A couple weeks ago The Motherhood emailed me with this opportunity: We’re hosting a virtual briefing next week with several family farmers, who also happen to be moms, to share information on the importance of public health, animal health and well-being, and the responsible use of antibiotics to keep animals healthy and to provide safe and nutritious meat products to families everywhere – including their own!
Fun, right? Sign me up! The briefing was last Thursday at noon, and would you believe my two little people played quietly (for the most part) through the whole thing? Two points for the littles!
During the briefing we heard from two pork farmers and a swine veterinarian. We discussed farm practices and they shared what hog farming involves. My mom grew up on a dairy farm that we visited often when I was growing up, but large scale hog operations aren’t something I’ve been around. It was interesting to hear how they keep everything clean and safe.
Fun facts about farms:
- 97% of farms in America are family-owned.
- Pork farmers have reduced their carbon footprint by 35% over the past 50 years and use 41% less water than they did 50 years ago.
- All antibiotics used on the farm are approved by the FDA after they undergo a rigorous review for safety to animals, humans and the environment. (It’s unfortunate that I have so little faith in the FDA. )
- FDA sets withdrawal periods – the time between the last dose and when an animal can be sent to market – for all antibiotics.
- Pork farmers abide by Pork Quality Assurance® Plus – a program that provides pork farmers, and their veterinarians with the principles and guidelines for responsible antibiotic use.
- Finishing (grow): The growth period (14 – 16 weeks) between the nursery and market. A finished hog will weigh 240 – 260 lbs. (market weight).
- Hog: A standard term for growing swine.
- Judicious antibiotic use: How farmers use antibiotics responsibly: working closely with their veterinarian, obeying strict FDA guidelines, etc. Farmers use antibiotics judiciously to keep the potential risk extremely low of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria that is harmful to humans.
- Sow: A female pig that has given birth to a litter of piglets.
We asked several questions of the farmers, mainly concerned with the safety of meat. Here’s one that I see as a common miscommunication.
Do you think that there is any miscommunication about antibiotic-free meat?
Every drug that we administer has a FDA withdrawal period (meaning the time between the last dose and when an animal can be sent to market) that we make sure to pay strict attention to. We also keep a close record of all antibiotics that have been administered. The thing is, all meat is antibiotic-free! The labels are technically correct, but they can be confusing. Consumers sometimes think that restaurants or stores without the “antibiotic-free” stickers are selling meat that still has antibiotics in the meat – and that’s not true.
With the grass-fed movement, this may have been the most interesting question for consumers who are unfamiliar with hog farms.
Are your animals free-range grass fed?
We moved our animals inside into our barn and we really prevented predators and the spread of disease. Now that the animals are kept inside, we use less medication than when they were living outside. It’s actually easier to keep animals healthier when they live inside more controlled environments. Cattle can eat grass because they have more than one stomach, but our hogs do not eat grass. They only have one stomach and they don’t get nutritional value from grass.
Even my local small farmers feed their hogs. The hogs do live outside and have the freedom to root around (which I think is a good thing) but can’t just eat grass. They have to supplement their diet. I totally understand why barns are needed for such a large farm (2,000 hogs at a time if I remember right) though.
While I completely respect the job they are doing and truly believe they are doing everything they can to provide a safe, tasty product from a huge farm, my own experience with meat contradicted the statement that there’s no need to buy special or organic meat, because all meat in the store is safe and equal. Actually, maybe everything in the store is equal, but we get our pork from local farmers or 4-Hers and there is simply no comparison in the quality. I’ve bought plenty of bacon and sausage at the store, too, and there is a huge difference in taste and texture. Now, as for what that difference translates to health-wise, I really can’t say, and the truth of the matter is I’m not a farmer. I don’t know why the quality is better with local, small farm meat. Is it in the processing? What they eat? How they roam? I don’t know, but there is definitely a difference.
What do you think? Do you purchase locally-raised or organic meat? (It’s much more important to me to buy local than organic.) How important to you is all this antibiotic and grass-fed hoopla?
Resources for more information:
Disclosure: I participated in this program on behalf of the National Pork Producers Council. All opinions are my own.