Frequently Asked Questions
Without a doubt, the issues discussed in this section are very complicated. Click on an issue from the table below for frequently asked questions.
Q: What is a CAFO?
A: CAFOs are giant factory-like farms where up to hundreds of thousands of cattle, pigs or chickens are raised using a variety of methods, mainly manipulation of the feed, for “maximum efficiency.” Living in such crowded spaces is not only detrimental to the animals’ health but for the environment as well.
Q: Is “organic” meat healthier than coventional meat?
A: In terms of nutritional value of organic meat versus conventional meat, there is no significant difference. However, the health benefit comes from how the animal was raised and what the animal was fed. If an animal product is “USDA Certified Organic,” this means the animal was raised in adherence to federally regulated standards including organic animal feed and no administration of antibiotics or artificial hormones.
Q: Why are there antibiotics in my meat?
A: In the 1950s it was discovered that low doses of antibiotics made chickens grow faster. Since then, “non-therapeutic” antibiotics have been widely used in livestock production. Scientists estimate that of all the antibiotics used in the United States (for both humans and animals), about 70% is used for “non-therapeutic” usage in the livestock industry.
Q: “What about the USDA labels of Prime, Choice and Select?”A: USDA Prime, Choice, or Select used to be the only label on our meats. These shield-shaped stickers ensure the consumer that certain government safety standards are met in the processing of that meat product. However, these rules mainly apply to slaughterhouses and processing plants, failing to address animal welfare, environment and human health issues.
Q: What does “cage-free” mean?
A: As implied, these hens are uncaged but do not necessarily have outdoor access. There is no standard definition of “cage-free” but it generally implies that the birds have the ability to perform natural behaviors. No certification or external auditing is required to label eggs “cage-free.”
Q: Are eggs labeled “cage-free” healthier than eggs without the label?
A: The nutrient profiles of “cage-free” and non-labeled eggs are not significantly different. However, caged hens experience a higher rate of infection and disease due to the unsanitary conditions of the warehouse. This necessitates the frequent use of antibiotics for treatment, which may negatively affect human health as well.
Q: What is antibiotic-resistance?
A: Antibiotic-resistance refers to a condition in which antibiotics are used too frequently and the bacteria become resistant to the drug. Ultimately, that drug treatment becomes less effective, which can lead to serious public health problems.
Q: What do you mean by “non-therapeutic” usage?
A: Usually antibiotics are given to animals (and humans) when they are sick. However, “non-therapeutic” doses of drugs are given to relatively healthy animals for the purpose of enhancing growth, not to fight a disease.
Q: Can I buy poultry or other meats that do not have any antibiotics?
A: Animal products that are “USDA Certified Organic” indicate that antibiotics were not administered during animal production. In order to carry this label, farmers must meet certain federally regulated organic standards. Other labels such as “no antibiotic use” or “no routine antibiotic use” may also indicate “antibiotic-free” meats but there are no set guidelines the farmers are required to meet.
Q: What is sustainable seafood?
A: Sustainable seafood refers to seafood that comes from sources, either fished or farmed, that can exist long-term without jeopardizing the affected ecosystems.
Q: Should I buy farmed or wild?
A: It depends. Current fish farming methods are unsustainable and actually put more stress on the oceans because they need wild fish to produce feed pellets. Also, farmed fish can contain more chemicals (like PCBs and dioxins) than wild salmon. However, this doesn’t mean that you should always choose wild fish. Wild Atlantic salmon, for example, are nearly extinct because they have been overfished for decades. For salmon, wild Alaskan would be the best choice.
Check out the Seafood Watch pocket guides to see what the best choices are in your region.
Q: I went to my local grocery store and they carried fish that was “MSC Certified.” What is “MSC Certified”?A: “MSC Certified” means that the fish was caught or raised in accordance to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards. The Marine Stewardship Council is an independent, global, non-profit organization established to find a solution to the problem of overfishing. They developed criteria for the MSC Standard which recognizes sustainable and well-managed fisheries. For more information, visit http://eng.msc.org.
Q: What does the “USDA organic” seal mean?
A: The “USDA Organic” certification on produce signifies that it was grown without using conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified ingredients. Farms are required to follow specific criteria as outlined by the National Organic Program and must be certified by a third-party in order to use this label.
Q: What’s the main difference between organic and local?
A: “Organic” agricultural practices, as defined by the USDA, focus primarily on minimizing environmental damage by banning pesticide use in crop production, for example. In order to label any food “organic,” farmers must abide by strict guidelines.
Local, on the other hand, does not have a legal definition. It refers to food that is grown and harvested in the local community. “Buy Local” campaigns often take into consideration environmental as well as social and ethical aspects of food production.
