Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Becoming an Agri-Sleuth! Figuring out Your Food

I have noticed a new trend at the grocery store... coinciding with book and movie releases such as "An Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Food Inc", there seems to be some changes in food packaging. As our governmental protection agencies fail to protect us and properly inform us of chemical risks, pesticide accumulation and use of hormones in our food, the consumer has become more savvy. 

And companies have noticed.

The first example is Canadian company, Maple Leaf Prime meats. A few months ago I started noticing that the packages were stating that the chicken was "Whole Grain Fed". As companies don't often market their products for no reason, I had to assume that they were implying that "whole grain feed" was healthier than regular chicken feed. The graphics and wording certainly implied a sense of crunchy goodness, tapping into our association of whole grains=healthy and natural. 

But what exactly IS whole grain? Would corn be considered a "whole grain"? Isn't regular chicken feed generally grains? According to Chicken Farmers of Canada, the main ingredient in chicken feed (88%) is grains and that all chickens are essentially "grain-fed". They actually break it down to 10% being meat-bone-vegetable meal (ew), 1.5% mineral and vitamin content and less than 1% at times antibiotics. No hormones (according to this site, hormones have been banned from chickens in Canada since the 1960's).

So, Maple Leaf's stating that their chickens are whole grain fed, implying that this in fact makes them healthier and *better* is a sly manipulation. Slap on a fancy claim with some nice graphics and all of a sudden the consumer starts associating the chicken with labels like "organic" and "free range".

The other company that is making an appearance is duBreton Pork company. Based in Quebec, I noticed right away that they were selling pork "raised without antibiotics". Now, that doesn't say duBreton isn't a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) but it sure implies it- with the beautiful rollings hills, pictures of farmers and pigs milling about in open grass.

A quick google and I find a fantastic website fully describing four different kinds of pork- certified humanely raised, organic, sans-antibiotics and quality sourced pork. 

The antibiotic-free pork has these points: no animal by-products in feed, animals' welfare a priority to the farm, minimal processing, preservative-free, independent certification: AgroCom (recognized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency). As far as I can tell, the pigs are still raised in an (at least) semi-CAFO farming style...

How is this possible in a CAFO? According to duBreton, these measures keep illness in check:
- monthly serologic tests (scientific study of blood serum, um couldn't they have just said blood tests??)
- multisite production systems (um, what does this mean exactly?)
- secure farms located in remote regions (sounds sketchy)
- certified transportation
- regular veterinary inspections
- a feed monitoring program.

Alright, the issue of locality, mass production, energy used to run equipment and the "monoculture" perspective of producing food remains a glaring factor in duBreton's meat. It's a little creepy that they most likely have four separate farms for each "version" of their pork. So while the humanely raised pork are happily prancing in open fields, at CAFO #2 the pork just get non-antibiotic feeds. (this picture from their website is actually titled "ambiance"... I doubt their farms all look like this).

Obviously the best option would be to support local and sustainable smaller farms in your area. However, if this isn't possible (or easy) duBreton is a step above regular meat companies.

The most frustrating result of consumer awareness, is that we now have to be Uber vigilant and read between the lines. Choosing a healthy meal in the grocery store just isn't straightforward any longer. Now consumers must muddle through marketing-speak, know "true" certification symbols from fake and resist corporate manipulation. A frozen pizza company (McCains) has actually been advertising that their frozen foods are *only* made from REAL food. How they define "real" is to be determined. 

Which is why I wish our farmer's market here in Halifax were more accessible.

article and photographs (unless otherwise stated) copyright of EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com


  1. In a totally non-judgmental way I seriously have to say that this post makes me SO GLAD I DON'T EAT MEAT!! Lol. Just the thought of factory farms and animals being fed mushed-up bits of other animals makes my stomach churn.

    Then again, nowadays not many of our fruits and vegetables are much better - basically our whole agricultural system is completely out of whack. And THEN there's distribution, transport costs and other ridiculous things.

    And yet, without going back to the pre-industrial revolution (and hey, life without hospitals is NOT a thing to aspire to, I know, cause I live there), how can we become a sustainable food planet?

  2. Sly manipulation in food production? Surely not?! ;)

    It's the same in the UK. And I get so sick of it. All the supermarkets do is con their customers and treat the farmers appallingly.

    And everything, like food labelling, grows ever more complex when surely the solution is in simplicity.

    BTW - in answer to your comment yesterday I wouldn't say it was spring just yet in the UK! It was very very cold on my bike this morning, but perhaps not as cold as Halifax! xx

  3. As you may have heard, animal agriculture in the US is pretty dismal. Makes me glad I got off that crazy train! Sure you don't want to try being vegan? ;)

  4. the food industry sucks. Michael Pollan will be on Oprah today! woo

  5. First off I wanted to tell you I have been reading your blog for awhile and I really love it, it's very informative. But yes I totally agree with the above, the FDA really needs to get a handle on what words these companies are allowed to use.

  6. La Gitane: haha, yes not eating meat solves what I discussed here... but then you are very right- there are major issues with soy and produce.

    Rachel: simplicity would be so beautiful!!! sigh- too bad the agri-business is that... a business :S
    oh no! rain!! haha, so maybe we're closer than I thought, it rained a TON here recently.

    Vegan Burnout: hahah, you know- we are moving to eating less meat- and it's for reasons like i just posted. For health reasons being a vegan would be pretty darn difficult for myself- but i see this marketing issue as a problem in the produce industry as well...
    don't you worry VB- you're posts definitely make me think! (especially since you're so considerate when you comment over here, I really appreciate it, especially since I know how passionate you are :) )

    Raspberry St: he was on Oprah???? sigh- we don't have a TV, I wonder if I can download it!

    Rachel: Thank you so very much! Yay, I love new commenters!! You are so right, I wish the FDA had more power...


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.