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Is Free-Range Better (For You or the Pig)?

Free-range pork may not be all it's cracked up to be.

IS free-range pork better and safer to eat than conventional pork? Many consumers think so. The well-publicized horrors of intensive pig farming have fostered the widespread assumption that, as one purveyor of free-range meats put it, "the health benefits are indisputable." However, as yet another reminder that culinary wisdom is never conventional, scientists have found that free-range pork can be more likely than caged pork to carry dangerous bacteria and parasites. It's not only pistachios and 50-pound tubs of peanut paste that have been infected with salmonella but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with a bolt gun.

Sagar:
"better" as in tastier is a matter of individual preference. 'better' as in 'leaner' is mostly true.

'safer' as in free of germs and sickness it is not. this applies to chicken too!
4.10.2009 9:54pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
With salmonella inspired recalls in the recent past of spinach, peanut butter, and pistachios its a wonder that irradiation hasn't found more widespread use.
4.10.2009 10:14pm
trad and anon (mail):
None of this really changes the fact that conventional pig "farming" techniques are really atrociously vicious. Those places make the Supermax look like Club Med.
4.10.2009 10:15pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

None of this really changes the fact that conventional pig "farming" techniques are really atrociously vicious. Those places make the Supermax look like Club Med.

Although certainly not pleasant, I would not use the term vicious.

Hog confinement operations would seem better to me than making all those pigs run around naked outside all winter. ;)
4.10.2009 10:20pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
I do know that free range makes you more likely to win the county fair for hog quality having done so once and being told by the judges that I would have done so again if not for dog inflicted injuries the second year I entered.
4.10.2009 10:32pm
KenB (mail):
Am I to infer there's a difference between "free range" hogs and feral hogs. Of the latter, I have many on my 70 acres in Lavaca County, Texas. They are destructive and wily beasts, almost never seen in the daylight.

But they taste good.
4.10.2009 10:41pm
John D (mail):
None of this really changes the fact that conventional pig "farming" techniques are really atrociously vicious. Those places make the Supermax look like Club Med.

Although certainly not pleasant, I would not use the term vicious.

Hog confinement operations would seem better to me than making all those pigs run around naked outside all winter. ;)


Does Club Med make you run around naked outside all winter?
4.10.2009 11:12pm
MCM (mail):
Am I to infer there's a difference between "free range" hogs and feral hogs. Of the latter, I have many on my 70 acres in Lavaca County, Texas. They are destructive and wily beasts, almost never seen in the daylight.


It's unlikely that "free range" hogs are actually allowed much time outside. In many cases, "free range" animals don't necessarily have to spend more than 1 portion of their life outside.

With "free range" chicken, for example, the chickens aren't necessarily "free range" when they're being fattened for slaughter. Maybe they had access to a strip of grass when they were young.

That's the only FDA requirement for "free range" chicken. "Free range eggs" is not a statement regulated by the FDA and thus has no real informative value. The same is true of pork and beef.
4.10.2009 11:22pm
the_pathogen (mail) (www):
Who could be dumb enough to honestly believe free-range is significantly healthier? Do some people believe there is some sort of chemical reaction to the protein molecules by walking...or the sun on the animals back..?

This article actually makes me angry, because it's trying to correct an assumption that's non-existent. "Many consumers think so." BS! How many consumers, 5%, 10%? Anyone who explicitly buys "free-range" does so for humanitarian reasons. Mr. McWilliams's article is evidence as to why newspapers are failing. I wonder how much Mr. McWilliams was paid to write his new book, "...How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food" - Godforbid people support their local farmers and buy free-range farm products!
4.10.2009 11:22pm
John Moore (www):

its a wonder that irradiation hasn't found more widespread use.

No, it's not. The nucleophobes would rather millions get food-borne illnesses than that evil radiation be allowed to do some good.
4.10.2009 11:24pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Regardless, I would still buy humanely raised meat, preferably from the farmer, and preferably have it slaughtered and butchered individually (the slaughtering bit is probably less humane when done individually, but the issue of individual butchering has a lot to do with health/safety issues.
4.10.2009 11:25pm
MCM (mail):
Sorry, not the FDA, the USDA.
4.10.2009 11:25pm
MCM (mail):
Do some people believe there is some sort of chemical reaction to the protein molecules by walking...or the sun on the animals back..?


