BACKGROUND Before the advent of the modern day confinement system where pigs are kept separated in metal cages that allow for no movement, pasture was an absolute essential for a successful swine operation. In recent years there has been a growing trend amongst farmers in Europe and the US who are opting for pasturing pigs for both welfare reasons and also to supply these niche markets.
Factory farmed pigs are often fed cheap soya, corn and grain, which is not their natural food source. In fact, the digestive system of the pig is not able to handle large amounts of grain and corn. In addition to this, the feed has antibiotics and hormones routinely added to it to increase the size of the pigs and the amount of pigs that can be sold as meat. The incorrect feeding of pigs actually increases their need for antibiotics due to the health issues that arise.
Legally the pig’s feed can contain the hair, skin, blood, intestines and hooves of other dead animals. All these components fall under the label of ‘animal protein products’ which enables farmers to get away with it. In light of the ‘mad cow’ disease saga that unfolded some years ago, cows are no longer fed dead cattle indiscriminately. However, pigs are often still fed dead pig carcasses and even dead cow carcasses.
Wild pigs naturally feed on grass, bushes, alfalfa, tubers. Free range pigs which are fed their natural diet may grow a bit slower and be leaner than factory farmed pigs, but at the end of the day this is actually a benefit to the consumer who will be eating meat of a better fat and protein composition.
One study followed the natural diet of wild pigs in the French Alps. It found that the pigs ate mainly roots, fleshy fruit and green plants. Other matter that they ate much less frequently included nuts, corn, soil, earthworms and mushrooms.
Constant antibiotic use in factory-farmed pigs leads to antibiotic-resistant 'super bugs'. The scientific community actually agrees on this topic, but the meat industry is quick to deny this because they do not want their profit to be reduced. In 1989, the American Institute of Medicine stated that the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in factory farms was affecting the ability of these drugs to protect human health. With frequent consumption of meat that has residues of antibiotics; the body will become resistant to these types of antibiotics. The antibiotic resistant strains of pathogens can also be passed to humans through the consumption of these animal products.
In 1997, the World Health Organization banned the non-therapeutic, routine use of antibiotics on livestock. Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany and others have complied with this but in America and less developed countries, like South Africa have not.
In South Africa there is no regulation process to test antibiotic residue in meat products. This means that antibiotics can be misused and are often put into the animals' food. Another form of antibiotic use is through injections for general infections and through topical creams.
Antibiotics in factory-farming are also used to increase the growth of the pigs. This increases meat production, but only slightly. One study showed that by eliminating the routine use of antibiotics in animals feed; pork production would only decrease by about 2%. It seems logical that this would have a negligible impact on overall protein consumption and would in fact benefit human and animal health.
Animals which are given freedom, sunlight, fresh air and their natural food source will be a healthy weight and will have stronger immune systems, therefore needing less (or no) antibiotics as they will be able to resist infections.
References: Swartz MN. Committee on Human Risk Assessment of Using Subtherapeutic Antibiotics in Animal Feeds, Institute of Medicine, Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Human Health Risks With the Subtherapeutic Use of Penicillin or Tetracyclines in Animal Feed. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1989
Factory-farmed pigs are routinely given antibiotics to increase their weight and so the meat is not contaminated with any pathogens. Unfortunately this practice has got so out of hand that in America it actually accounts for most of the antibiotics used (including human usage). Despite the use of antibiotics, factory-farmed pigs are actually incubators for pathogens. They are under constant stress and lack exposure to fresh air and sunlight, all of which cause a weakened immune system.
The bacteria MRSA can be life-threatening in people with weak immune systems and evidence shows that factory farms are the source of the growing exposure and infection rate of this bacteria. One study found that about half of Dutch pig farmers, and 39% of Dutch factory-farmed pigs, were carriers of MRSA.
In 2005 there were an estimated 20 incidents of MRSA per month in South African hospitals. One can assume the numbers have grown since then.
Pigs that are fed on a diet of corn, grain and soya will have higher ratios of omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are abundant in our western diet today and have a pro-inflammatory effect on our health. Consuming such meat may contribute to certain inflammatory health conditions.
