Monday, February 20, 2012

Time To Go Organic?

What's in your horse's food? 
What's in your dog's food? 
What's in your food? 

There's a great article here on the dangerous substances that are banned from use in human food, but totally legal in pet food and treats. It's really scary. Here's just one quote:

"Many pet treats, such as Purina Moist ‘n Meaty, list Ethoxyquin on their label. Ethoxyquin is so toxic that the FDA prohibited it from human consumption except for minute quantities in certain spices."

Yuck! There's another great article here on the awful crap that's in human food-- food we eat every day. Like ammonia, wood pulp and plastic. And did you know that l-cyesteine, which comes from human hair, hog hair and duck feathers, is used in most bread products? Blech. Apparently it helps even the texture.

What about horse food/treats? Unfortunately, there's even less research about horse food than pet food. We do know, however, that there are very loose regulations for supplement, feed and treat producers. We know that the use of pesticides on livestock feed like corn and alfalfa is even more prevalent than on food produced for human consumption. I know that when I look at bags of horse treats, some of the ingredients listed sound rather frightening. So what to do?

I've been intrigued by the organic/free-range/"natural" foods movement for a long time-- and not joined it for a number of reasons.

1) The expense.
2) It's harder to find my favorites in the organic section.
3) The definitions of words like "organic" or "natural," etc, are ridiculously stupid.

So stupid, vague, and tricky in fact, that the Humane Society put together a list of labels and their real meanings here. As an example, there's no legal definition of "natural" food. It's purely a marketing term companies use to get you to buy something. And "free range?" It's easy to see the label "free range" and assume that an animal has lived out its days in sunny pastures. Wrong! Here's a traditional battery cage egg farm:

...and here's a "free range" farm:

They're about equally depressing, aren't they? At both types of farms, "de-beaking" and "force molting" (cutting off beak tips and starvation) are legal and commonly practiced. Also, there's no legal definition of free range beef or pork. Nope. And "pasture fed?" That only means that an animal has to be fed 100% grassy product, and that the animal have access to pasture during the growing season. So basically, a cow eating hay in a tiny dirt yard (for a couple of months per year) qualifies. The Illinois Bar Association has a good (though dry) article here on the differences between our perceptions of these terms and the legality behind them.

For a long time, I used these sneaky marketing tricks as a reason not to join the better food movement. Why should I, when doing so doesn't really make a difference? However, I now realize that's an excuse. You can still find truly free-range and organic food; you just have to work harder. Meaning, by actually going out and finding local farms that have good practices, and buying from them. Thus, from now on I'll be getting my eggs from a neighbor, my dairy products from Sassy Cow Creamery, and everything else from the Willy St. Co-op.

I'm going to eliminate processed treats from my horses' diets, and start to pay more attention to feed labels. I'm even going to buy their apples and carrots from organic companies. 

Weird crap does not belong in my stomach, or the stomach of my animals. I still believe in eating meat, but I also believe in doing that as humanely and sustainably as possible. I can't keep saying "I love horses" while ignoring the awful suffering of other animals, like cows and chickens, that are not that different from my beloved pets. It's hypocritical.

As for the higher costs of food, I'm going to consider that an investment in my health, the health of my animals, the future of the planet, and the prosperity of my local farmers. That seems worth it. And if I can't find my favorite foods in the organic section, it's not going to kill me not to have them. My fat belly could certainly stand to miss out on a few meals of stuffed tortellini, that's for sure.

So what do YOU have to say? If you've gone local/organic, how hard was it, what solutions did you come up with, and do you have any tips for me? If you haven't, why not?

1 comment:

  1. I had to comment on this post, because my mother actually manages a free range farm and my SO and I work on a chicken farm.

    You're fairly accurate - the whole 'free range' thing is crap. Unless the company you are buying from is approved by a certain company (FREPA, RSPCA ect) then there really are no guidelines, other than this:

    1. Free range chickens are fed differently than regular broiler chickens, and it is actually the feed that changes their meat colour.

    2. There must be the option of letting the chickens outside, but as mentioned above, unless you are buying from a FREPA/RSPCA accredited farm then there is no guarantee that the chickens have ever even been outside. In winter the weather can often be too cold to allow chickens outside and there is also the issue of predators.

    Free range does not mean what most people seem to think it does. That said, those chickens looked significantly more cramped than we see at our farms and they still look fairly young, but then I suppose it all depends on when they are taken out anyway.

    Good post!