strickland 16:43
So not only is it better for the animals, it's better for the farmer, and it's better for the consumer. Because that's one thing that we don't often think about is where our food comes from. I've been guilty of it for a long time. We go to the grocery store, things are readily available, you pick it off the shelf, and you don't give it a second thought. But when you really start to dive in and look at just how difficult farming is, I mean, it really is an eye opener. So what happens like Adam mentioned is these animals that are raised in the field like this, they poop in the field, that poop gets mashed into that soil that soil becomes more healthy than they eat the grass, which not only prints the grass, but then they get the health benefits as well. And then for the farmers to it provides a much better working condition. They're not having to go into the chicken houses with 30,000 chickens wearing a mask and there's no telling what kind of you know diseases and germs are present there's so to wrap things up. We just wanted to let you know that we actually do have a lot of these products available at our store. We've got the wild caught salmon and halibut from Marithyme Seafood Company. We have grass finished and grass fed beef from Salt, Paul, we have the vital farms, eggs and grass fed butter and there's a handful of things that I'm probably missing but the point is we've got a selection. And if we don't have it, there are places in Chattanooga that do Mainstreet Meats is an awesome resource if you're looking for grass finished and grass fed beef products and organ meat, and they do have poultry products as well bacon, you name it, they've got it. And that comes from Sequatchie Cove Farms, which is not too far from here. And I'll put all the links to these places below in the description if you want to check them out for yourself. So we hope this was helpful. Hopefully it cleared things up a little bit if you had questions because we get it there's a ton of information out there and it's hard to sort through so hope you enjoyed it. Be sure to like and subscribe and we'll see you next time on Nutrition Made Simple everyone take care. Thanks.