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GMO Free

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Humanely Raised

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No Antibiotics

We, of course, like to point out that we don’t use antibiotics in the production of the foods we raise. Why is this important? Weren’t antibiotics deemed a miracle drug that proved to be a powerful life-saving tool when they first became available?

Yes, that is true, and I’ll even go so far as to say they are still a major lifesaver in human medical care eighty years later. However, today we’ll talk about how they have been abused and why it’s crucial that we limit their use to human medicine.

The first known antibiotic, dubbed penicillin, was discovered accidentally by a researcher named Alexander Fleming in 1928.  Though discovered in the twenties, it wasn’t widely propagated until the 1940’s when—after saving lives miraculously in instances like the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire—the US government invested in its production to be used on the war front in WWII.

It’s hard for us to imagine a world before antibiotics. Everything from paper cuts to childbirth had the potential to kill via bacterial infection. Even minor wounds to soldiers in warfare—upon becoming bacterially infected—were cause for amputations, extreme illness, and death, which is why the government had interests in the mass production of penicillin.

Penicillin was quickly followed by other antibiotics such as aureomycin, tetracycline, and the like—and it quickly became a race between pharmaceutical companies in the late 1940’s to develop the next family of antibiotics that could then be patented. The formula for penicillin was proprietary from the beginning—being seen as a product for the greater good of society—but pharmaceutical companies, of course, each wanted their own piece of the pie.

In 1948, a researcher named Thomas Jukes, who specialized in animal nutrition working for Lederle Laboratories, discovered (again, by accident) a ground-breaking new twist to antibiotic use. In an effort to find new ways to cut costs for poultry farmers following the sharp decrease in demand post-WWII, research entailed using laboratory waste used in making antibiotics as a supplement in chicken feed. Having had indications suggesting growth-promoter properties, Jukes performed one of the first controlled research projects on chickens and found the group fed antibiotic waste to be markedly bigger at the end of the 25-day feeding trial, discovering the growth-promoter properties of feeding antibiotics to animals.

This discovery opened a whole new frontier for the pharmaceutical industry in terms of antibiotic use and a tremendous new market for growth promoters in animal agriculture. It also made for an unprecedented hubristic attitude in the world of animal agriculture, which in turn, led to the confinement animal feeding operation (CAFO’s) of today. But the chicken had yet to come home to roost (pun intended).

In the early years of antibiotics as a growth promoter the common mentality among both manufacturers and farmers was “if a little is good, more is better”, and growth promoter antibiotics were largely unregulated which resulted in heavy use, inexact dosages, and the like. Regulators, being enamored along with the industry, looked the other way and didn’t interfere. Remember, this was the era when the chemical DDT was considered a marvelous and life-changing invention.

However, even early on there was concern among a few scientists about the prospect of antibiotic resistance. In his 1945 Nobel prize acceptance speech, Alexander Fleming warned that the development of resistance had the potential to ruin the miracle of antibiotics. Resistance is the term used to describe the ability of bacteria to mutate and overcome the proficiency of antibiotics. The thesis is that an application of antibiotics never kills all the bacteria, allowing the survivors to gain genetic resistance not only to that particular antibiotic, but others antibiotics as well.

And so throughout the sixties and into the early seventies, only a few scientists were warning of antibiotic resistance, and already there were cases of mass bacterial outbreaks where antibiotics proved largely ineffective—including a 1967 stomach bug in Yorkshire, England where 15 babies and young children died for lack of effective and timely antibiotic treatment due to resistance.

It wasn’t until 1974 that an independent study was performed in Boston to measure how quickly resistance is obtained. Participating in the study was the Downing family from Boston, who had ten children and a small farmstead. The researcher in charge of the study, Dr. Stuart Levy, designed it to include six batches of young chickens, half being fed antibiotic-free and half fed growth-promoter antibiotics. The oldest Downing child, Mary—a sophomore in college—cared for the birds, which were housed in the Downing’s barn in separate pens 50 feet apart. A precise chore routine was adopted where the antibiotic-free birds were fed and cared for first, and then the antibiotic flocks after a change of boots and washing of hands. Each flock was swabbed once a week, as well as fecal swabs of each of the Downing family—and a number of neighbors as well—with the objective of learning how quickly antibiotic resistance spread through the flocks, as well as the people participating in the study.

The results came quickly. Samples taken at the beginning of the experiment showed very few bacteria in the guts of the chickens, family, or neighbors containing defenses against tetracycline (the drug used in the chicken feed). That was to be expected, given the random roulette of mutation. But within 36 hours, those bacteria multiplied in the antibiotic flock, but the drug-free flocks remained clean for a few weeks longer.

Then things changed. First the bacteria in the antibiotic-fed flock became resistant to multiple drugs, including other families of antibiotics like sulfas, streptomycin, etc. Then the multidrug-resistant bacteria appeared in the flocks that never received antibiotics and had no contact with the birds that did. And soon after, the same multidrug resistance showed up in the Downing’s fecal samples.

To the disappointment of his sponsors, Levy had demonstrated what they had hoped to disprove. Even though the feed contained just tiny doses of antibiotics, those doses selected resistant bacteria—which not only flourished in the animal’s systems, but left the animals, moved through the farm’s environment, and entered the systems of other animals and of humans in close proximity (but did not spread to any of the neighbors—which served as the control group). This served to reinforce some of the early scientists concerns that these altered bacteria were an untrackable, unpredictable form of pollution.

In her comprehensive book, Big Chicken, Maryn Mckenna (where I learned much of what is written in this article) eloquently relates not only the facts given above, but also tells the story of years and decades of industry and regulator pushback against the idea of restricting farm-use antibiotics—even into the 2000’s. She shares stories of horrible illnesses and epidemic-proportion bacterial outbreaks costing the lives of people who were unknowingly harboring antibiotic resistance, but the drug-resistant bacteria were quietly transmitted from farm to food to consumer, even to the point of being traceable by epidemiologists. The resulting reports and database entries, by the way, were then ignored and buried by regulators and industry leaders.

In the book, Mckenna does an outstanding job of presenting antibiotic resistance for what it is, a silent threatening contaminant that moves through a largely unaware society, looking for its next victim or victims. Even today, it’s not a subject well-covered by the media, largely due to the pharmaceutical interests in keeping it hush.

And this is where we find ourselves today, fifty years later. Although farm and food related antibiotic use has garnered a far more attention in recent times than any time in history, they are still being widely used in the poultry, pork, and beef industries, both as growth-promoters and as preventative doses to prevent illness on factory farms. Several years ago, some of the major poultry providers—including Perdue—made a PR effort in the direction of “antibiotic-free.” The reason I say a PR (public relations) effort, is because it was driven, at least in part, by an increasing concern among the people regarding human-medical-use antibiotics used in agriculture and the subsequent risk of antibiotic resistance.

Borne out of that effort—which was also driven by recognition within the industry that growth-promoter antibiotics were losing their effect—came a family of drugs called “ionophores”, which were not quite the typical antibiotic, were not classified as an antibiotic (conveniently?), but were essentially an industry antidote to traditional antibiotics. However, it allowed the meat industry to advertise their product as “antibiotic-free” without taking the risk of losing production due to the loss of both growth-promoter and preventative antibiotics. Granted, ionophores were not used—at least not as heavily—on humans, but that doesn’t change the farce of “antibiotic-free” in the meat industry.

Vaccines have also been adopted in the meat industries as a sort of replacement for sub-therapeutic antibiotics. Modern vaccines—including mRNA technology —has been used increasingly in recent years as a solution to the rising pushback—and loss of effectiveness—against antibiotics used in meat production.  

To summarize, the discovery of antibiotics changed life as we know to a degree we cannot imagine, mitigating risk of bacterial infection astonishingly. However, the advent of antibiotics used in animal agriculture quickly threatened the efficacy of human-use antibiotics due to rapid rise of resistance to early antibiotics—and even faster, to other families of antibiotics. From the mid-1940’s into the 2000’s the meat industries, pharmaceutical companies, and even regulators ignored and repressed concerns involving the threat of antibiotic resistance. Despite attempts and posturing of certain players in the meat industries, even today it appears as if the mass-producing meat purveyors are unwilling and/or unable to completely absolve themselves from antibiotics in the production of human food, which only furthers the hazard of superbug infections that are resistant to nearly all common medical-use antibiotics.