Actually, I believe that. I'm pretty sure they're still teaching that in Biology 101, too.

I really want to believe this is an intentional troll, because this is the stupidest thing I've read in my life.
4.10.2009 11:28pm
the_pathogen (mail) (www):
@MCM (I do too)
4.10.2009 11:42pm
Xenocles (www):
In other news, properly cooking meat still kills any bacteria contained within.
4.10.2009 11:42pm
Fub:
Xenocles wrote at 4.10.2009 11:42pm:
In other news, properly cooking meat still kills any bacteria contained within.
And especially in the case of pork whether "free range", feral or farmed, the nematode Trichinella spiralis. Rare or raw pork is always a very bad idea. Trichinosis can be fatal.
4.11.2009 12:08am
CJS (mail):
With beef, there is a dietary difference between free-range and penned, grain-fed cattle that makes the meat healthier, in that it increases the Omega-3 percentage of the animal's fat and decreases the Omega-6. Is there any similar effect with pork?
4.11.2009 12:16am
Xenocles (www):
On the other hand, rare beef and raw fish are delish. And while I don't think I could do it, I did see Anthony Bourdain eat rare/raw chicken at a yakitori place in Japan during his show.
4.11.2009 12:19am
ChrisIowa (mail):

On the other hand, rare beef and raw fish are delish. And while I don't think I could do it, I did see Anthony Bourdain eat rare/raw chicken at a yakitori place in Japan during his show.

I had a discussion the other day about eating the rarest fish dish, live goldfish. The conclusion was something about that it went better with lots of alcohol.
4.11.2009 12:25am
ChrisIowa (mail):

but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with a bolt gun

??? I breezed by this before, but isn't 500 pounds double market weight? If they're in the field long enough to reach 500 pounds, the pigs are about to die of old age.
4.11.2009 12:32am
Steven Den Beste (www):
I'm not worried about salmonella or coliform bacteria. What I would be worried about with "free range" pork is trichinosis.
4.11.2009 12:40am
Viceroy:
silly article - if you're forced to ask questions about the food you eat you're in trouble. end of story.
4.11.2009 1:15am
John Moore (www):
No, you're in trouble when you ask questions OF the food you eat and expect it to answer you, and it does.
4.11.2009 1:17am
CaseyL (mail):
Advocating free range ranching isn't just touchy-feely woo-woo.*

Free range livestock are supposed to be healthier to eat because free range = grass fed, rather than corn-fed. Cattle can't digest corn properly. It makes them ill, and so they're dosed with antibiotics - which makes them less healthy for us to eat.

That free range livestock still have nasty microorganisms in their guts isn't an indictment of free range practice We also have nasty microorganisms in our guts that don't bother us (in fact, are essential for things like digestion) but which would likely be unhealthy for anyone who ate us.

* I object to factory farming for the touchy-feely reasons as well as the healthier-meat reason. I have no moral objection to eating meat; I do have a moral objection to the sheer cruelty of factory farming.
4.11.2009 1:57am
Betty1:
Blech - pork in general is disgusting. Didn't I see recently some article about pig farmers getting MRSA? Gross.
4.11.2009 2:27am
trotsky (mail):
CJS and Casey raise fair points about the potential advantages of honest free-range, pastured meat. Yes, there might be some wild bacteria that an antibiotic-heavy, confined-animal operation can keep out. That's in part why those operations were developed (as the author notes), but that hygiene comes at a cost in nutritional value and, yes, health. There are advantages both ways -- but if you can have more humane treatment and potentially healthier, more flavorful meat, we'll all just have to suffer through the occasionally dryish pork chop.

By the way, "free range," I understand, is close to meaningless when it comes to chickens -- but I've seen the difference between grass-fed and feedlot conditions for cattle. It's incomparable. I've never been to a pig CAFO, but the record is appalling.
4.11.2009 2:28am
subpatre (mail):
Is anyone surprised a magazine named 'Foodborne Pathogens and Disease' specializes in scare-mongering? But more seriously, some of it's claims (I can't get to the original article) are extremely suspect. As other's point out, they don't appear to define 'free range'; neither do they define the 'conventional pork' that they use for comparison. There's no set standards for either of those.

The article says, "...higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs..." yet salmonella contamination is typically from preparation —from butchering to packing to cooking— practices; it isn't something endemic in the animals' tissues. The same is true for toxoplasmosis, it's mostly food prep and handling except when you get it from petting the common kitty cat. Trichinosis is serious stuff, but we all know to thoroughly cook pork . . . don't we?

the_pathogen asks, "Who could be dumb enough to honestly believe free-range is significantly healthier? Do some people believe there is some sort of chemical reaction to the protein molecules by walking...or the sun on the animals back..?"

Walking —as opposed to not walking— is exersize that significantly changes any animals' body chemistry and makeup. So does sunlight and its stimulation of melatonin, immune response, vitamin production, etcetera.

So yes, some people, like biologists, believe that.
4.11.2009 2:33am
Syd Henderson (mail):
Chicken do eat grain in the wild, and feeding them corn really isn't an issue. Pigs are omnivores, so it's not that big an issue with them either (although feeding them pork scraps is pretty icky, and helps spread trichinosis). It's probably a good idea to give them a balanced diet.

Corn-fed beef, though, does cause serious problems both for the cattle and, to a certain extent, to people.

And it's not a good idea to eat people, except in cases of emergency. It spreads prion diseases, like kuru. And if you must serve man, remember to cook the meat thoroughly because people can carry trichonosis.
4.11.2009 3:01am
geokstr:

ChrisIowa:

On the other hand, rare beef and raw fish are delish.

It nature had intended us to eat raw meat and fish, she would never have given us microwave ovens.
4.11.2009 6:41am
TruePath (mail) (www):
I never understood why we couldn't just give the cows/pigs in factory farms lots of drugs so they didn't suffer.

Also while I do think it's important to reduce animal suffering I don't think it's an area where we can just go on gut instinct in. After all the way herbivorous herd animals react to conditions may be very very different than the way social meat eating primates do.
4.11.2009 7:48am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Ohh and 500 pounds isn't unheard of for a pig.
4.11.2009 8:10am
Bob_R (mail):
Grew up on a farm where we raised sheep and chickens. We used mostly free-range techniques (the term didn't exist in the 60's and 70's) but experimented with confinement techniques in a year that we had a bad case of foot rot. (The sheep live on a suspended wire mesh platform. Waste drops through the wire and their feet stay dry.) I've seen badly run small farms and well run confinement operations.

There is a lot of silly talk about antibiotics in raising animals. Face it. If you put antibiotic crumbles in any animal's feed they are healthier and grow faster. They have brighter eyes and nicer fur. They look and act better. This may have bad long term effects, but that's not a big deal with animals raised for slaughter. It may have negative externalities, and perhaps the practice should be stopped. But it's not some sinister plot. Most people seeing a group of animals who had antibiotic supplements next to a group who had not would think the farmer who had been withholding antibiotics was cruel.

To me the big advantage of free range for pigs is that you can use some of the tastier breeds of pig that do not adapt well to confinement. Of course, the primary determinant of flavor is the variety and kind of food. Pigs fed a diet of soy beans grow quickly, but taste bland confinement or free range.
4.11.2009 8:39am
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
There's been a good bit of work done on humane handling of slaughter animals, much of it by Temple Grandin. Here is a page from her website about dealing with excitable pigs. It's my understanding that people who deal with slaughter animals appreciate her work because not only is it bad business practice to let the animals get stressed out - they hurt each other and their handlers, and the meat doesn't taste as good - but it's stressful for people to listen to frightened animals all day.
4.11.2009 9:03am
Houston Lawyer:
As a teenager, I worked loading and unloading chickens at both an egg farm and another faclity where chicks were raised to be fryers. The operations I took part in involved hiring teenage boys at low wages to crate 10,000 birds or so in a few hours. I'm amazed I still eat those things. The scene in Napoleon Dynamite doesn't do it justice.

I know a guy who worked in a chicken pathology lab in college. He doesn't eat chicken.

Free ranging is all about making people feel better about themselves. It has little or nothing to do with the health of either people or the animals raised for slaughter.
4.11.2009 9:28am
Justin (mail):
Ethiopians and Japanese chefs do AMAZING raw beef.

And although I'm not religious about it, I do prefer free range livestock - once again, for the touchy-feely reasons, not for health or taste reasons.
4.11.2009 9:35am
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
"The operations I took part in involved hiring teenage boys at low wages to crate 10,000 birds or so in a few hours."

This so reminds me of Pigs is Pigs, the delightful 19th-century story about geometric progression. Specifically, this paragraph:

"When Flannery received the telegram he set to work. The six boys be had engaged to help him also set to work. They worked with the haste of desperate men, making cages out of soap boxes, cracker boxes, and all kinds of boxes, and as fast as the cages were completed they filled them with guinea-pigs and expressed them to Franklin. Day after day the cages of guineapigs flowed in a steady stream from Westcote to Franklin, and still Flannery and his six helpers ripped and nailed and packed--relentlessly and feverishly. At the end of the week they had shipped two hundred and eighty cases of guinea-pigs, and there were in the express office seven hundred and four more pigs than when they began packing them."
4.11.2009 9:49am
Shane:
Am I the only one who loves a good medium rare pork chop?

Anyway, all this discussion reminds me of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. His take on factory organic, or the stuff you'd generally find at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, was pretty negative. "Free range" and "organic" often resorts to elaborate tricks to still technically meet the requirements of the label while scaling up to a profitable volume. There's nothing natural about large-scale organic.

That being said, I'd rather simply eat less meat and/or pay more to avoid CAFO products. For health, ethical, and environmental (both greenhouse concerns and more immediate concerns about things like groundwater contamination) reasons, I make a conscious effort to avoid factory meat whenever possible.
4.11.2009 10:13am
ChrisIowa (mail):

Ohh and 500 pounds isn't unheard of for a pig.

Certainly it isn't unheard of, it takes over 1200 pounds to win the Big Boar contest at the Iowa State Fair. (IIRC 1309 pounds last year) As opposed to that much verbosity in the Big Bore contest in years preceding Presidential election years.

Market weight when eating pigs are ate is on the order of 200 lbs. However I'm a city guy so my remembery could be a bit off.

So 500 pounds is a useless weight for a pig, unless he's aspiring for something more than double that. And actually, what use is 1200 pounds other than just to be big? I'd think if you tried to breed them it would crush the poor sow.
4.11.2009 10:34am
MLS:
Confined pigs was deemed a sufficient public cooncern for incorporation of a provision into the Florida Constitution (I kid you not). See:

Florida Constitution, Article X, Section 21
4.11.2009 10:39am
Tony Tutins (mail):
The argument regarding less salmonella on factory farmed pigs was spectacularly unconvincing: like saying "Eating pork is like Russian Roulette, but factory pork puts only two bullets instead of three in your gun!"

Then the whole matter of taste is a giant red herring spread across the essay: as has been pointed out, diet influences taste (free range chickens eat bugs, weeds, and worms along with their feed); while freedom to move is thought to be more humane.

Finally How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food shows the author's ax: mass food processing operations pose the biggest threat to eaters' health. When the supermarket ground the beef it sold, an E coli contaminated grinder could poison at most a few hundred people. When beef grinding was switched to a central location, processing millions of pounds between cleaning, an E coli contaminated grinder could suddenly poison millions of people.

The same with peanut paste. One company apparently grinds all the peanuts used by food processors in the US. If the makers of peanut butter-cheese crackers had ground their own peanuts, a salmonella outbreak there would not have jeopardized the makers of peanut-loaded energy bars.