References: de Neeling AJ, van den Broek MJ, Spalburg EC, van Santen-Verheuvel MG, Dam-Deisz WD, Boshuizen HC, van de Giessen AW, van Duijkeren E, Huijsdens XW.
Studies have suggested that grass-fed animals have higher levels of nutrients like vitamin A, D, E and K. More studies have been done on cattle than on pigs, but one can conclude that similar effects would occur on any farmed animal should it be allowed to live a healthy active life while eating its natural food source.
Studies measuring the fatty acid content in the fat of wild pigs have shown that they tend to be higher in omega 6 fatty acids, perhaps due to their natural food source which sometimes contains nuts and acorns. However, they are not particularly high content sources for both omega fatty acids and the majority of the fatty acids come from saturated fat and the mono-unsaturated fat oleic acid. Oleic acid is often praised for its high antioxidants status and its ability to reduce heart disease, fight against cancer, encourage weight loss and reduce inflammation.
One of the reasons pork has been given a bad name over the years, apart from religious and unethical reasons, is because it tends to have a high saturated fat and cholesterol content. New research in the field of nutrition is now confirming that these are not as bad for our health as previously thought. In fact, saturated fat is essential to the correct functioning of our brain and cholesterol is one of the building blocks of all healthy cells. The advice given to avoid these fats and consume more grains has caused a huge health crisis over the last 3 decades.
Pork and poultry are similar in their nutrient content, with pork containing slightly more nutrients. For lean meat, with lower sodium levels and higher levels of B vitamins, consume pork chops.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1095643398000282; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3992935; http://www.pnas.org/content/87/10/3894.short
Constant antibiotic use in factory-farmed pigs leads to antibiotic-resistant 'super bugs'. The scientific community actually agrees on this topic, but the meat industry is quick to deny this because they do not want their profits to be reduced.Katherine Tudsbury (Nutritional Therapist) View Katherine's Profile
Pigs are very sensitive animals and when they are badly treated, stressed and unhappy they release stress hormones - adrenalin and cortisol - just like humans.
If a pig in inhumanely treated you can rest assured you are going to consume a hefty dose of stress hormones in your bacon.Nicci Robertson (Nutritional Therapist) View Nicci's Profile
Pigs are omnivores and so naturally do and can eat meat and other animal products like eggs. Obviously quality of feed is very important - pigs would naturally get a wide variety of predominantly leafy plants with grasses, fruit, roots, flowers insects and where they can find it, meat.Sara Bilbe (Nutritional Therapist) View Sara's Profile
Free range pork is safer for human consumption, as it is less likely to be contaminated with E.coli. Antibiotics routinely fed to factory farm pork to keep them healthy in their filthy, overcrowded conditions have far-reaching implications.Eleanor Knoesen (Nutritional Therapist) View Eleanor's Profile
South African consumers have the right to know what is going into their bodies. It's no wonder cancer is taking over the world at such a rapid rate - we just have to look at what is going into the foods we eat.Marie Petrelis (Nutritional Therapist) View Marie's Profile
Katherine started Innate Health in 2011, offering Nutrition and Lifestyle consultations in Cape Town focusing on the prevention and cure of chronic, metabolic and degenerative diseases and weight management.(View Katherine's Full Profile)
Daniella is a young and enthusiastic Capetonian student in the field of nutrition. She completed her B.Sc. in Physiology and Psychology from UCT in 2012 and is currently doing her Master's in Personalised Nutrition through the Centre for Nutrition Education and Lifestyle Management (CNELM) in the UK, a qualification which is accredited by Middlesex University. Daniella is focused on becoming a Nutritional Therapist in order to drive individuals to recognise prevention as opposed to cure; and equally find excitement in preparing healthy and tasty food.
Pasture-reared pork is almost nonexistent in South Africa.
There are only a handful of farms producing it; even retailers such as Woolworths (who pride themselves on their animal welfare policies) cannot supply their customers with pasture-reared pork.