General Question

sadiesayit's avatar

Should we require that meats and other animal-based products be labeled with what the animal was fed?

Asked by sadiesayit (1308points) 1 week ago

I’ve been thinking about this since I heard of “buttergate”—you can read a bit about it here if you hadn’t heard of it before.

What livestock is fed impacts the nutritional quality of animal-based foods. Buttergate points to how it can also change the physical quality and the ecological consequences of the product. (It also just bothers me, generally, that animals wouldn’t be provided with the foods of their natural diets, but I suppose that is another topic…).

Consumers have very little information regarding how livestock animals are treated, including what the animals are fed. Ingredient lists are required on most food products. Should we not also know the “ingredients” that go into the meat and other animal products we consume?

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38 Answers

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smudges's avatar

I like that idea. Those poor animals are fed disgusting ‘food’, including animal by-products. If the people who raise them had to tell us what they are being fed, maybe the diets would improve.

kritiper's avatar

There is already a lot of information on the label. How big of a label do you want? We eat a lot of crap so what difference does it make what the animal ate??

Caravanfan's avatar

No, of course not.

LuckyGuy's avatar

It looks like in the not too distant future there will be a tool to determine this.
University of Texas Mass Spec Pen

”...researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a method that can authenticate the type and purity of meat and fish samples in as little as 15 seconds, without harming the sample.

Livia Eberlin and colleagues’ handheld “MasSpec Pen” extracts compounds from a sample’s surface, and then analyzes them on an attached mass spectrometer. A 20—µL droplet of solvent is enough to extract sufficient amounts of molecules within 3 seconds with no need for pre-processing and no harm done to the samples’ surface during liquid extraction.

…According to their paper published in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the MasSpec Pen consistently demonstrated 100% accuracy across all food samples.

For example, the MasSpec Pen picked up the differences in the molecular species present in grain-fed versus grass-fed beef. The two meats are prone to food adulteration as they look the same but grass-fed beef is more expensive, leading adulterers to mislabel grain-fed beef as its more costly counterpart to haul in a larger profit. This happens with venison, as well, which is even less expensive than grain-fed beef—and not even the same species.

Using 176 spectra acquired from 20 samples to form the basis of an authentication test system, the researchers demonstrated an accuracy of 95% for grain- versus grass-fed beef and 100% for grain-fed beef versus venison.

Similar results were seen in mixed meat samples when the researchers mixed varying percentages—0, 25, 50, 75 and 100%—of grain-fed beef as an adulterant into samples of grass-fed beef or venison. An overall 93% per spectrum accuracy and a 90% per sample accuracy was achieved…”

zenvelo's avatar

Well since BSE gets transmitted by feeding cattle processed dead cattle, it would be a good idea.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m going to say no, but I would like to know what farm and country my food is from. Fruits, vegetables, and meats

sadiesayit's avatar

@smudges—I was thinking it could do that, too. I would imagine that it gives a benefit to farmers/places already feeding healthier diets to their livestock, and would incentivize other places to change their approach. As-is, I try to look up what different brands say about the welfare and diets of their animals, but it’s not very accessible information.

@kritiper—I’m not sure I agree that there is already “a lot” of information; there is some… but if the information is relevant to consumers, should size-of-label be the reason the information is withheld?

@Caravanfan—can you explain why you say “of course” not? It’s not obvious to me why not.

@LuckyGuy—thanks for the info! That technology is interesting. Do you know how much of an issue adulteration is? It seems like maybe that type of issue is bigger than I realized, if a research team at a university is developing a technology to test meat and fish.

@zenvelo—I had forgotten about that. It would be nice to avoid future versions of those kinds of surprises.

@JLeslie—can you explain why you say no? Why would you rather know the farm and country your food is from than what animals who you eat (or whose products you eat) are fed?

Caravanfan's avatar

@sadiesayit Because it would be an ingenuous marketing gimmick. Animals eat where they shit. Are you going to put down that they eat their own feces also? Food gets metabolized into the same things in the body regardless of what they eat, so what an animal eats does not make it “healthy” or “not healthy”. It’s like the whole “organic” labelling nonsense.

And if people are worried about the animal’s welfare, then just don’t eat them.

hello321's avatar

@Caravanfan – Are you saying there is no nutritional difference to be found between animals who are fed corn/soy meal vs grass, etc? Really?

Even if that were the case, I would think we’d have an interest in knowing what the animals are fed for environmental and other reasons. Is there any reason why we shouldn’t know this?