Similarly with mass hog feeding operations. Disease that breaks out amongst a herd (flock? school?) of hogs can affect at most all of the hogs present. Raising ten thousand hogs is therefore a lot riskier than raising a hundred or so.
4.11.2009 11:00am
Occasional Lurker:
My reasons for eating "organic" or "free-range" meat is primarily health/feed-related. I don't want to eat, or serve my kids, meat with an unnecessary risk of prions. I know the risk is small, but to me it's unnecessary, and they're young enough that CJD will hit before Alzheimer's. We stopped eating any fast-food burgers or hot dogs years ago (around the time of the New Yorker article about Prusiner).

I also don't like the practice of feeding antibiotics to the animals, to me that's a real externality problem (part of the general antibiotics externality problem).

Taste isn't a big discriminator for me. Honestly, some of that grass-fed beef is too dry. I figure out ways to add fat.

And I quote and agree with what someone earlier said: "salmonella contamination is typically from preparation —from butchering to packing to cooking— practices; it isn't something endemic in the animals' tissues."

Here, I assume that the local folks at the farmers' markets where I shop -- e.g. the Fatted Calf, where I get amazing (and expensive) bacon and sausage as well as plain old meat -- more reliably meet the standard of reasonable care in meat preparation than do "factory" operations. I'd love to know based on empirical data, but it seems a very reasonable assumption.
4.11.2009 11:16am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Tony Tutins:

Finally How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food shows the author's ax: mass food processing operations pose the biggest threat to eaters' health. When the supermarket ground the beef it sold, an E coli contaminated grinder could poison at most a few hundred people. When beef grinding was switched to a central location, processing millions of pounds between cleaning, an E coli contaminated grinder could suddenly poison millions of people.


Regarding the environment, safety, and ethics (and budget too!).... I think the general best approach is to buy as much as possible from local farmers who grow things as sustainably and ethically as possible. Organic vegetables ARE more likely to be contaminated with e coli etc. because of the use of manure as fertilizer but this washes off.

As for salmonella... It, like e coli is primarily a digestive-environment illness. Salmonella in eggs is a special case and to my knowledge only one strain is able to go through the shell of the egg. Parasites are a different matter, but typically people assume that pork is contaminated with parasites anyway so I am not sure that this is an issue. For that matter, the health department of my state suggests that folks treat wild game in the same way as pork.

Large-scale issues with salmonella and e-coli are specifically the result of cross-contamination on a large scale. Certainly if you add more contaminents to the contaminated sample, it isn't good. However, the whole system is optimized to homogenize our eating experience, and this usually means that microbial contaminants get spread far and wide... I will make beef tartar out of ground beef I get when my side of beef is cut to order (and immediately frozen after being ground). I won't make it out of ground beef I get at the supermarket.

Hence I think that the article makes some relatively bad points which might be reasonably aimed at a few city-folk who prefer to buy free range meet at the local supermarket. It doesnt address the bigger issues with food production, distribution, and safety though and hence really is a very, very limited thesis.
4.11.2009 12:26pm
DennisN (mail):

My reasons for eating "organic" or "free-range" meat is primarily health/feed-related. I don't want to eat, or serve my kids, meat with an unnecessary risk of prions.


This is a condition that has infected a couple of dozen persons worldwide, in all of recorded history. Do you take similar precautions for significant risks?

While there are significant aesthetic advantages to meat derived from "free range" critters due to their consumption of garbage, bugs, and other diet enhancements, there are corresponding risks. The old rubric that poultry and pork must be cooked well done, is a recognition of this fact. Because of the lack of parasites in factory farmed pork, there has been a recent trend in restaurants that pork need not be well done. I've been lectured by chefs on that point, when I've sent food back. Not on my plate thank you. But trichinosis is almost unknown in factory farm pork. There are actually more cases of trichinosis in the US from eating bear meat (always a wildly popular product ;-) ) than from pork. (Sorry, I have no citation.)

