In line with the Paleo way of eating, it is important that meat and fish consumed come from organic and natural resources. Meat and fish should be sourced the natural way. For example: eating grass fed beef or wild caught fish. Those raised on farms are fed and given synthetic chemicals that are not organic or natural at all. Consuming these farm-raised meats and fish can also pose a myriad of health problems. Embracing the Paleo lifestyle would only be put to waste if you do not know where to get the best sources of meat and fish .
Grass Fed Beef vs. Grain Fed Beef: Benefits and Risks
The major difference between grass fed beef and grain fed beef would be the nutritional composition of their meat. Cattle are meant to roam freely and eat grass or whatever edible plants they can find in their environment. On the other hand, grain fed cows are being fed grains usually made of corn and soy, which could or could not be genetically modified. The cows are confined in a feedlot, which could have unsanitary living conditions. For this reason, cows may get sick and die. To prevent massive loss, producers often give antibiotics and may introduce hormones to hasten their growth.
Grass fed beef contain little to no hormones and antibiotics in the meat. In addition, they have greater amounts of Vitamin A, E and micronutrients such as iron, phosphorus, zinc, sodium and potassium.
Their diet also affect their fatty acid composition. Grass fed beef contains five times the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids than grain fed beef. Grass fed beef also has twice the amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain fed beef. CLA is a fatty acid that is associated with reduced body fat.
Another good source of protein is bison meat. Compared to lean beef, bison meat contains less calories and fat. Bison meat also contains less calories and fat than lean turkey. Bison meat also tastes similar to beef. Unfortunately, it is twice as expensive as beef.
Another good source of Omega 3 fatty acids and CLA is fish. It is also important to choose the best sources of fish. Salmon, anchovies and tilapia have high amounts of protein. Scallops and shrimp also contain ample amounts of protein. More of it will be discussed in the succeeding chapter.
Wild Caught Salmon vs. Farm Raised Tilapia: Which is Healthier?
There has been widespread debate as to whether wild caught or farm raised fish is better. Wild caught salmon, in particular, contains 32 percent fewer calories than its farm-raised counterpart. It also contains half the fat and has more calcium, iron, zinc and potassium. It also contains less sodium. On the other hand, farm raised salmon has more protein amounting to 80 percent of the RDA, contains Vitamin C and has more omega fatty acids (although the quality is not that excellent).
According to Dr. David Carpenter, M.D. of the University of Albany Institute for Health and the Environment, their study found farm raised salmon contained more organic contaminants than wild caught salmon. Health risks, particularly cancer, is higher with consumption of farm raised fish. This is due to carcinogenic contaminants such as PCB, dieldrin and toxaphene.
Farmed raised tilapia, popularly known as aquatic chicken, is the most commonly farmed fish. However, tilapia has significantly lesser Omega 3 fatty acids than salmon, and it is much lower for farm raised tilapia.
The issue about eating wild caught fish is mercury contamination. Depending on the location where the fish was caught, it could be more harmful to eat fish than meat or pork. For instance, wild caught fish sourced from Latin America could be a better choice compared to those sourced from China since the latter has poor regulations when it comes to fish sourcing or farming.
Standards and Regulations on Meat and Fish
Regulations on Grass Fed Beef
There is no definite legislation on grass fed beef. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) only regulates the “grass fed” labels on meat products. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services (AMS) announced on January 14, 2016 that the agency would no longer regulate Grass (Forage) Fed Claim Standard and Naturally Raised Marketing Claim Standard. This means there is no longer a federal standard for grass fed beef and meat products.
Despite AMS’ withdrawal, meat manufacturers can still apply for the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) in order to secure a grass-fed claim on their label. FSIS does not limit livestock to be raised on grass feeding alone. However, manufacturers and producers need to declare in the label the percentage of each feed (ex. 90% grass fed, 10% grain fed). This should be accompanied by supporting documents as well.
How to Look for Certified Grass Fed Beef and other Meats
Aside from the FSIS certification, consumers can also look for private labels from American Grassfed Association, Animal Welfare Approved and Food Alliance. These non-government organizations provide certifications and have their own members consisting of farmers, ranchers, growers, processors, distributors, restaurants and retailers. Consumers can check the directories found in the respective websites for pasture-raised, grass fed beef and other organic meat products.
Regulations, Standards and Authority on Fish Sourcing and Sustainability
Aside from the US Food and Drug Administration ensuring food safety through HACCP control, the US Environmental Protection Agency also gives out advisory on mercury contamination in fish and shellfish.
The US Department of Agriculture sees to it that seafood retailers abide with the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law. The US Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Services manages fish resources in US territorial waters. The agency also runs a voluntary seafood inspection and grading program.
Aside from these federal agencies, non-government organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), addresses the problem of unsustainable fishing. The MSC provides standards for seafood traceability and sustainable wild fishing. Those who comply with these standards receive certification from the council. Always look for the blue MSC ecolabel in the product packaging when buying fish and fish products.
In the UK, the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC), an organization of seafood businesses, helps to ensure seafood sustainability in the country. The organization aims not only sustainability but also diversification of fish sourcing, clear labeling, adherence to voluntary codes of conduct, building global alliances and public information.
The Impact of Eating Meat on the Environment
Not many people realize this, but eating meat can harm the environment. Starting from livestock raising, trees can be cut down to give way to farms and sheds. Raising cows mean an intake of 2,500 pounds of water and 16 pounds of vegetation for every pound of meat.
Raising livestock accounts for the top source of water pollution according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, a pig factory raises about the same amount of raw wastes as a city with 12,000 population. Raising animals for food uses one third of fossil fuels in the US. Even a single hamburger patty uses enough fossil fuel to enable a small car to run for 20 miles.