Caravanfan's avatar

@hello321 Wait, you’re right. A corn fed cow has higher milk output, which would potentially have benefits for global world hunger.

sadiesayit's avatar

@Caravanfan—thanks for the response.

“Animals eat where they shit. Are you going to put down that they eat their own feces also?” No, of course not. I think, though, that you’re trying to make the point that it could quickly get very complicated—even to the point of being meaningless or misleading, especially if companies manipulate the information like they do with words like “organic” or “GMO”—and I can see that perspective.

I would push back on this one part: “Food gets metabolized into the same things in the body regardless of what they eat” >> From what I understand, this is false. What an animal eats affects the composition of what we get from the animal—its quality as a food product and its nutritional value. It doesn’t necessarily go from “healthy” to “inedible,” but there are varied measurable differences.

“A corn fed cow has higher milk output, which would potentially have benefits for global world hunger” >> so what an animals eats does make a difference in the final product, then. Similarly, the butter from cows fed more palmitic acid than usual led had different nutritional and physical properties (i.e., “buttergate”).

“And if people are worried about the animal’s welfare, then just don’t eat them.” I am worried, but I would like to use my money to support places that treat animals well and feed them appropriate diets, if I can.

Caravanfan's avatar

@sadiesayit “I would like to pay more money to support places that treat animals well and feed them appropriate diets, if I can.”

There FIFY

sadiesayit's avatar

@Caravanfan—Do you think requiring feed information be labelled on meat and other animal-based products would lead to increased prices for meat and other animal products?

Caravanfan's avatar

@sadiesayit Yes. But you already implied that you’re willing to pay for the labelling despite no standardization and regulation.

snowberry's avatar

Back in 1978 we were newly married and very poor. I used to buy chicken that was always sold at an unusually low price. I figured out why. The meat always tasted like fish. The chickens must have been fed some sort of fish meal.

sadiesayit's avatar

@Caravanfan—“Yes.”—Am I right in assuming you think the price increase will come from farmers and companies changing feed to match people’s preferences, or is it the act of labelling itself that would increase the price?

“But you already implied that you’re willing to pay for the labelling despite no standardization and regulation.” Can you explain what you mean by this, and where I implied it?

kritiper's avatar

@sadiesayit If everything (And I do mean EVERYTHING) the animal ate, (which would be impossible to mention EVERY LITTLE ITEM,) the label might well cover the whole blinkin’ package! All of the fecal matter! All of the insects! Every bit of plant matter. Every weed.

sadiesayit's avatar

@kritiper—I agree that would be incredibly impractical, and isn’t what I’d intended to suggest. I didn’t ever think the label would have to be literally “everything,” just the components of the feed, probably in order of quantity like on ingredients labels. It could be a label on the package, or simply be information that is required to be accessible in such-and-such way.

longgone's avatar

I think consumers should definitely be told some things. For example, I disagree with the practice of keeping animals in such terrible conditions that they require prophylactic antibiotics.

Overall, the idea of a happy cow romping in the pastures all day long is misleading consumers. People should be told, very clearly, what practices they are supporting by looking for cheap products. This is not only true for animals – I think it’s also important for chocolate, coffee, clothes, etc. Someone always pays.

seawulf575's avatar

There are already some standards that exist out there for this. “Non-GMO” for instance, on meats, indicates that it was not fed GMO foods. You could look at the FDA or USDA standards to see what some of the current standards are.
Some food, however, would be difficult to pinpoint. Free Range Chicken, for instance, is supposed to mean that the chickens had the ability to wander around. They are fed grain, but are also eating bugs, and seeds, and all sorts of other junk. Much the same as “Range Fed” beef. It is supposed to mean the cattle were in the pasture. They do get fed, but they can also eat whatever suits their fancy between meal times.

Caravanfan's avatar

@sadiesayit So you’re saying that you would NOT pay more for labelled beef?

hello321's avatar

@Caravanfan: “Wait, you’re right.”

I think you responded to the wrong person. I didn’t make any counter-claim.

Caravanfan's avatar

@hello321 No, I was responding to your comment “Are you saying there is no nutritional difference…” in a vague off-hand sarcastic way as I’m kind of in a vague off-hand sarcastic mood today. Sorry about that.

hello321's avatar

^ It was a legit question. I assumed that there were nutritional differences. There can certainly be taste differences. I have no knowledge of the subject of nutritional differences.

Caravanfan's avatar

@hello321 Ah… your “really?” tone made me think that you were also being sarcastic. I was responding in kind. My apologizes.

hello321's avatar

No problem. The risks of this type of communication. I should have been more clear.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I think it is taking things to an extreme, at least for me.

