5 On Your Side

Experts: Specially-raised meats no safer to eat

Posted May 23, 2011

"Organic," "free range," "hormone free" are the buzzwords of food, and Draft owner Dean Ogan knows them well! Ogan says they're what customers want. “The most important thing for us is to know where it came from, know who produced it, know the process,” says Ogan.

It's also important to families like KK Manley's. “From what I've seen, it is the healthier option,” says Manley. “I don't always do 100 percent organic, but I do try to buy the best quality meat whenever I can."

Ritchie Roberts is all about quality! The cattle at his Double R Cattle Services Farm near Hillsborough are grass-fed. “We’re really transparent about what we do,” says Roberts. He says because of the time and expense involved, his farm is not certified organic. But he doesn't add hormones or use antibiotics, so he considers his beef near organic. “I know what it's had to eat its whole life, and when you get it on the table, there’s a good, rich, beefy taste to it,” says Roberts.

Most specialty meats are more expensive than conventional meats, but are they safer or more nutritious? Are they worth the added cost?

“It's not a healthier alternative,” says Dr. Dana Hanson, a meat specialist in North Carolina State University's Food Science Department. “Are there hormones in organic meat? Are there hormones in conventionally produced product? The answer is yes to both of them,” says Hanson.

That's because hormones occur naturally. But while they can not be added to poultry or pigs, they are sometimes implanted in cattle so that they grow faster and leaner. Hanson says when you compare beef from cattle raised with and without added hormones, the hormone difference is miniscule. “It would be like less than a quarter ounce of water in an Olympic size swimming pool which is about 600,000 gallons,” says Hanson. “So we're talking very minute levels and levels that really don't have any impact on the consumer's health.”

The USDA, FDA and the World Health Organization all say hormone-implanted meat is safe.

As for antibiotics used to keep animals healthy and help them use food more efficiently, recent USDA tests of animal tissue, found less than 6 percent had measurable antibiotic residue.

“I think there is some misconception that animal producers are exposing the consumer to a high risk – an undo risk – with antibiotic residues, and that's just not the case,” says Hanson.

Why pay more for organic meats? Why pay more for organic meats?

He says that the number one health concern with meat is making sure it’s cooked enough to kill dangerous bacteria, which is something both conventionally and organically produced meats have.

One big difference is cost. A couple of examples we found: Organic chicken breast was a whopping $10.99 per pound. That’s twice as much as the non-organic. Certified USDA organic ground beef is $7.99 a pound, $2.70 cents more per pound than conventional beef. A ribeye at Double R is $16 per pound. That’s $4 per pound more than a conventional ribeye.

So if these meats are equally safe and nutritious, why pay more for organic, near-organic, natural, free-range and antibiotic-free?

The answer may have to do with buying local.

“I know that my beef is all grass-fed and handled correctly and is super good and nutritious for you 'cause I know what goes into it. and I have control of that,” says Roberts. That means consumers then know what they are getting.

“It boils down to that sense of being able to support maybe a local industry and that's really where the benefits of organic come in,” says Hanson.

“We've found it important ourselves and our guests have found it important to know where their food comes from,” says Ogan.

But Hanson’s bottom line on health and safety: “The end result is a healthy food product in either scenario. To say that one is better or more healthy than the other is, quite frankly, a stretch.”

There are also debates about animal treatment, environmental concerns and how antibiotics may impact bacteria strains. But those debates are separate from the nutrition and safety of the meat we ultimately eat.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • lesliehhubbard Jun 1, 2011

    With all due respect, WRAL and Dr. Hanson, the folks at www.eatwild.com would kindly like to disagree with you.

    For general readers, if you want to educate yourself on the nutritional differences btw conventional meats/eggs/milk and grass-fed or pasture raised meats/eggs/milk (and there ARE significant differences in fats content and vitamin contents) you can go to that website (www.eatwild.com), find the "grass-fed basics" link in the left hand column and check it out for yourself. There are easy to read graphs of study results, test results, etc. there. Remember, once upon a time not too long ago, industry affiliated Drs. assured us that smoking cigarettes was perfectly safe, too. You can ignore the problems with conventional meats it you want, but your metabolism and every cell in your body knows the difference, and it cannot ignore them.

  • connie0schultz Jun 1, 2011

    To get further information on why "endocrine disruptors" (hormones in our environment) are dangerous, view this series of videos (8 clips from 2 to 6 minutes long) on YouTube

  • esullivan May 31, 2011

    i agree about the terrible reporting. dangerous, limited view of the implications in how we feed ourselves.

  • connie0schultz May 31, 2011

    Dr. Hanson is right that the hormones are at minute levels but they are terrible powerful and there is a cumulative effct for us at the top of the food chain. Please read "Our Stolen Future" by Dr. Theo Colburn and watch her free DVD called "The Male Predicament." (http://www.endocrinedisruption.org/home.php ) Natural is better/safer - you can take your chances with "factory food".

  • hairyknuckle May 30, 2011

    I agree, this is terrible reporting. Although, it's disappointing that so many others miss the point of organic or grass fed meat--it's not the nutritional value of that meat or conventionally raised meat that is the issue. It's that we're not getting unnatural "extras" with the meat. Cattle were meant to be outside, eating on grass that wasn't hosed down with chemical based herbicides and fertilizers and they weren't meant to be forced into an unnatural rate of growth. But this is what you get when everything about our society steers (no pun intended) us towards higher meat consumption with no thought to the quality of that meat.

  • elismcmillon May 25, 2011

    Really disappointed with this story. 1995 -FDA approved fluoroquinolone antibiotics for poultry. Increased non-theraputic use of these antibiotics led to antibiotic-resistant campylobacter to flourish. 2000 - CDC reported a rapid rise in this strain of campylobacter, which now contaminates most chickens in the US and it's the number one cause of food poisoning in the country. see USDA for more info.

    Next time try looking at the issue with the full facts. Organic meat is costlier because it is isn't raised in factory like conditions and because the market allows the price to be as high as it is. Is it better for you? Absolutely. And it's better for the environment too.

  • FireFaerie May 25, 2011

    "No one really needs a 12-16 oz steak." sillywabbitthepatriot

    Speak for yourself! LOL I love a big 18-20 oz Porterhouse!

  • Cleanup on Aisle Cool May 24, 2011

    Kudos to "gotsomesense" for understanding the Omega3/Omega6 connection to cattle diet. Just like you are what you eat, so are the cows. Read "The Paleo Diet"?

  • geotect May 24, 2011

    If WRAL were more savvy they'd have addressed the issue that a meat specialist from NC State is not a disinterested academician but a spokesman for industrial agriculture. Hanson sidetracked the debate by focusing on hormones and COMPLETELY IGNORED THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF NON-CAFO BEEF! Thumbs down on this story.

  • sillywabbitthepatriot May 24, 2011

    Also, note that beef portions can be twice as much as poultry, fish or pork on a menu. 5 oz servings vs 12 oz (beef).

    No one really needs a 12-16 oz steak.