Choosing Organic Meats: Grassfed Versus Free-Range

Free-range doesn't mean pasture fed. If you're concerned about your family's health, consider the benefits of grassfed animals.

If you are buying free-range poultry or other food products thinking that the animals are living bucolic lives gambling on ferdant hillsides before becoming food on your table--think again. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, the only qualification for "free range" or "free roaming" is that "producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside." In other words, if an animal has "access" to the outdoors, but doesn't actually go out, or goes out onto a concrete slab, it can still be labeled "free-range." And while "organic" products are a step in a healthier direction, assuring the consumer that the food will be free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and synthetic hormones, that label still does not guarantee that the animals had adequate exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, or that they were raised on pastureland.

But on hundreds of family-owned farms across America, livestock is being raised on pastureland without supplemental grain, synthetic hormones or antiobiotics. According to Jenny and Darrin Drake, owners and co-founders, of "Peaceful Pastures," an all-natural meats business in middle Tennessee, it is a complex undertaking entailing long hours and hard work. The Drakes move their chicken pens three times a day to keep rotating the grass the chickens are eating so it is clean from waste. But whatever waste the chickens do produce in an area goes into the soil, fertilizing that section and eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. Like many "pasture intensive" farms or "grassfarms" the Drakes' raise more than one type of animal. In addition to chickens, they also sell the meat and by-products of goats, sheep, turkeys, cows and pigs.

In Why Grassfed is Best, author Jo Robinson asserts that raising animals in well-tended pastures is better for the animals, the consumers, and the environment. "The products from grassfed animals are much better for your health," she states. "They are lower in calories and 'bad' fat, but higher in the 'good' fats that help fight disease and promote opitmal health."

But where can you buy these products? They probably won't be available in your neighborhood grocery store, but if you are interested in this "grassroots" movement and want more information, try the Eat Wild web site, where you'll find a comprehensive directory of grassfarms in the United States and Cananda. Happy and healthy eating!

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