Suppose that a cut of beef were labelled “this cow ate grass from Nebraska” and another cut were labelled “this cow ate Illinois grain”. It wouldn’t make a particle of difference to me. If the beef looked good and I wanted it, the provenance would be meaningless.

About the only thing that I have ever cared about was catfish – they are known for eating shit. I avoid catfish because that’s patently obvious.

But to each his or her own. I have never seen a taste difference between free range chicken and farmed chicken, or wild salmon versus farmed salmon. But if that sort of thing means something for you, mazel tov.

Caravanfan's avatar

And in answer to your question, all food is healthy, as long as there is a “how much” and “how often” boundary associated with it.

JLeslie's avatar

@sadiesayit Because if I try it and the quality is good and it tastes good I would know to look for the label. I like to know if it is local, so I can help local farms. I might even be able to drive by, take a tour, or read up about the farm.

Like Perot Farms was right around the corner from me when I lived and Delray Beach, and their product is always fresh, great taste, and high quality. Kalera is an hour from me know, I buy their hydroponic lettuce at times, I look for their label. I used to look for a specific farm for apples, but I don’t even remember it now, because it has been a while since I could get it.

sadiesayit's avatar

@Caravanfan—“So you’re saying that you would NOT pay more for labelled beef?”

If the only difference is the label on the package, no—not intentionally, at least. I’ve definitely been duped by marketing.

Nutritional differences in grass-fed versus corn-fed beef.

Heart disease runs in my family, so I already limit things like red meat consumption, but I don’t cut it out completely. If I could be sure that a cow’s diet was grass-based rather than corn-based (and if I could know the cow was treated humanely enough for my liking), then I would spend a little extra on it—not endlessly more, but some amount more. How much of a health difference does that make? I don’t honestly know. And I realize my ability to make that decision to spend a little bit more is a privilege not everyone has. As-is, I’m dubious about the legitimacy of “grass-fed beef” labels because last I read, it doesn’t necessarily mean what it seems to mean.

There are other things that seem to matter, too… one other example, to stay on the corn-vs-grass-fed cows, is the link between a cow’s diet and food poisoning risks (see article for more nuance).

I don’t necessarily know how much this difference—or other differences—is worth in terms of regulations for some type of labelling, or for an increased price, or if a label would have the informative effect I’d want (versus just become another marketing tactic, as you suggested earlier)... but that’s why I asked the question.

kritiper's avatar

@sadiesayit I can’t help but think that there would be those who would insist on EVERYTHING. Just look at the details of existing lists now.

Caravanfan's avatar

@sadiesayit That link doesn’t say much except that there is a cost difference and that grain fed beef is more efficient, which is not surprising. In terms of health risks, if someone can find me a well designed study comparing morbidity and mortality of grass fed vs grain fed beef I’ll be happy to read it.

If you’re worried about heart disease and only eat a burger once in awhile your chance of having a cardiac event is most likely the same regardless if whether your burger is from a grass fed or corn fed cow.

Again, there is no such thing as an unhealthy food. There are only unhealthy eating habits.

Cupcake's avatar

This has been an interesting conversation.

On one hand, I’m somewhat for this type of label. But I also think the interested consumer can be responsible for investigating their own food. For example, I choose to purchase a meat delivery subscription from a company that, after my “investigation” (I will NOT call googling “research”) purchases and processes meat in accordance with my values. Things like grass fed/grass finished, pastured animals, from small farms, etc. The meat costs more than at the grocery store, but is doable with the subscription discount.

Anyway, grocery stores limit your access to information. But they are not the only source for food/animal products.

If such a label was developed, I think the important components would be (1) the feed ingredients (provided to the animal) and (2) whether they had access to natural or wild food sources (e.g., grass, insects, etc.). Perhaps even just checkboxes (e.g., antibiotics, meat/animals, animal byproducts, grains).

Darth_Algar's avatar

Would it really make much difference? Consumers already have access to quite a lot of information. We already know the food industry in general (whether it be meat or plant) is awful. Does it sway most consumers? Not really.

KRD's avatar

That does sound like a good Idea to do.

Smashley's avatar

I just assume that unless a relevant point like type of feed is voluntarily offered, you should just assume they are using the cheapest, most processed, worst option available.

snowberry's avatar

I go to local farmer’s markets. The meat sold there is always from family farms that you can actually visit and inspect how the animals are raised and what they eat. The meat I buy from them has already been frozen, but I’ve always been very happy with it.

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