Until the industry becomes willing to abandon its intense confinement production model, I don’t see the antibiotic story changing. However, the upside to this is that farmers who are willing to adopt a more natural template like the outdoor pasture-based model can completely eschew antibiotics, which is the grassroots future to clean eating for those who know and care about the antibiotic issue.

At Pasture to Fork, we are unwavering in our stance against using antibiotics to produce your food. While we believe the risk of regularly consuming antibiotics is great enough for adults, it’s even greater for children, and investing in future generations is paramount in our opinion. And that’s The View from the Country.

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100% Grassfed

In our experience, we believe the reputation of grass-fed beef being tough or gamey is a result of poor production practices and/or the wrong beef genetics. We know that the combination of good grass-based beef genetics, well-managed grasses kept in optimal growth via rotational grazing, low-stress cattle handling techniques, and harvesting at the optimum stage will result in succulent, tender beef that makes for a gourmet dining experience. The same is true for dairy products from 100% grassfed cows.

That said, properly raising 100% grassfed beef or dairy does not mean we merely turn the cattle out to pasture and allow them to eat grass. Not only does that type of lackadaisical continuous grazing destroy grasslands due to selective grazing of palatable plants while allowing undesirable plants to go to seed and reproduce, but neither will the resulting beef or dairy be of optimal quality. Well raised grassfed beef and dairy is almost always raised in a managed grazing system where the cattle are moved to fresh grass frequently. This both allows them access to grasses that have been allowed to grow to optimal quality and palatability for a time, but it also removes them from the soiled manured area where they were, which drastically increases animal health by removing the likelihood of re-ingesting parasite larvae.

And it's not just a boon to cattle health but is good for the land as well.

When grasses are grazed (pruning is good for plants) but then allowed a rest and regrowth period rather than being pruned again the following day, they flourish, spread out, and fill in any voids in the plant cover (covering the soil more fully), which then allows the soil to stay cooler and more productive, which in turn encourages beneficial soil life like earthworms, who in turn help to increase soil mineralization, which in turn helps the grasses be more nutritious, which helps the animals to be healthier and your food to be more flavorful and nutrient-dense. I know that's an improperly long sentence but see how it creates a cycle that continues to benefit the next phase of the cycle.

We believe locally produced beef raised on well-managed grassland is the viable solution to the rising concerns for human health, ecological damage, and animal welfare that increasingly plague status quo beef and dairy production. Concerns that, by the way, stem from the industrialization of cattle production via animal confinement in feedlots and the practice of feeding concentrated grains for maximum short-term production (and monetary gain, only not for the eater).

What’s more, today’s status quo cattle farming is centered not only around concentrated feeds, but also genetically modified crops—corn and soybeans. There are a growing number of people who are very concerned about the use of genetically modified annual crops for food animals. Annual crop production requires a tremendous amount of water and fossil fuel—and is vastly damaging to the ecosystem. In the US, fertile topsoil is being swept and washed away 10 times faster than it is being replenished.

I should mention that certified organic beef and dairy does not necessarily mean it's grass-fed, and grass-fed does not equal organic. The vast majority of “certified organic” beef on supermarket shelves comes from feedlots where grain is the number one ration component. At Pasture to Fork, we’re adamant about 100% grass-fed dairy and grass-fed grass-finished beef. No grain ever. And we're not certified organic, but neither do we use any chemicals on our farm.

Cattle simply were not created to be the grain consumers modern agriculture forces them to be. Grass-fed beef contains 2-5 times more omega-3s and 2-3 times more Conjugated Linoleic Acid (a polyunsaturated fat that’s high in antioxidants and protects against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer). Why is this? Because it’s produced in an environment natural to cattle. In addition, the extraordinarily higher antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral content of grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed beef is nothing to scoff at. Interestingly though, mainstream organic rarely differentiates itself from a nutritional viewpoint, and rarely mentions the fact that it's not completely grassfed.

The beauty of raising beef on pasture is that cattle are inherently healthy in their natural habitat, which eliminates the need of genetically modified concentrated feeds, antibiotics, or synthetic hormones. In a well-managed pastoral system, the grass and cattle complement one another, and causing the evils of environmental damage, cruelty to animals, and unhealthy food to literally disappear. The lack of guilt in grass-fed beef and dairy provides not only foods you can feel good about but offers a delightfully memorable eating experience as well.

