A new Stanford University study concludes that there is “little evidence” that organic meat is healthier than factory-farmed meat. Referring to nutritional benefits, the study’s authors say that there are “no obvious health advantages to organic meat.” Organic chicken and pork were 33 percent less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria , but other dangerous bacteria—such as E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter—were “quite common” in both organic and conventional animal products.
That organic meat is no magic bullet shouldn’t come as any surprise, bearing in mind the recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, which found that eating just one serving of red meat per day increases a person’s risk of early death by 13 percent. That number soars to 20 percent if eating a serving of processed meat, such as hot dogs or bacon. Meanwhile, replacing just one serving of red meat with one serving of whole grains drops a person’s risk of early death by 14 percent. Moreover, eating an entirely vegan diet can drastically reduce one’s risk of heart disease , cancer, diabetes , and many other diseases, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Of course, many people opt for organic meat for more than health reasons, including concerns about animal welfare. But the “organic” label can be misleading. Just about the only provision for animal welfare in organic standards is that animals have access to pasture during grazing season, and many cows fattened on feedlots can still be labeled organic if they are given organic feed. One eyewitness revealed that hens on a so-called “organic” egg farm were actually crammed “wall to wall” and that they “never set foot outside.”
Animals on organic farms also often endure mutilations such as debeaking , dehorning , and castration —without being given any painkillers. Cows on organic dairy farms still have their babies torn away from them at birth so that humans can drink the milk that nature intended for calves, and they’re still slaughtered at a young age when they are “spent.” When cows’ udders become infected, many farmers deny the animals medicine—because if they’re medicated, the milk can’t be sold as “organic.”
Likewise, meat production, organic or otherwise, takes a hefty toll on the environment. In an article for Forbes, “The Locavore Myth,” James McWilliams wrote, “Until our food system becomes more transparent, there is one thing you can do to shrink the carbon footprint of your dinner: Take the meat off your plate.” He explains that it takes 6 pounds of grain to make 1 pound of chicken and up to 16 pounds of grain to make 1 pound of beef, making for an inefficient system that wastes water and other resources. Studies also show that grass-fed cows actually emit more methane than grain-fed cows.
The Stanford study’s authors concluded there’s not much difference when choosing meat from an animal raised on an organic farm over that from an animal raised on a factory farm. But we can make a huge difference to animals, the environment, and our health by forgoing meat altogether . More information, including tips and recipes to get you started, can be found in PETA’s free vegetarian/vegan starter kit .
Image Credit: Creative Commons organic meat photo by Villain Media, LLC