Fortunately, I like my pigs well done, so I like pork locally raised in a sty full of garbage, septic mud, and pig manure. My wife won't let me build one in the back. (As the neighbors shoot off rockets in celebration. )
4.11.2009 12:54pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
There are about 12 cases of trichinosis per year in the U.S. Most of these come from eating wild game, and not from pork products.
4.11.2009 1:12pm
B-Roy (mail):
Trichinosis is completely preventable by the application of a certain new and exciting process developed in the last few hundreds of millennia.

Using this exciting process, which most can do at home, pork can usually be rendered completely safe to eat, barring any objections one's understanding of the prime mover may create.
4.11.2009 1:28pm
ChrisTS (mail):
which would likely be unhealthy for anyone who ate us.

I think we should get the word out on this, just in case. "Humans unhealthy for consumption."
4.11.2009 1:54pm
calco:
For the past decade we've kept a few laying hens of different breeds - Leghorns, Barred Rhocks, Rhode Island Reds and recently Ameraucanas. They were free range until this year; Ameraucanas "Lana" and "Hedy" can fly a bit, and they'd use the pecan tree to hop the fence and wander the neighborhood.

Although our hens' diet is now limited to commercial feed + vegetable scraps (they are crazy for iceberg lettuce), I see no difference in egg quality from when they were wandering the yard and eating commercial feed + grass, bugs and lizards.

However, even when using home-grown eggs which have been stored for several weeks, there is a night-and-day difference even from commercial "organic" or "free range" eggs in size, flavor, yolk color and albumen consistency. Generally we aren't fussy, but rather than eat a commercial egg, if our hens aren't laying we just go without.
4.11.2009 2:04pm
MCM (mail):
I never understood why we couldn't just give the cows/pigs in factory farms lots of drugs so they didn't suffer.


1) Expense - drugs cost money
2) Difficulty - It's probably easier to kill an animal that's standing upright than an animal that's stoned or unconscious.
2) Uncertainty - does it affect taste? Safety? Nobody knows and nobody wants to pay to find out.
4.11.2009 2:21pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Oh, the idle disputes of the rich.

Inmost of the world, I doubt they have these disputes.
4.11.2009 3:06pm
Occasional Lurker:
Dennis N responded to my comment [My reasons for eating "organic" or "free-range" meat is primarily health/feed-related. I don't want to eat, or serve my kids, meat with an unnecessary risk of prions.]
with

"This is a condition that has infected a couple of dozen persons worldwide, in all of recorded history."

One 1996 study estimated the worldwide death rate from CJD as a bit under 1 in a million. "From 1979 through 1994, CJD was recorded as a cause of 3,642 deaths in the United States; 83.4% of these deaths had CJD recorded as the underlying cause. The average annual age-adjusted death rate during the study period was 0.95 deaths per million persons, from 0.78 in 1980 to 1.11 in 1987." http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol2no4/holman2.htm

As of June 2006, 161 cases of vCJD had been identified in the UK. In 1998, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) initiated human prion disease surveillance. From 1998 through 2001, CDPHE identified 20 Colorado resident deaths consistent with prion disease. This article suggests a lower rate of infection than the earlier. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no10/06-0019.htm

I'm sure you could find more studies if you looked. I'm not saying it's big, or that I'm fully rational about it -- but from what I've read, it's not as rare as "a couple of dozen persons worldwide, in all of recorded history," even if one discounts by 10% for genetic causes as opposed to prion infection.
4.11.2009 6:04pm
vmark1:
Pigs?? Free range? Put one of those little oinkers in your back yard to free range, give em' about 12 hours...That lovely Scotts turf you've spent a small fortune keeping green will look as if it was caret bombed and then excavated by a deranged Caterpillar salesman. What constitutes free range? An acre, half acre, your garage? Who decides what "free range" really is? Somebody has to..Is this going to be another agency the Obama administration will fund?

Congress will hear the word "free ranging pork" and think they've died and gone to heaven...