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Hormone Free

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Beyond Organic

At Pasture to Fork, we believe truly organic food production is more about the producer’s emotions, thoughts, and worldview—along with the scrutinizing eyes and probing questions of his purchasing constituents—than it is about a pass/fail certification process that can be fudged or a set of rules that can be bent. Which is to say you can learn more about me by seeing my reading material (which indicates my interests and worldview) than having me fill out a bunch of forms.

In our view, organic certification is only beneficial when there’s distance between the farm and the plate—or producer and consumer. Even then, it’s only as good as the integrity of the farmer and his organic inspector. Inspectors, like the rest of us, are humans prone to favor or disfavor their constituents based on personality, mood, like or dislike of individuals, and interpretation of the law. In reality, certified organic is a paper-thin trust based on the vagaries of the National Organic Program (NOP) as lawmaker, third party inspection agencies as enforcer, and the individual inspector as interpreter.

Who will we trust? A neighbor whose farm we can visit and pointed questions ask, or a paper-thin label based on the pass/fail system?

To read the full essay on our beyond-organic philosophy, click here.

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Pastured and Woodlot Raised Pork

Pasture and woodlot raised pork. Even though organic pork is a hard find, we’ll still visit the subject here. Pigs, like chickens, are omnivores, which means they consume both animal and plant derived foods. Omnivores are single stomached creatures (like humans), and can handle grain much easier than multi-stomached herbivores. Therefore both hogs and chickens were the first food animals to be pressed into mass production by modern vertically integrated agriculture. Pigs are inquisitive, active, and extremely hardy animals that love the outdoors. To confine them to an indoor environment is unnatural even under the best of conditions. This is why certified organic pork never gained traction, because the confinement model is too unnatural to successfully raise hogs indoors in the environment without the props of antibiotics and growth hormones. Like chicken, the outdoor environs of sunshine, fresh air, unlimited exercise, etc. make all the difference in the beyond organic model, whether it be certified organic or not. Similar also to chicken is chemical-free GMO-free feed from a local source that is basically organic, just not certified.

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Pastured Chicken

Organic chicken in the supermarket is raised in the exact same indoor production model as non-organic. The only difference is that the conventional grain rations have been replaced with certified organic grain (of which some ingredients are imported), the absence of growth promoter antibiotics in the ration, and slightly more square footage per bird. To clarify, there’s no grass, no fresh air, no foraging for insects, and minimal exercise. We believe the five flavor-enhancing factors of truly pastured poultry are: unlimited exercise, fresh greens/grass, abundant fresh air, sunshine, and minimal stress (small groups coupled with humane treatment). Of course, the absence of antibiotics, chemicals, and GMO’s in the diet play a role, but these five factors make the prevailing difference. In lieu of certified organic feed from the greater organic industry, we partner with a small family owned mill in Berks county for chemical-free GMO-free feed that’s basically organic, just not certified.

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Since the mid-1980's, soybean farming and subsequently, their use in animal feeds, have risen astronomically. In 1985, after 20-ish years of feeding processed animal wastes in the beef feedlot industry, mad cow disease raised its ugly head in the UK and other places in the world. This was related, of course) to the unnatural practice of feeding animal proteins to herbivores as presented by the scientific agro-industrial world. With the advent of mad cow disease, and the subsequent scare and eradication of many herds of cattle in the UK, meat and bone meal, the most common protein used in feeds for omnivores (hogs and chickens) was outlawed in the US and other places in the world. Conveniently, soybean meal was the go-to protein and soybean farming took its place alongside corn as one of the most propagated crops in the western world. 

Today, however, upwards of 95% of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified to resist to human-gut-destroyer herbicide Glyphosate. This means that soybeans are not killed when sprayed with glyphosate, whereas common weeds are. So not only are non-organic soybeans genetically modified, but they are heavily sprayed with glyphosate as well.

While we have used GMO-free and chemical-free soy products in animal feeds in the past, we have over time become convinced that not only is it not healthy for animals, but even GMO-free soy acts as an inhibitor to vitamins and minerals does affect the quality of the meat from soy-fed animals. Therefore, we have phased out all soy in our animals' feeds to ensure that your food is as healthy and nutritious as possible.

