Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Feed: Organic or Conventional?

If you've been on any online forums that have to do with food, you've probably seen people arguing about this subject. Organic vs. Normal feed. So, what's the hype? We're going to sift through some evidence, decide which is credible, and hopefully help you decide what is best for your situation!

What is the definition of "organic"?

According to the FDA, farmers labeling foods as "organic" must raise and grow their crops with no herbicides or pesticides,  use manure or compost as fertilizer, and must feed animals feed made from plants matching that description. Organic foods must also be non-GMO (not a genetically modified organism).

Organic Feeds - Common arguments

  • GMOs make animals and people sick
  • Pesticides never leave the plant
  • Organic foods are healthier
  • Conventional farming harms the environment
  • "Normal" feeds contain antibiotics 
  • Pesticides and herbicides leave residue in eggs
  • Animals in conventional farms are treated poorly, better in organic farms

Conventional Feeds - Common arguments

  • It is more practical to use conventional feeds
  • Medicated chick feed can prevent chicks from dying 
  • Conventional feeds can be produced at a much higher rate 
  • There are more viable options with conventional feed
  • Organic is a "fad" food 
  • Pesticides do not hurt the ecosystem much 
With all of this information, we need to be open minded, yet skeptical about the source of people's information. What sources are credible? Let's first eliminate what statements are completely or partially false. 

Statements on Organics

"GMOs make animals and people sick"
There is no credible evidence that GMOs are worse for consumption.
"Organics are healthier"
According to Stanford University, organic foods are not any different from their conventional counterparts nutritionally. Even organicfacts.net, an advocate for organic foods, admits that there is little evidence in favor of the belief that organics have health benefits.
"Normal feeds contain antibiotics"
Some commercial feeds contain antibiotics, though it is closely regulated by the government. Store bought conventional feeds (Purina Layena, Dumor feeds, etc.) do NOT contain antibiotics. Some chick feeds contain small amounts of antibiotics, because chicks are susceptible to many types of bacteria while their immune system is still developing.
"Normal feeds leave pesticide residue in eggs"
There is a pesticide residue on the feed, but not enough to affect the egg.

Statements on Conventional feed

"Organics are a fad"
This is partially untrue, as technically, today's conventional farming developed within the past century. "Organic" farming has taken place throughout most of human history/
"Pesticides do not hurt the ecosystem much"
The chemicals used in farming can be pretty bad for the environment, especially once they reach water. Runoff can be devastating to the ecosystem of ponds and lakes, killing tons of fish at a time. It can take a long time for the ecosystem to recover. 

So what is true?

Now that we've debunked the incredible information, let's go on to the supporting information!

Organics - Supporting Information

"Animals in organic farms are treated better than those in conventional farms"
This is true, for the most part. Organic-raised cattle, goats, sheep, etc. must have access to pasture during the grazing season. Conventional farms have them kept in cramped areas, fed only feed, and unable to perform natural behaviors. Organic chickens cannot be kept in battery cages. When buying animal products at a store, organics are clearly the more ethical choice.

"Pesticides never leave the plant"
This is partially true. If pesticides or herbicides are used on a plant, there will be some residue on the plant when it gets to your table. There is little evidence suggesting that this is very harmful, but many families don't like the thought of it. 

In order to sell your eggs as organic, you must feed your chickens organic feed. Being able to legally consider your eggs organic can get you two more dollars by the dozen of eggs. To many, this is worth an additional $7 on a bag of feed. 

Conventional feeds - Supporting information

"It is more practical to use conventional feeds"
Conventional feed is much, much cheaper. Because the risk is incredibly low and possibly nonexistant, many chicken owners find that it makes more sense to use conventional feeds (without antibiotics). 
"Medicated chick feed saves lives"
It is not uncommon for chicks to die. It's natural selection, the ones with the strongest immune systems live to reproduce. Unfortunately, when you only have six chicks, for of them getting sick and dying means a big loss. Medicated chick feed and assure that the most possible chicks will survive. By the time they lay an egg or are ready to be processed, the antibiotics are long out of their system. 
"There are more viable options with conventional feed"
In conventional feed, there are a lot more brands to choose from, with more competitive prices. If you feel that one company does not have proper nutrition, there are tons of other options in the same feed store. 

Conclusion: Organic or Conventional?

As far as whether or not organic food is better for you? The answer is most likely no. Raising your chickens solely on organic feed will most likely not benefit them or you as opposed to feeding them conventional feed. However, choosing organics over conventional foods is much better for the environment and much more ethical. Organic feeds have not contributed as much to the pollution of aquatic ecosystems, and other organic foods do not contribute to animal cruelty. Buying organic is a  decision of ethics, rather than health. Ultimately, it is your decision as to what is best for your family and your livestock. Both organic and conventional feeds are viable, realistic options. 

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