Organic meat, poultry, and dairy products are now available at your supermarket, which is a
change for the better. When you see the organic label, you know the food is going to be free of
pesticide residues, synthetic hormones, genetically modified organisms, and a long list of
questionable additives. You also have the satisfaction of knowing that raising animals organically
causes less harm to the environment. But when it comes to animal production, organic is not
enough. We need to be raising animals on their species-appropriate diets.
Few consumers realize that many producers of "organic" or "naturally raised" animal products raise
their animals in confinement and feed them grain—just like the operators of conventional feedlots.
Feeding large amounts of grain to a grazing animal decreases the nutritional value of its products
whether the grain is organic or conventionally raised. The reason is simple. Compared with grass,
grain has far fewer omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.1 Therefore, grainfed animals have fewer of
these important nutrients in their meat and dairy products. Grainfeeding also interferes with the
creation of a cancer-fighting fat called conjugated linoleic acid or CLA.2 A test by an independent
lab determined that milk from one of the largest organic grain-fed dairies had no more omega-3 fatty
acids or CLA than milk from ordinary dairies. Similarly, meat from organic grain-fed beef has the
same nutritional profile as meat from the largest Kansas feedlot.
The same story holds true for organic but confinement-raised poultry. Their meat and eggs have no
more omega-3s or vitamin E than the products you find in the supermarket.3 (Unless the birds are
given special supplements along with the grain.)
For many consumers, food safety is an even bigger concern than nutrition. Once again, grass
feeding offers an important advantage. It has been known for decades that grain feeding makes a
cow's digestive tract more acid. Now we know that this acidic environment speeds the growth of
potentially dangerous E. coli bacteria and, even worse, makes the bugs more acid-resistant.
Alarmingly, these acid-resistant bacteria are much more likely to survive the cleansing acidity of our
own digestive juices and make us ill. 4
Depriving our livestock of fresh greens and vastly increasing their consumption of grain has
jeopardized our health in ways people never imagined. Although feeding organically raised grain
reduces our reliance on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, it does not provide the food that nature
intended us to eat.
Jo Robinson is a New York Times bestselling writer. She is the author or coauthor of 11 nationally published books including Pasture Perfect, which is a comprehensive overview of the benefits of choosing products from pasture-raised animals, and The Omega Diet (with Dr. Artemis Simopoulos) that describes an omega-3 enriched Mediterranean diet that may be the healthiest eating program of all. To order her books or learn more about grassfed products, visit http://eatwild.com.
1 Garton, G. A.. "Fatty Acid Composition of the Lipids of Pasture Grasses." Nature 187(4736): 511-12.
2 Dhiman, T. R., G. R. Anand, et al. (1999). "Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed
different diets." J Dairy Sci 82(10): 2146-56.
3 Lopez-Bote, C. J., R.Sanz Arias, A.I. Rey, A. Castano, B. Isabel, J. Thos (1998). "Effect of free-range
feeding on n-3 fatty acid and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) content and oxidative stability of eggs."
Animal Feed Science and Technology 72: 33-40.
4 Diez-Gonzalez, F., T. R. Callaway, et al. (1998). "Grain feeding and the dissemination of acid-resistant
Escherichia coli from cattle." Science 281(5383): 1666-8.
© 2005 Jo Robinson, Eatwild.com. This article may be reprinted in full provided it is accompanied
by this credit line.