Health news is generally incremental and piecemeal, so it was a pleasure to see two items this week that were striking and quite newsworthy. The first had to do with free-range animals and health, and the second with processed vs. unprocessed meat.
Some time ago we noted a New York Times op-ed by James McWilliams that pointed to elevated instances of disease antibodies in free-range animals. Could free-range meat be less healthy? At the time we wrote,
In order to be responsible advocates for good, clean, and fair food, we have to make a particular effort to face the facts that we like the least, because those are precisely the facts that our opponents can most effectively use against us.
Fortunately, two people who know a lot more about the subject than we do felt the same way, and they took the time to respond in this month’s Atlantic. Bill Niman, who led one of the most memorable events in our time at Slow Food Boston, and Nicolette Hahn Niman coauthored a piece that lays out the remarkable impact of animal confinement on disease.
Among other things, the Nimans note that trichinosis, which is a source of concern for McWilliams, is incredibly rare in modern hog farming of any sort, and that McWilliams entirely ignores entire categories of diseases, such as antibiotic-resistant staph infections, which are far more prevalent, a far greater threat to public health, and unique to animal confinement operations. (The Nimans don’t even mention mad cow disease, a new phenomenon resulting from cows being fed the remains of infected cows rather than grass or grain.)
The other news item has to do with red meat, long considered a health scourge by cardiologists. A recent Harvard study, however, fails to implicate it, finding no increased risk of heart disease among meat eaters. What it did find was that processed meats—deli meats, bacon, and sausage—were to blame for a considerable increase in the risk of heart disease, but not because of the fats that they contain: rather, the difference lies in the preservatives and sodium that are introduced into processed meats.
So with summer coming on, there’s never been a better time to fire up the grill and cook yourself a delicious, free-range, antibiotic-free steak.