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organic living journey organic vs regular pork

The following is part of an Organic Guest Post Series written by Amy, a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

After last week’s mind boggling investigation into nitrites in pork, I thought it would be a good idea to find out just exactly what the difference is between organic pork and conventional pork.  Let me say this up front though, our whole discussion about nitrites and nitrates is how the meat is cured.  It is a completely separate issue from whether or not you want to purchase organic pork as you can get either organic or conventional pork with or without nitrites.  So, what are you paying for when you buy organic pork and is it worth the extra expense?

Just like in chickens, the FDA doesn’t allow hormone usage in pigs.  So when you see “No Hormones Used,” know that it is just marketing.

Pigs are omnivores.  They can eat plants and animals.  They are foraging animals and like to eat grasses, leaves, roots and, according to all the jokes my mom has been getting since she had a heart valve replaced with a pig valve, they like acorns a lot.  They also like fruits and flowers.  My images of pigs go back to reading Charlotte’s Web and thinking of the slop that Templeton, the rat, liked to pilfer.  From what I’ve heard, pigs will eat just about anything.

In industrial farms pigs are raised in confinement.  Their feed is most likely made up of corn and soybeans which have most likely been genetically modified (especially since non-GMO feed is so much harder to find and thus so much more expensive.)

When you buy organic pork, you are getting a pig whose diet was without any genetically modified ingredients.  The pigs might still be eating soybeans or corn, but they won’t be genetically modified.  Also, their feed is grown without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  With chickens and cows, a diet of mainly soybeans and corn isn’t the best, but with pigs, from all I can find, it doesn’t seem to be detrimental since their stomachs are designed to handle all types of food.

In conventional pig farms antibiotics can be used, but animals must be withdrawn from the slaughter line until there is no longer antibiotics residue in the meat.

Organic pork is from pigs who have never been given antibiotics.  Do you wonder why we keep bringing this up?  I was reminded again when reading an article by Michael Pollan.  It is estimated that 70% of antibiotics used in our country are given to animals on factory farms.  These antibiotics are absolutely necessary for these animals to keep infectious diseases at bay because of their living conditions.  However, the downside of this massive antibiotic usage is still unfolding.  To put it simply, one of the biggest concerns is that humans are contracting strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.  These bacterial strains have been found on pig farms.  The thinking is that they have developed as the bacteria have mutated in response to the over usage of antibiotics.  Bottom-line, when we can avoid the overuse of antibiotics both personally and in the animals we eat, it is a good, good thing for everybody.

Now this is a fun topic.  Apparently, pigs are apt to get worms.  Conventional pigs are given meds to kill these worms.  Some say that these medications are hazardous not only to the environment, but are also so strong that the pigs must be withdrawn from being slaughtered for 30 days or it could poison those who eat the pork.  Nice, hey?

In order to be classified as organic, pigs are not allowed to be given those medications.  According to Iowa State University, this drives up the cost of organic pork because:  “Under organic regulations, pigs must be raised without synthetic parasite control and will probably develop parasites. This will slow the rate of gain, and increase required feed; thereby lowering feed efficiency. The price of organic feeds is higher than conventional feeds.”  So, in order to fatten up pigs with worms, you have to feed them more, and the organic food you are feeding them is more expensive than the regular feed.  It’s interesting to see just why all of this costs more, isn’t it?  Another option is that the pigs can be treated for worms with natural methods like garlic and rosemary in their feed.

Pastured Pork
Since pigs are omnivores and can eat anything, why is pastured pork such a big deal?  There is some fascinating debate here.  Some say that just because pigs that are allowed to root around in a field it doesn’t really mean that they are gaining anything, in fact, they think it increases their risks of disease.  Others think it is a step closer to the way things were meant to be.  I’ll let you decide how important it is to you.

There is definitely benefit to purchasing organic pork, but I’m intrigued by watching the Biggest Loser about turkey bacon and sausage.  Is it a better alternative?  We’ll look at that next week!  And as always, I’d love to learn from you all.  I am no expert on pigs (and pretty okay with that fact!), but I’m always willing to learn more from my fellow travelers on this road to being better stewards of our bodies and our earth.

