Why Pastured Pork Is the Healthy Choice
There’s a growing awareness of what real food means, not only for those who produce real food but also for those who consume it. For producers of pastured pork, also known as pasture-raised pork, the end goal is to turn out real food so that consumers get the best nutritional benefits that pork can provide, and this begins with healthy, stress-free animals raised without antibiotics in a natural environment.
True pastured pork refers to pigs that have year-round access to open pastures and are able to feed on a diverse diet of plant and animal foods. Farmers who raise true pastured pork ensure their pigs forage on a variety of foods, such as non-GMO feed, acorns, grass, leaves, roots, and grubs, among other natural foods. Thus, the pigs get a greater amount of nutrients from a species-appropriate diet than they would from eating soy and corn feed, which is more common for CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) pork, or pork from industrial farms. Promoting a natural diet that contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats helps foster healthy animals, and in turn provides us, the consumers, with a flavorful food rich in beneficial, balanced fatty acids. In contrast, pigs that consume by-products and GMO corn and soybean meal with high concentrations of omega-6 fats (known for their inflammatory properties) yield more omega-6 in their meat.
Low-Stress, Healthier Animals
Living and socializing in a natural setting with access to sunlight, grass, water, and shelter from the elements is key to a low-stress life for true pastured pork. Though perhaps perceived to be unaware or unintelligent animals, multiple studies reveal that pigs possess high-level cognitive abilities, as observed in elephants and dolphins, and are social creatures that thrive in small groups. They prefer the company of other pigs and will sleep in communal nests at night. Farms that raise true pastured pork provide a setting where pigs can engage in natural animal behaviors, for example, sows rearing their piglets in spacious shelters with suitable bedding or pigs wallowing in mud baths or rooting for food in the soil. Compared to conventional-raised pork, which are often confined in crowded living conditions and/or in sow gestation and farrowing (birthing) crates, pastured pork range in smaller numbers with access to open spaces to move about. They are also free to develop and grow without antibiotic treatments.
In addition, pastured pigs are exposed to the natural light outside. This natural exposure to sunlight promotes vitamin D in the pork. Again, the health and welfare of pastured pork ties back to the nutritional value of healthy real food. Rearing healthy pigs ultimately provides a food rich with healthy fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Sustainable Farming Practices
By design, producers of pastured pork facilitate sustainable farming practices. Keeping smaller groups of pigs with access to open pastures and proper shelter helps ensure these animals are reared their entire farm life in an ethical manner—many of the independent family farms are so invested in the care of their animals and the environment that they become Animal Welfare Approved, a certification/label that guarantees these family farms meet the highest standards for the humane treatment of animals and best-farming practices for the environment.
These sustainable farming practices on small pastured-pork farms also benefit the public’s health. Smaller farms avoid crowded, unsanitary living conditions that create the need for repeated antibiotic treatments. (The upside: Less exposure to antibiotics decreases instances of drug-resistant bacteria.) Keeping smaller numbers of pastured pork also means less impact to the environment from manure buildup and runoff into lakes, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water.
WFP’s Take-Home Advice
We recognize that there are many food options available and choosing to eat meat or not is a personal choice, even the purchase of conventional meat and dairy products is up to the individual. However, understanding the nutritional value of real foods that are produced in an ethical manner and choosing to eat them certainly helps to optimize good health. When choosing real foods like pastured pork, here are a few tips:
- Find local independent family farms that raise and sell pastured pork. Localharvest.org and eatwild.com are great resources for finding farms in your area. Many local pastured-pork producers make their products available at Farmers’ Markets and they also endeavor to preserve the longevity of heritage hog breeds.
- We’re proud to partner with Richardson Farms. To learn more about the benefits of their pastured pork and for home delivery (in the Austin-area) of this high-quality product, see our WFP Farm Food Delivery Online Store.
- You may not see “pastured pork” on the packaging because it’s not a true certification label. The term pastured pork is usually synonymous with pork produced on small, local independent farms. If you are unable to find pastured pork at a Farmers’ Market or at a natural health food store, look for the term Organic and/or the following packaging terms when purchasing pork because these terms have a lot of value:
- No antibiotics
- No supplemental growth promotants used (Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pork; however, the beta-agonist growth promotant called ractopamine is FDA-approved and is used by some pork producers to initiate muscle and weight gain in their pigs.)
- No gestation or farrowing (birthing) crates
- No animal by-products in the feed or GMO soy/corn feed
- Animals raised with access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean drinking water, and suitable sunlight
- Watch for the label natural or all natural: USDA Natural Standards by definition only prohibit the use of artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemicals and require minimal meat processing. However, the term natural does not encompass the same living and health standards as true pasture-raised pork or organic pork.
Be sure to watch for our upcoming WFP Pastured Pork YouTube video, where Dr. Jeremy Wiseman tours Richardson Farms, a local independent family farm, to learn how they raise and produce their true pastured pork.
Sources and References:
Not Just the Cows: Pastured Pork and Poultry. paeloleap.com. Retrieved July 6, 2017 from https://paleoleap.com/just-cows-pastured-pork-poultry/
Watson, M. (February 19, 2017). What Is Pastured Pork? The Ins and Outs of Pastured Pork. thespruce.com. Retrieved July 5, 2017 from https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-pastured-pork-2216585
Rodgers, D. 5 Reasons to Switch to Pastured Pork. robbwolf.com. Retrieved June 5, 2017 from https://robbwolf.com/2014/10/09/5-reasons-switch-pastured-pork/
More About Pigs: The Underestimated Animal.humanesociety.org. Retrieved June 6, 2017 from http://m.humanesociety.org/animals/pigs/pigs_more.html
Consumer Reports: Animal Welfare Approved.greenerchoices.org. Retrieved June 6, 2017 from http://greenerchoices.org/2016/11/16/awa-label-review/
Charles, D. (2015, August 14). A Muscle Drug for Pigs Comes Out of the Shadows. npr.org. Retrieved June 11, 2017 from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/14/432102733/a-muscle-drug-for-pigs-comes-out-of-the-shadows
Organic vs. Natural Pork: What’s the Difference? (December 12, 2001). thepigsite.com. Retrieved June 12, 2017 http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/795/organic-vs-natural-pork-what39s-the-difference/