Well, the summary was quick. There is, as you will see, a lot to buying animal products. But remember, once you find your brands and stores, you're done. We can only recommend what we would eat so there are various ethics considered here.
Here is our experience on buying beef, chicken, eggs, dairy, seafood and pork.
Beef is bad for the environment period. But feedlot beef is cruel, nutritionally inferior, more susceptible to disease, and fed GMO's. Vegetarian diet is a synonym for "eats genetically engineered corn." Organic-fed means eats food (corn) they're not designed to handle. Cloned beef from a genetically engineered cow (this is allowed but supposedly not on the market yet) will not be labeled. It is however not permitted in organic beef. They're not going to put cloned cows in pastures. They are made for mass-production to grow fatty, big and fast for very little money, period. Organic is good, 100% grass-fed is much better. Be careful. Grass-fed cows are sometimes "finished" in feed lots for 3 months to get all that soft (atrophied) fatty muscle. Look for "100% grass-fed" or "no feedlots"
We shop around for products and investigate how the animals are treated and make sure they are fed a diet that is natural to them that obviously is non-GMO. It's great to see labels of not injected with hormones, rBST/rBGH-free (GE milk increasing hormone that also increases pus, and causes cancer. Read this). But, you also want to avoid a chicken that can't stand that eats GMO's. Cage-free, organic, cruelty-free, free-range... these all have some meaning, and some loopholes. The only way to know is to ask the company. We'll try to profile companies in the future. For now, its simple. Just find a local organic product, and call to ask them about the things that matter to you- you may be done after a single call, and you'll be connected to the farms that feed you.
For sustainable fish and sushi check out the Monterey Aquarium's seafood watch including a new card just for sushi! This is the link to the Oregon Zoo page that promotes and links to the aquarium's seafood watch- because our zoo deserves kudos for their massive conservation outreach- largely volunteer-driven, and they give some additional background. We like that they are supporting this incredible program. But on top of sustainability (and the guides cover mercury content too) you must avoid GMO's which takes out anything farmed that eats corn. Mollusks are fine if they are farmed but everything else is fed-GMO food if they are farmed- and even if they did raise organically fed farmed fish we don't like how those fish live. Read about the Salmo Fan- and sea lice, and on and on. Update to this 2001 article: yes, the dye is harmful to us. Bottom line: you wouldn't be able to look at these fish over the course of their lives with their conditions and strange processes they are put through and still eat them. We want to know where our food comes from and I wouldn't call these poor things food. Check our updates page regularly because the GMO salmon is being fast-tracked toward approval right now. We talk about that on the welcome page.
This just in: GMO pig is on its way, possibly as soon as GMO salmon. Currently we have just plants (and whatever the DNA from those plants has and will cross over into). No one has allowed a GMO animal to be sold for food yet. GMO animal products won't be labeled. You must buy Organic, or know from the farm and/or package that they are not GMO. They are engineering pigs to produce less waste because factory farm pigs harm the environment. Instead of turning to nature,... this is hard. Let me come back to this point. Pig is especially important to get humane because they are the most intelligent and feeling animals we eat. We eat pork, but only pork that was raised on a farm where they lead high quality lives. I understand why vegetarians abstain from meat- but we personally eat meat if its cruelty-free. Pigs get happy, and sad. They become clinically depressed. The illustration I have for this is too disturbing for this website. I'll leave it to Michael Pollan in this essay about what closing our eyes to where our food comes from has done to animals. We eat the pork New Seasons buys for their own "label," and Organic Prairie- no one else. The butcher talked to us about the New Seasons pork source farm and I have to say, I am happy for the pigs. They aren't just free to walk around on soft hay in the open air. He says they are happy. They have a great environment- but they also have emotionally fulfilling social lives. Think I'm kidding? Read this. This is just one of many studies that asks how intelligent, social, and emotionally complex these animals are. All species of pigs are smarter than all dogs. They are closer to primates in intelligence. Anyway, as I was saying, they're making a pig that will fit better into this horrible environment. (You really have to read that essay above, or Pollan's book the Omnivore's Dilemma, to know what "horrible" means here. This is not just confinement, squalor, etc. ~Shudder~) Hopefully, no one will judge the human race with the yardstick of how most of the Earth's pigs are treated. After I make enough of a fuss about GMO's, I think I'll make a fuss about factory farmed pigs.