In 2 weeks I get to blast wild free ranging turkeys w/a 12 gauge shotgun. Shotgun blast, or neck twisted. I could care less which is more 'humane.' I like pork, chicken, deer, turkey, fish...I suspect those who are in support of free ranging animals would be appalled at the way an animal is killed, and processed no matter how much open range the tasty little critters were allowed...bon' appetit
4.11.2009 6:24pm
DennisN (mail):
I've not seen any evidence that CJD is caused by eating tainted meat. The few cases attributed to "mad cow" are trivial.

Do you drive or ride in automobiles?

Do you take baths?
4.11.2009 6:30pm
MCM (mail):
Who decides what "free range" really is? Somebody has to..Is this going to be another agency the Obama administration will fund?


Right now, nobody decides what "free range" pork (or beef or eggs) is. The USDA decided what free range chicken is, and it's basically meaningless.
4.11.2009 6:45pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Off Topic but interesting:

My favorite prion disease: Fatal Familial Insomnia (it is a genetic prion disease limited to a few families in Italy. When the affected people get about 40 years old, they stop sleeping and die shortly afterwards).
4.11.2009 8:14pm
A.C.:
The best chickens I ever ate were the ones in South America that lived in the street and ate garbage and bugs. Not even a question there -- you wouldn't believe they were the same animal as North American supermarket chickens.

Here in North America, I often buy kosher chicken because it seems like you can't pack 'em in quite as tight and still conform to the rules. Unfortunately, no one has seen fit to market kosher pork.
4.11.2009 8:31pm
Ben P:

There are about 12 cases of trichinosis per year in the U.S. Most of these come from eating wild game, and not from pork products.


I've heard of a couple people getting it from bears because people tend to cut bear steaks far too thick to cook properly.
4.11.2009 9:11pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
So far as flavor is concerned, the issue is fat. The modern svelte hog cannot be made edible by any management regimen.

so far as boredom is concerned, instead of drugs, confined hogs are sometimes given bowling balls, which they like to push around.

The most significant health issue is that every year a few farmhands are overcome by fumes from the waste ponds under the slatted floors of confinement buildings, fall in and drown.

Second would be maulings of pig handlers when big boars smell females in heat. The management practice is to smash the nasal passages of the boars closed with a length of angle iron. At least, it used to be. There was a plan to develop a nasal spray, but I am no longer current on packinghouse practices. Haven't heard how that worked out.
4.11.2009 9:25pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
If you cut the pork, and then freeze it for long enough, you will kill any lurking trichinosis larvae. About 3 days under -5 degress Farenheit should do it. Then, if you are so inclined, you can feast away on pork tartare. Cooking is so passe.
4.11.2009 10:02pm
Tom Perkins (mail):
<blockquote>
I'm sure you could find more studies if you looked. I'm not saying it's big, or that I'm fully rational about it -- but from what I've read, it's not as rare as "a couple of dozen persons worldwide, in all of recorded history," even if one discounts by 10% for genetic causes as opposed to prion infection.
</blockquote>

All CJD is genetic in orgin, either inherited or by spontaneous mutation. The acronym "vCJD" is uniquely used to note prion disease caused by prions consumed in the diet*. In, for example, Britain, where certain cattle feeding practices were especially unfortunate, it's killed 164 people total to date. In the US, I think it's killed two, and one those traveled to the UK, and the other one may well have been spontaneous, a terribly unlucky fluke.

*or Kuru, if you are referring to the transmission of the laughing sickness among Papua New Guinea cannibals.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
4.11.2009 10:45pm
CaseyL (mail):
ChrisTS - The joke that meat from westernized, urbanized humans would be considered unsafe to eat is a long-standing one... among westernized, urbanized humans. I'm not sure it would help much against a hungry non-human :)
4.11.2009 10:47pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
The spread of mad cow disease to humans was supposedly caused by the relatively recent practice of converting cows into omnivores. This happened most notably in Britain, where they also feed ground fish meal to chickens. I discovered this when I asked a flight attendant whether I was eating chicken or fish.

Keep your vegetarian animals all-vegetarian. Don't eat carnivores.
4.11.2009 10:56pm
DennisN (mail):

Keep your vegetarian animals all-vegetarian. Don't eat carnivores.