Greenhouse gas emissions from cattle account to 75 percent of the world’s total while raising poultry and pigs contribute to 56 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Added to that, raising cattle, poultry and even fish would cost two out of five tons of grains produced every year. This is another reason why producers and farmers should focus more on grass feeding their cows rather than grain feeding them.
Meat from global sources have more impact to the environment compared to local sourced ones. Global sourced meats contribute greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide to the environment due to transportation emissions. Another consideration would be transport costs, which obviously, is cheaper for local sourced products.
How to balance meat eating and decreasing carbon footprint
One way to balance meat eating and decreasing carbon footprints is to lower our consumption of red meat. Of all types of meat, red meat has the greatest impact on the environment, even more than cars. Chicken and pork produces less carbon footprint compared to beef. Chicken consumes less feed than beef. They also produce lesser amount of waste compared to beef. Pigs, on the other hand, convert feeds to protein efficiently than cows. Raising them also need lesser land.
The 100-Mile Diet is a book written by couple Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon. According to them, in North America, it takes about 1,500 miles for food to travel from farm to plate. Another study, conducted by Rich Pirog of the Iowa State University on Calculating Food Miles for a Multiple Ingredient Food Product, found that it took 2,211 food miles collectively to gather ingredients in a processing plant to make a carton of strawberry yoghurt. Transporting food this far results to increased carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-based transport. Sourcing meat and fish from local farms and markets is more environment-friendly than buying foods imported by planes, ships, trains and trucks.
However, the greatest factor to reducing carbon footprint would be protein diversity.
Protein Diversity: Alternative sources of protein
Grass fed beef or not, protein diversity is a practical way to decrease carbon footprint in the environment. A diversity in protein, according to Carbon Trust, results to better individual health and sustainability, lower land and water use and of course, reduced climate change.
The Carbon Trust report gives out the following recommendations to improve protein diversity – consumers should be more flexible and adventurous in their meal choices, educate the public regarding protein-rich sources, food campaigns, diversity of supply and production and reformulation and remarketing of protein choices by retailers and food businesses.
Deborah Kasner, author of the Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat tackles the popularity of organic and grass fed meat. Kasner emphasizes the importance of sustainability while eating earth-friendly food. Several of her recommendations for sourcing good meat include raising your own and buying from local farmers.
Meat is not the only source of protein. Many plant sources are rich in protein too. By providing various sources of protein, we can help the environment while staying healthy. For instance, plant-based proteins such as legumes (although non-Paleo) and organic soy are eco-friendly alternatives. Legumes and organic soy get nitrogen from the atmosphere and do not rely on chemical fertilizers.
Another topic is diversity of Omega 3 sources. Aside from salmon, flaxseed oil and chia seeds are also good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. A cup of flaxseed oil (218 g) contains 116,202 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids and 27,689 gm of Omega 6 fatty acids. An ounce of chia seeds (28 g) contains 4,915 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids and 1,620 mg Omega 6 fatty acids.
English chef and TV personality, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, openly discusses environmental issues related to food sourcing. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s series of River Cottage Books, educates meat eaters how to buy their meat while supporting the environment, local economy and even discusses about respectful treatments of animals. Another book from the series, The River Cottage Fish Book, co-authored by Nick Fisher, examines ecological and moral issues of fishing. It helps readers understand the impact of humans in the seafood population.
One way to help lessen waste during meat eating is to maximize every part of the beef. Do not throw bones and knuckles out. They can be made into bone broth. Just add your favorite vegetables, herbs and spices and you have a delicious and healthy meal. You can check the Bone Broth Cookbook for a complete list of recipes using bone broth.
Ocean-Based Fish Farms and Its Impact to the Environment
Organic aquaculture, as these ocean-based fish farms practice, may look natural but if you analyze it, can be very harmful to the environment. Fish farms located in seas and oceans actually pollute the marine environment. They discharge fish feces containing partially digested feed and uneaten feed as well. The pollutants will either sink to the ocean floor, harming plants and marine life or mobilize toxins such as mercury. Wild fish may eat the wastes altering their feeding behavior. Added to that, fish farms also deplete oxygen levels.
Escaped farmed fish could disrupt the ecosystem by altering the population of wild fish and can bring pathogens and parasites and introduce them to wild species. Migratory species such as salmon should not be confined in a cage and should be able to swim far, migrating from fresh to salt water according to their biological need.
In a 2014 report of the Center for Food Safety, the agency highlights its opposing stand for organic aquaculture. The report, Like Water and Oil: Ocean-Based Fish Farming and Organic Don’t Mix, explains why aquaculture could never be organic. Unfortunately, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended allowing ocean-based fish farms to be certified organic. Presently, the USDA certification standards for organic aquaculture are still under review.
For a list of farms and brands providing healthy, non-GMO and grass fed beef and other meat products, please visit the links below. You can find online suppliers in these websites in case you want to buy organic meat.
- Grass –fed farms in the US and Canada
- Local organic farms by geographical location
- Verified non-GMO products by brands
List of Resources
- Where can I buy safer, healthier, more sustainable meat?
- Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed Beef – What’s The Difference?
- What you need to know about farm-raised vs. wild-caught fish
- Seafood Regulatory Oversight
- Like Water and Oil: Ocean-Based Fish Farming and Organic Don’t Mix
- The Smart Seafood Buying Guide
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photo credit: All Natural Great Range Brand Bison Patties in the frozen foods aisle via photopin (license)
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Photo credits: American Grassfed Association, Animal Welfare Approved and Food Alliance