While much has been written about the harm and/or good of soy products, the overriding "good" factor cited is usually that many oriental cultures consume soy freely. While that statement in itself is not quite true, it is true that the Chinese use soy to some extent. However, their more traditional culture has also retained the knowledge of how to presoak or ferment soybeans in order to break down the phytic acids that are harmful to the human gut. For more information, check out Myths & Truths About Soy.

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Sugar Free

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No Herbicides or Pesticides

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no mRNA vaccines

In a time when mRNA vaccines are starting to be used in conventional animal agriculture, we want you to know that we're adamantly opposed to any and all vaccines. We believe in God's design for the optimal health of the universe, and certainly do not think that includes vaccinating our food animals.

We raise all our animals outdoors in their natural environment and know that constitutes into optimal health that does not need vaccines or any other unnatural intervention. Producing meat and dairy products in this manner allows us to bring you food that is not only vaccine-free but is arguably of superior quality as well.

Our basic thesis is this, "When we refuse to vaccinate our kids, why should we vaccinate your food?"

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citric acid free

Did you know that the vast majority of meat on the market in the United States has been sprayed with citric acid? USDA slaughterhouses must--per USDA guidelines--use a disinfectant to wash down carcasses after slaughter, and the go-to disinfectant is citric acid. While there is an allowance made to substitute citric acid with apple cider vinegar, it seems only the smaller more-customer-friendly USDA plants are even interested in using this alternative. But citric acid is not only used at slaughter, most butchers and meat markets also use a citric acid solution on cuts of fresh meat as a color preservative.

This brings us to the question of, what is citric acid? Originally, citric acid was a natural compound made from lemon juice, usually imported from Italy. But proving to be an excellent preservative, this of course was not a reliable or efficient source given the amount of fruit (not to mention cost) required to make a relatively small amount of citric acid. This led, of course, to the "discovery" of manufactured (synthetic) citric acid, which has no connection to citric fruit. Being a natural skeptic, especially of manufactured foods, I'm suspicious that the manufactured product dubbed citric acid, having no real connection to natural citric acid, is labeled as such to further consumer confidence.

Synthetic citric acid is a manufactured product commonly used as a food preservative or flavor enhancer and is made from using the black mold Aspergillus niger. This particular strain of black mold is a mutant strain, which is to say it has mutated from its parent stock and is a bit of a wild card. The mold is then fed sugars which are derived from corn (corn syrup) and unless it is specifically labeled as non-GMO, it is usually made from genetically modified corn. Thus, we have both the mold and the GMO allergens in one neat package. Yum! Does this sound like something we want sprayed on our foods?

As I mentioned earlier, USDA guidelines allow for the use of apple cider vinegar to replace citric acid, but only for red meat. This means any and all chicken or turkey that is processed USDA, organic or otherwise, is sprayed or soaked in citric acid, which probably accounts for upward of 98% of all chicken consumed in the United States.

While researching for this article and finding what I did about manufactured citric acid being derived from black mold, the question came to mind if perhaps this is the reason why so many mold allergens exist today. It has boggled my mind as to why so many of my generation cannot abide in these old stone homes, for example, (due to mold) that their parents and grandparents lived in for many years with no problems. Esther and I have asked this question many times, why has mold become such a great health challenge today, when it didn't seem to affect previous generations? Is it due to a weakened state of health in the younger generation? Do strains of mold exist that didn't 10, 20, 30 years ago? Maybe some of both, I don't know. However, I find it plausible that the widespread consumption of a mutant black mold could create an allergen that didn't exist prior to manufactured citric acid. Isn't it reasonable to think that if we eat black mold, we could become allergic to it, and to other strains of mold in our environment that didn't bother previous generations?

Because we've opted out of USDA oversight, we're able to provide meat that has not been sprayed down with citric acid. Of course, this puts us at odds with food police, but we're adamant about avoiding not only GMOs, but any other forms of harmful ingredients in the provenance you trust us with. In addition to not allowing GMOs in the production phase as animal feed, we also eschew it in the butchering and processing phase by using a non-USDA local family-owned butcher whom we have a strong working relationship with. If this puts us on the wrong side of the food police, so be it. We don't know otherwise than to maintain our values, and to provide you with food you can trust.

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