Did you know that Canadians consume 78 kg of meat and 188 eggs per capita every year? It’s extremely important to understand where your food is coming from, and how organic and conventional foods can affect the animals, your body, and the planet.
In Canada, foods that are labelled organic must be verified by a CFIA-accredited certification body, which means that all products–produce, eggs, dairy, and meat–follow strict regulation. When we think of organic produce, we might think of less pesticide use. When we think of organic eggs, we think of happy chickens, and when we think of organic and grass-fed dairy, we think of more nutritious milk. But what about organic meat? What does organic meat mean in Canada, and in which ways is it beneficial?
What is organic meat?
In order for meat to be organic in Canada, the animals must be free from any synthetic growth or reproductive hormones to make them grow faster, as well as any antibiotics and preservatives. What added hormone does is that it allows the farmers to feed the animals with less and lower-quality feed, and still produce leaner meats with less fat. This means that the farmers benefit from a reduced cost for raising the animals, and thus making the meat cheaper for the consumer.
Besides the prohibition on any hormones, antibiotics, and preservatives, animals that are certified organic must be free-range, have adequate roaming space both outdoors and indoors, and be fed organically produced feed. This essentially means that organic animals are healthier and happier than conventional ones!
How does organic farming affect the environment?
It’s no secret that meat is a major contributor to climate change. In fact, The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization claimed that meat production accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions–even more than transportation. A part of this is contributed by the feed given to animals. Because meat that is certified organic comes from animals that either graze on pasture or are fed a mixture of grass and organic feed, organic meat production cuts down the energy required to grow grains. The requirement of providing organic feed for the animals also minimizes the use of synthetic chemicals, which helps eliminate water and soil contamination, and promotes biodiversity.
When comparing animals that are grass-fed and animals that are grain-fed, a study showed that lamb that was raised in New Zealand and shipped 18 000 kilometres to the UK produced less than a quarter of the greenhouse gases than British lamb. This was because the British sheep were fed only grains, which require a lot more energy to grow than the naturally growing green pasture in New Zealand. The 18 000-kilometre trek accounted for only 5% of overall greenhouse gases, where the farm activities were responsible for 80% of the emissions.
What is the difference in the nutritional profile of organic meat and grass-fed meat?
There is actually no strong evidence to prove whether organic meat is more nutritious overall; however, there is conclusive evidence that organic meat is higher in one very valuable nutrient: omega-3 fatty acids. A study compiled 67 different studies on organic meat versus conventional meat showed that while there were no significant differences when it came to minerals and antioxidants, there was a notable difference in polyunsaturated fats like omega-3s and omega-6s.
Organic meat on average offered 16% more omega-6 fatty acids and a whopping 47% more omega-3 fatty acids. This is a monumental and important difference, as the modern diet tends to favour omega-6 fatty acids at a 19:1 ratio when the omega-3-to-omega-6 ratio should be around 1:1. An unbalanced ratio favouring omega-6 fatty acids can lead to inflammation and many other problems.
Both organic and grass-fed meat have their own advantages. Grass-fed meat is higher in omega-3 fatty acids but isn’t guaranteed to be free of chemicals. On the other hand, organic meat is fed with organic and non-GMO feed and free of added hormones and antibiotics. The best case scenario is organic grass-fed meat, where you get the best of both worlds, for your both, for the animals, and for the environment.
Organic has proven to be better across the board in all categories: animal welfare, sustainability, and nutritional value. The treatment of animals by farmers follows a strict guideline for all organic-certified products. The natural, additive-free feed raises healthier animals and reduces greenhouse gas emissions while increasing the nutritional value for all animal products: eggs, dairy, and meat. So while farmed meat will never be as sustainable as pulses, it helps to be a conscientious consumer. Know where your food on your plate is from, and make sure it’s organic.