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The Benefits of Pastured Pork
The vast majority of pork consumed in the United States today comes from huge hog confinement operations, known as CAFOs. Each building in a typical CAFO might hold 1,000 or more sows, or 10,000+ market hogs.
Hog CAFOs are notoriously inhumane and are among the worst polluters of air and groundwater of any agricultural operation. However, there is an alternative.
In recent years, there has been growing interest in pastured pork. Raising pigs on pasture is not only more humane and natural for the animals, it is also environmentally sound and produces meat that is more nutritious and, many people discover, more flavorful as well.
The Pig Picture
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Information and resources for farmers and consumers
The Benefits of Pastured Pork
- Pastured pork is more nutritious. Pastured pork has higher levels of vitamin E, healthy Omega-3 fatty acids,and many other nutrients than conventionally raised pork.
- Pastured pork is more humane. Pigs raised on pasture have more than just freedom from confinement, they have the freedom to behave in natural ways. Pastured sows create nests for their piglets, and live in family groups, just like wild sows. Even sows that are supplemented with grain or slops spend much of their day rooting and grazing in the sun and fresh air. Pastured pork producers in the North and Midwest generally overwinter their animals in open hoop buildings on deep straw. Here, too, the pigs are free to engage in natural rooting and socializing behaviors, and can enjoy fresh air and sunshine while protected from harsh winter weather.
- Pastured pork is better for the environment. CAFOs store manure in huge cesspools that stink for miles around and can leak into groundwater supplies, poisoning them. On pasture, the pigs' manure enriches the soil, rather than poisoning it.
- Pastured pork is safer for farm workers. Hog hands on factory hog farms have unusually high rates of certain diseases, especially respiratory diseases. A study by the University of Iowa found that over 70% complained of acute bronchitis or other respiratory ailments. The American Lung Association reports that approximately 58% of hog workers at CAFOs have chronic bronchitis. Every year, a few workers die from falling into manure pits, usually by asphyxiation from the toxic fumes.
- Pastured pork is better for rural communities. In addition to the horrific stench and the potential for groundwater contamination, hog CAFOs ruin the economies of local communities. Due to poor worker conditions, job turnover in CAFOs is very high, and many workers are transients. Additionally, many CAFOs have absentee owners, so the profits rarely return to the local community. Most pastured pork producers are small family farmers whose profits are repaid directly to the community, and who provide smaller numbers of jobs, but steadier, safer employment.
- Pastured pork is safer for human health. Pastured pork is less likely to be contaminated with E.coli. The antibiotics fed constantly to pigs in CAFOs to keep them healthy in stressed, overcrowded conditions also have far-reaching human health effects. Antibiotic-resistant diseases are on the rise, and in 2002, researchers discovered antibiotic-resistant bacteria floating on dust particles in the air in and around hog confinement plants. A strain of antibiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA has recently spread to the general population, and rates are particularly high among communities with hog confinement farms. An outbreak of swine flu in April 2009 may also have begun on 950,000+ head hog confinement farm in Mexico.
- Pastured pork increases agricultural biodiversity. In the United States, most pork comes from just four breeds of pig - Yorkshire, Landrace, Hampshire, and Duroc - because these breeds are most suitable for confinement breeding operations. Most pastured pork, however, comes from hardy, self-sufficient heirloom breeds, such as the Tamworth, Hereford, and Gloucestershire Old Spot.
Is pastured pork more flavorful? That's a matter of opinion, but many people believe it is. Gourmet restaurants are increasingly willing to pay top dollar for pork raised on pasture.