Those appear to be two independent phenomenon. I know of no diseases in humans, other than kuru, that is caused by eating well cooked carnivores. Long pig should be avoided.

Herbivores should stay herbivores.
4.12.2009 12:49am
plutosdad (mail):
"Who could be dumb enough to honestly believe free-range is significantly healthier? Do some people believe there is some sort of chemical reaction to the protein molecules by walking...or the sun on the animals back..? "

Some people believe there are chemical reactions in human muscle and fat composition when they walk, run, lift weights.

crazy, I know!
4.12.2009 1:33am
vinnie (mail):
"Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made."
Otto von Bismarck



"Laws are like sausages if you don't watch each being made you get e. coli, mad cow, the patriot act, and a multi-trillion dollar bailout"
Vinnie

+1 calco I keep 4 hens and a rooster in the back yard. They get pelletized feed and table scraps from me and the neighbors. A dozen eggs a couple of times a year keeps both the neighbors from complaining about the rooster. I turn them loose a couple of times a week in the spring and summer to seek out bugs.

Fresher eggs are less likely to carry salmonella. Of I bake cookies I use eggs laid within the last 24 hours so that the chance that my son or I will get it by sampling the dough are about the same as getting struck by lightening while winning the lotto.
4.12.2009 1:55am
James Gibson (mail):
All this segment did was cause too memories to flash in my head.

The recent memory is of the labeling on a package of noodles that said the eggs used to make the noodles had come from range free hens.

The second memory is the description by a hunting friend of mine of a wild pig hunt in central california and the size of the round needed to kill the animal. And the danger they posed if you missed, or just injured it. And yes the subject of trichinoses came up.

We won't vaccinate our children, we want unpasteurized milk, free-range chicken and soon pork. Its amazing how people have no clue as to why we have so few medical problems today and live so long compared to our pioneer ancestors.
4.12.2009 4:33am
Beth Donovan (www):
Chickens are not vegetarians. Chickens are omnivores. They eat bugs and snakes and worms and grass and weeds. I have a small flock of chickens (around 40). When the sun comes up, I let them out of their hen houses and they wander about our farm (they mostly keep to just 2 or 3 acres closest to our house of the 80 available)eating bugs (especially ticks, chiggers, other nasty things)and green stuff.

At night, they all go back into their hen houses and I close the doors to keep them safe from Owls, coyotes, and wildcats.

They lay wonderful eggs, and several times a day, I go outside to collect the eggs. I sell them at the farmer's market, maybe just a couple of dozen a week, the rest I use to make custard ice creams, creme brulee, breads, egg noodles, etc.

You always want to examine your eggs carefully to be sure there are no cracks in the shells - candling (holding them up to a very bright light) is the best way to do that. If there are no cracks, and you clean the egg, you should not have any problem with salmonella. Most of the food-borne illnesses occur because of poor preparation, not how the critters are raised.

But mostly, chickens are not vegetarians. No birds are vegetarians. Whoever said that up there is simply wrong.
4.12.2009 8:08am
samantha (mail):
What the author of this article isn't telling you is that free-range pigs are exposed to a much more varied and nutritious diet than their brethren who feed off cornmeal (almost no nutritional value considering the corn itself is fertilized with nothing but fossil fuels) along with a hormone cocktail and artificial protein

But it's cool. Let's just keep on trucking with our highly industrialized food industry. I'm sure we wont' come to regret it later it.
4.13.2009 7:46am
Rob Sama (mail) (www):
This smells like FUD from industrial pork producers. See Serious Eats take on the subject.
4.13.2009 2:57pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Rob Sama:

I thought the Serious Eats bit was good, but I think the question of antibiotics and consuming residues in the meat misses the point. I am opposed to feeding animals routine antibiotics for the simple reason that any bacteria that can be hosted by the animal will end up developing resistance to the drugs. This includes E. coli, salmonella, and probably all sorts of other things like various forms of staph and strep.

These problems occur REGARDLESS of whether we eat the animals....
4.15.2009 11:24am

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