Q: Why is organic food more expensive than non-organic food?
A: Conventional farming methods (such as mono-cropping and using pesticides and chemical fertilizers) have driven this country’s food costs down tremendously. Certified organic food, however, is grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals so production is more labor-intensive and crop yield is sometimes lower than conventional farming.
Q: Are organic fruits and vegetables more healthful than non-organic?
A: In terms of nutrient content, currently there is no solid evidence that organic foods are more healthful than non-organic foods. However, organic produce decreases your exposure to pesticides and other chemicals used in conventional agricultural production. Some studies have linked these chemicals to an increased risk of developing cancer.
Q: What is rBGH?
A: rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) is a genetically engineered hormone that is injected into dairy cows to artificially increase their milk production.
Q: How does rBGH affect me?
A: The use of rBGH in dairy cows may also be harmful to humans who consume their milk. Cows receiving rBGH injections have elevated levels of IGF-1 hormone (another potent growth hormone), which has been linked to breast, prostate, colon, lung and other cancers in humans.
Q: Are there any dairy farms that don’t use rBGH?
A: Yes, there are many organic dairy farms across the U.S. that don’t use rBGH. To find an rBGH-free dairy farm near you, visit Sustainable Table.
Q: Is there a difference between rBGH and rBST?
A: No, they both refer to the same hormone. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is another name for recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST).
Q: What does “Fair Trade” mean?
A: “Fair Trade certified” coffees are in compliance with certain guidelines set by TransFair USA and primarily aim to protect the small coffee farmer by organizing co-ops. TransFair USA is part of Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), an organization founded in 1997 to establish and ensure compliance of Fair Trade certification standards in 21 countries worldwide. Fair Trade coffee farmers are guaranteed a minimum fixed price for their product and various middlemen are bypassed to ensure that the farmers themselves receive a higher percentage of the market price. The co-ops then decide where to invest their income: distribution for individual farmers, community scholarship programs, training sessions or other projects for business skills development. Coffee farms that are Fair Trade certified are required to provide safe working conditions for their laborers as well as reasonable living wages.
Critics of the Fair Trade program point out that the coffee supply is outpacing demand and the Fair Trade certification is an artificial construct in the economic system (similar to farm subsidies). Existing farmers will be encouraged to produce more coffee and new producers to enter the market, ultimately leading to excess supply. In a free trade market, extremely low prices would encourage coffee farmers to grow other crops that would yield more revenue. This overproduction, critics argue, would not only distort the economic market, it would also affect already poor coffee farmers who are not Fair Trade certified. Excess supply would drive the price of non-Fair Trade certified coffee even lower leaving those farmers in worse economic conditions.
Q: Where is most of the world’s coffee produced?
A: The largest producer and exporter of coffee beans is Brazil, followed by Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico.
Q: What does coffee have to do with the rainforests and migratory birds?
A: Coffee naturally grows in the shade of trees in tropical climates. In the 1970s and 80s, monocropping and “sun cultivation” techniques were introduced in coffee production to increase yield. This resulted in significant forest destruction and cutting down of trees, which were natural habitats for many migratory birds.
Q: What does coffee have to do with climate change?
A: Besides deforestation, it takes a tremendous amount of fossil fuel energy to get coffee beans from the farm to your nearby coffee shop. Coffee beans are mainly produced in tropical climate regions, trucked to ports, shipped by boat and then trucked to a central roasting location, which could be hundreds of miles away from where you will drink coffee.
Food and Climate Change
Q: Are climate change and global warming the same thing?
A: Although these two terms are commonly used interchangeably, they do have slightly different meanings. Global warming usually means an increase in temperature while climate change can refer to either an increase or decrease in temperature.
Q: How does livestock contribute to climate change?
A: Cows and other ruminants (sheep, goats) emit methane gas, which is 23 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Livestock animals account for 18% percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Q: What is composting?
A: Composting is the controlled decomposition of plant remains and other living materials to make biodegradable organic matter. Rather than allowing nature to take its slow course, a composter provides an optimal environment in which decomposers can thrive.
Composting is a crucial step in reducing the volume of garbage sent to landfills, and vital for creating a sustainable food system which minimizes pollution that creates global warming.
Q: How much waste do we produce?
A: In the United States alone, households, businesses and institutions produce approximately 4.7 million tons of waste - over 245 million tons per year!
Q: What’s the best way to manage waste?
A: The best solution to minimize the environmental impact of waste is to consume less and thus create less waste. In terms of managing waste, the optimal method depends on the waste itself.