A simple solution is to be vegetarian. Then you will not personally partake in animal cruelty. You can also eat meat and demand not just cruelty-free but enriched living for farmed animals. We support either choice. We have a lot of vegetarian and vegan friends. We can at least agree that if a person is going to eat meat, it must be free of cruelty. If you are opposed to eating any meat or meat products, please still consider supporting a cruelty-free livestock industry. Our logic is this: You'd like to see people care about animals so they stop eating them. But people will never care about animals if the industry remains hidden from view in the factory farm system. One thing we are aiming for with this site is to plant a seed so people will have an option of embracing where their food comes from and reject hidden practices. The mindset of not wanting to know because it will ruin appetites is horrible. What are we saying there? Imagine if we said that for other things: I don't want to know my neighbors are abusing their dogs because I would be disturbed living next to them. Or I don't want to know that this sweetener causes cancer because then I'd have a larger bill at the grocery store. Watch the thriller Memento. Its not about food but it makes one think about this kind of mindset. For non-vegetarians, hand in hand with avoiding cruel farms are all the unnatural processes you'll avoid that are known to make us sick.
But please remember, for all of these meats, you can have pretty humane conditions and the animals are still GMO diets- so the labels must say both organically fed (or 100% grass-fed) and cruelty-free (or better!) Researchers found GMO DNA assimilated by intestinal bacteria in humans. (That study is on the Updates page at the bottom, and we talk about the why it likely happens in the "motivation" section in the Mission page) The next step is for that DNA to be assimilated by the body tissues. That research is yet to come. But don't listen to the propaganda that it doesn't survive digestion. Usually that argument is used for justification to turn off those warning bells in your mind, and it is not substantiated. A lot of propaganda like this preys on the fact that we are holding old ideas we were taught in school that are now known to be untrue. On this site, GMO-fed animals are considered GMO's. We advise going to our Resources page as a jumping off point for your research. Once the GMO salmon and pigs come out, pigs and fish must absolutely say wild-caught.*
*That's funny sort-of... wild caught pigs. This update is being added 9-24-10. Is it funny- wild caught pigs? Animals won't eat GMOs unless they are starved and have no other food. So truly wild animals in a world with GMO pigs and other livestock might become our choice of food- especially if all the experimental GMO animals that aren't even registered and tracked are found to be out in nature. Natural pigs and GMO pigs will be negligently interbred, and mixed between farms- as would happen with any GMO animals that are designed to be livestock. No one is going to know. So although this was a funny typo at first to say "wild-caught pigs" above, maybe it will be the case. At the time of this addition, 9-24-10, GE salmon are being debated by the FDA with people speaking out against them. The phish were poised to be slipped into the food supply but we all fought with our advocates to make them slow down and hear us out. They did not vote to allow them, but went forward the next day with discussions on whether to label them if they are voted in some time in the future. As the Food and Water Watch said, that was inappropriate to go on to discussions of labeling after admitting they were not proven safe and coming to no agreement on a time-table to approve or deny the phish. We can't speculate about whether this is going in a better direction or whether its smoke and mirrors before the facts and public outcry are disregarded. If the FDA and USDA change their ways, we will be supportive of each and every action that is a step in the right direction. But given that the biotech industry has even more former employees in key positions in the FDA than ever before and the USDA disregarded the injunction on planting GMO sugar beets and told the farmers to go ahead with planting anyway, there is no reason to think that there is a better FDA on its way right now. I would say we made a loud enough fuss and the research on the phish was so amazingly "flimsy" as F&WW called it, that the panel had little choice but to wait on voting. The hearings could end, all the people could go home from Washington and some set of tricks will begin that rival the GMO sugar beet fiasco. We are currently having to go to court to tell the FDA that their interpretation of "do not plant" did not mean "plant and try to get it all reversed before it flowers- and remove it if ordered again." They broke the law. What does that mean? It means that the more we take them to court, the more obviously rogue they are proving themselves to be in the eyes of more and more people. The phish have the potential of being the tipping point for the citizens to demand reform of their food regulatory agencies. We as a non-GMO community are keeping up the pressure and writing our representatives. See the updates blog. The point is, this meats and animal product scene could become a lot more difficult for us no-GMOs very soon, but raising our voices has an effect- and we're just getting started. For a group that was originally not invited to the party in Washington, we're gonna be the life of it.