For thousands of years, pigs have been the quintessential biological recyclers, foragers, and grazers. They love to eat almost anything they have access to on pasture: grass, clover, plant roots, broad leaf plants, and even thistles.
The vast majority of pork consumed in the United States and Canada 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.
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 Benefits of Pastured Pork
1. 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.
2. Pastured pork can be healthier for the environment. CAFOs accumulate manure in large storage areas that leach miles around and can leak into groundwater supplies. On pasture, the pigs' manure enriches the soil, rather than contaminating it.
3. 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 given grain or slops spend much of their day rooting and grazing in the sun and fresh air. Pastured pork farmers in generally overwinter their animals in open hoop buildings on deep straw. Here, too, the pigs are free to engage in natural rooting and socializing activities, and can enjoy fresh air and sunshine while protected from winter weather.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Pastured pork increases agricultural biodiversity. 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.
Try some pasture raised pork and decide for your seld if it is more flavorful.