Meat Science and Nutrition
The two major residues that are or have been used by the meat industry are both well documented and controversial because they are used to manipulate growth and development in animals. These residues are 1) sub-therapeutic hormones that produce more lean muscle and less fat and 2) antibiotics used to maintain the health of the animals in mass-production operations.
Today the addition of these residues is strictly controlled and monitored by the government. Health Canada sets the standards for levels of hormones and antibiotics that can be left in food, and regulates the use of hormones and antibiotics in Canada so that they do not pose a risk to the public. The CFIA is responsible for the monitoring and testing of food products to ensure that they meet the regulatory requirements.
It is important to note that there are naturally occurring hormones in all animals and plants, so when people discuss the use of hormones in food, they are referring to the addition of sub-therapeutic or growth hormones. The use of growth hormones is illegal for poultry and pork produced in Canada, as well as for dairy cattle. Growth hormones are still in use by some beef cattle producers, but the residual levels are carefully regulated and monitored.
Antibiotics are used to treat animals that are sick, manage and prevent disease in animals and fruit crops, and promote the healthy growth of certain animals. In Canada, antibiotics are approved for regulated use in beef, dairy cattle, chicken, laying hens, turkey, pork, and fish.
Should a dairy cow be treated with antibiotics, its milk can be tested for antibiotic residues. Any milk testing positive for antibiotic residue is not sold for human consumption but is discarded. When poultry are treated with antibiotics, the eggs they lay are discarded.
As with hormones, the use of antibiotics is closely regulated, and food products are regularly tested to ensure compliance. In addition, there is a move to reduce the overall use of antibiotics in Canada both in agriculture and for treating human disease due to the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Natural, Free Range, and Organic Meats and Poultry
In the last 25 years, there has been an increased consumer demand for meat and poultry products that have been raised in a humane manner with no added growth hormones or antibiotics, and in the case of poultry, with access to the outdoors. Consumers want to know more about the meat they purchase, and many smaller producers and processors now cater to a rapidly growing number of clients who desire meat and poultry that they are confident has come from a “clean” source. Some of the questions these consumers are likely to ask are:
- Which farm did the animal come from?
- Was it given growth hormones or antibiotics?
- Was the farm a clean place for the animal?
- Was the animal treated properly (fed, watered, and sheltered when required)?
- How far did the animal have to be transported prior to slaughter and was it handled humanely?
- Was the animal handled carefully and humanely at the harvesting plant?
- Did the animal have a painless death?
These products may be labelled as natural, free range, or organic. When promoting products that are free of hormones and antibiotics, the following statement must be used: “No additional hormones or antibiotics.” The word “additional” is required because all animals have natural hormones. Certified organic meats must meet strict requirements of the certifying bodies, such as the Certified Organics Association of BC (COABC), which set standards for feed, pasture, and humane treatment of animals that are certified organic. A list of all certified organic producers can be found on the COABC website.
The following definitions for poultry are provided by the BC Chicken Marketing Board:
- Free Range means that the bird has access to the outdoors. Due to weather in Canada, the free range season is short.
- Free Run means that a bird is able to move freely throughout the barn and is not confined in a cage. All chickens grown in Canada for meat purposes are free run.
- Organic chickens are birds raised using certified organic feed and fresh, untreated drinking water. The COABC also requires growers to allow their birds access to pesticide-free pasture for a minimum of six hours a day, weather permitting.