    • J

      Fascinating article, thanks for sharing it. Helping me confirm that for me, going vegetarian 6 months ago was a great decision :)

    • Lana

      I believe the best answer is to not eat pork at all for reasons not spelled out here. This is an area where we have really struggled because we like it and we do not like the turkey substitutes at all.

      • Debbie

        I agree wholeheartedly. I’m not a vegetarian, but try to eat healthy and buy some items organic.It wasn’t much of a struggle to leave pork behind even though I like BBQ as much as the next person. But the images are haunting.

    • katkoupon

      We LOVE pastured pork! We only eat it about once a week because it’s hard to get more than that. It reminds my husband and me of pork we used to eat when we were little, real sausage we call it. I also like to buy pastured pork to help support local, sustainable farms as much as we can. But since it is limited, I still fill in with some conventional, for now. I was happy to see newly added Applegate sausage at Kroger this week. They have several types, from classic pork to chicken and apple. I think it was $5.99 for 1 lb. Maybe we’ll get lucky and can find bulk pastured pork.

      As for the nitrites and nitrates, I know there is a lot of conflicting information out there. One interesting thing I did read from Chris Kresser is that maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of nitrites/ates since the majority of our exposure is endogenous (salivary nitrite accounts for 70-90% of our total nitrite exposure), and about 93% of nitrites we get from food comes from vegetables. “Even if nitrites were harmful, cured meats are not a significant source,
      as the USDA only allows 120 parts per million in hot dogs and bacon. Also, during the curing process, most of the nitrite forms nitric oxide, which binds to iron and gives hot dogs and bacon their characteristic pink color. Afterwards, the amount of nitrite left is only about 10 parts per million.”

      And according to PerfectHealthDiet, “Processed pork is generally cured or smoked, both steps that are anti-microbial.” And because of some pathogens that infect pigs and humans and can be transmitted by consuming pork (more-so in fresh pork than processed because of curing/smoking), it makes me less afraid of the nitrites/ates.

    • LivingGreenDayByDay.blogspot

      This is a great way of highlighting the differences. Thanks for posting this and helping increase awareness that there is a difference!

    • Meme007

      One point of advice: If you ever want to raise a pig for your own use, please don’t name it “Arnold”. Years ago we did this and I think most of those meals were wasted. We didn’t have the heart to eat the meat!

    • K

      Thank you for this series! I really look forward to it. As a doctor I want to thank you for highlighting the importance of avoiding antibiotics when they are not needed (both in what we eat and for ourselves.) I work in an urgent care center, and I have to explain every day that colds do not need antibiotics! The problem is we are seeing more and more resistant bacteria, and the drug companies are not making new antibiotics (there isn’t as much money in it). So, I really appreciate you stressing the issue. Keep up the good work!!!

    • TheChapLeigh

      Thank you, Amy, for this information. I’d love to learn more about the parasite issue, particularly in the pastured pork — how MUCH of an issue IS it? If you watch any of Joel Salatin’s stuff on youTube, his pigs look so happy, rooting around & just being piggy!! I have been so pleased with the quality & taste of our pastured pork we bought from the farmer, and I feel so much better about this choice than conventional. We had stopped eating conventional meats from the grocery store, and I had been missing pork, so I was happy to finally be able to “bring home the bacon” from the butcher a few months ago. Bummer, though, our farmer will be taking this summer off, and since tending to pigs are more intensive than beef, he will not have any pork available for another year. Guess we will have to stretch out our freezer supply of breakfast sausage & loins!!

      PS…. I have LOVED having my own rendered lard (another bonus from buying a big pastured pork order straight from the butcher) to make fried farm eggs with — my cast iron skillets are now finally seasoned the way “grandma’s” was — ever wonder why ya just can’t get those skillets seasoned with vegetable oil???? Imagine, now, the gunk from vegetable oil that’s caking up in our bodies…. yuck!