Our damaged food supply chain?

23.01.20140 Comment

The food that cows and chicken eat.

            Naturally, cows give birth in Spring, when the grass is at its best, and they then produce milk for several months until the end of summer. Spring grass is a very rich source of Omega -3 fatty acids (these are one of the few things our body cannot make, so are essential).

These fatty acids are concentrated in the milk from the cows raised in pastures and in the milks derivatives- butter, yoghurt, cream and cheese.

Omega-3s are also found in beef from grass-fed cattle and in eggs from free-range chickens fed with forage, rather than grain.

Consumer pressures

            Since the mid-forties, farmers have had to keep up with demand for milk, and beef, so sought shortcuts in the natural cycle of milk production by reducing grazing areas. Often pastures were abandoned and replaced by battery farming.

The main diet for cattle became Corn, soy and wheat, of which none of these contain omega-3 fatty acids. But its worse than that. These foods are rich in Omega-6 fatty acids. Not great! View this photo, see the difference?

Difference between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids


               Its important to know that the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 acids in our bodies is down to what we eat. So, we as humans, are dependent on the diet that cattle and chickens have. If livestock eat grass, we get a balanced 1 /1 ratio diet. If they eat corn, soy and wheat, the imbalance can be as much as 1/15 ratio, that’s fifteen times more omega-6 than omega-3. Not good!

The role of the omega-6s is to help stock fats and promote rigidity in cells, but also promotes coagulation and inflammation in response to outside aggression. Omega-3s to the contrary, are involved in developing the nervous system, making cell membranes more flexible and reducing inflammation.

Regarding cancer, one seems to be working against us (omega-6) and the other is for us (omega-3). Check this Beef nutritional table, compare omega acid ratios:

            This change in how livestock is fed, has the biggest impact on our dietary balance over the last sixty years, coincidentally matching the dramatic rise in cancer and obesity. It seems that excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids contribute towards the growth of cancer cells.

In the U.S., some farm animals are treated with hormones to fatten them faster. Again, its evidence of the pressure the supply chain is under to get goods there quicker to meet demand. But look at the price we may be paying for this!! Thankfully, a European law forbids this, so here in the U.K. we are spared from this (so far).

Finally, the switch from grass to corn-soy combination fed livestock has another unfortunate side-effect. One of the rare components of our diets from an animal source that has a possible ‘anticancer’ effect is called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which is primarily found in the cheese of grass fed animals. Thus, by disrupting the diets of cows, goats, and sheep, we have eliminated what appears to be the only anticancer benefit they might have provided. (madness!)

My thoughts

            I tend to check labels in detail now, to identify the true omega-3/omega-6 levels in foods, and when possible i ask serving staff what the animals were fed with.

Ok, so most times no one knows, but i work on the principle that if they do grass-feed their livestock then they will confidently (and proudly) answer me.

Independent butchers and farm shops

            I suppose i’m hinting that finding reputable independent butchers and farm shops, is the way to go. They seem to give answers to straight questions. Suddenly the convenience of picking up meat and eggs from supermarkets doesn’t appeal to me anymore. That doesn’t mean they are doing anything wrong, i simply don’t trust how they present information on their labels.

Share your thoughts,




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