The latest BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis) infected cattle scare stimulated new debate about the wholesomeness of food in our markets.
Organic food enthusiast knew all along that animal husbandry, as well as vegetable and grain production in industrialized countries are compromised by excessive use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and scientific manipulation of a number of species. They have actively supported organic produce, meat, milk, poultry, and grain products, although all cost considerably more than standard merchandise.
Organic produce by definition must come from organic soil without the use of fungicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic cattle graze on natural meadows, and are “finished”, if at all, with organic grain and even then, only a very small portion of the diet consists of corn or other grain.
Poultry must come from animals raised out-of-doors and fed with organic feed.
In many countries, there are no government rules or regulation for definitions of organic foods. Associations of farmers issue guidelines, and in some cases also certify organic operations.
Generally, organically grown foods taste better, have a firmer texture, may have blemishes and imperfections and be smaller than “forced” species. “Industrial” scale produce on the other hand is graded, of uniform size, bigger than standard and less expensive than organic. This is due to clonal selection, scientific interbreeding (hybridising), genetic manipulation, higher yields, and in many cases, developing species with a capacity to absorbing more water and/or excessive irrigation.
All of the above contribute to diluted taste at the expense of size and visual appeal. Cattle raised organically yield lean, chewy meat with a more natural taste, particularly if not fed partially with grain. Scientists determined that the gastrointestinal tract of cattle is meant for digesting grass. If cattle are to be fed grain, it must first be inoculated to avoid digestive problems.
Organic beef contains omega3 fats and less fat than regular beef, which is finished with a mixture of molasses, cornhusks, corn, beets, and other ingredients. It is unhealthy and against the law to feed ground animal parts to cattle and any other food animal. The enforcement of this is weak at best and very difficult to enforce.
In fact, two decades ago an English professor warned, that cattle in the UK were fed with ground up parts of other animals and that such practice must be banned immediately. The public never heard from this individual again because lobbyists ensured his silence. We all know what happened a few years later in the UK.
“Industrial” poultry production is, simply put, scandalous but accepted practically in every country as producers can market their products for less and export to many countries quite inexpensively.
Animals by nature, are not meant to live in close proximity to each other, and if forced, they develop disease that producers combat with antibiotics. These drugs enter ultimately the food chain. In fact young people requiring medical treatment today need higher doses to achieve desired results.
Fish and even shrimp have not been immune to industrial scale operations. Norway was the first country to “farm” salmon in its fjords, and after much research companies started marketing their uniform sized salmon in Europe and North America. Canada, the U S A, and Chile are the largest farmed salmon producers in the world. Farmed salmon swim in confined water and literally swim in their own faeces as underwater currents do not always carry away debris, and therefore all farmed salmon must be inoculated against a number of diseases and fed industrial feeds consisting of small oily fish, carrots, and other ingredients. It takes two kilograms of oily fish, that mush be caught, to fatten salmon by one kilogram. It would be more beneficial nutritionally to eat the oily fish than salmon, but the latter has a more appealing look and is easier to eat. Recent scientific papers claim to have found unacceptably high toxins in farmed salmon, but it is questionable how the research was conducted, and to what end. One thing is clear, farmed salmon is softer in texture, tastes less intense than wild, and troll-caught salmon. Gourmets always preferred natural salmon to farmed salmon, regardless of country of origin.
Industrialists started “farming” shrimp too. In many tropical and subtropical countries, shrimp farms thrive. In warm waters, shrimp grow faster than in cold, but their taste and texture leave a lot to be desired. Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and China are large-scale shrimp farmers.
Catfish farms in southern U S A have been operating for a long time and claim to produce fine fish. They are corn fed and taste completely different to their natural counterparts. Natural catfish smell and taste muddy, corn fed farmed catfish lack that unpleasant and off-putting muddy flavour, but have a flabby texture.
The annual fish and shellfish consumption is 140 million metric tonnes, of which 1/3 come from fish farms. As scientists extolled the benefits of fish over meat, consumption increased but oceans harvesting capacity remains constant. Since modern fishing fleets equipped with the latest electronic equipment can locate even small schools of fish, many species are being fished out of existence.
Cod, once abundant in North Atlantic waters off Newfoundland, has effectively been fished to near extinction. Other species are also in danger.
Fish farming fills a gap in demand, but its efficacy is questionable at best. Global average protein consumption in 2002 was fish 6 kilograms, chicken 35, beef 31, and pork 29. Lamb, goat and other proteins have not been covered statistically, but represent significant amounts, particularly in Islamic countries.
Ultimately, it must be stated that human intervention in natural food production increased yields, reducing cost per unit. Industrial scale food tastes less intense, is less satisfying, and has a softer texture than organic food. People tend to eat more “industrial” food to compensate for lack of taste of same and this possibly leads to obesity as we now see. It is also important to point out that, soft drink consumption contributes to obesity. Soft drinks contain 12 percent sugar. Considering then that a 300 ml can has 36 gram of sugar (3 ½ tablespoons) you can easily calculate how many “empty” calories are consumed daily at great expense but of little nutritional value.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu