Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bringing your Values to the Market and Table.

Natasha Rosenstock, friend to foodies, just wrote a terrific article for the Washington Jewish Week about bringing your values to the market and table. She profiled "Jews and their commitments to Jewish food values, including concern for workers’ rights, humane treatment of animals, caring for the land and supporting local businesses.It features KOL Foods (among others)."

Read the whole article.

My first trip to the farm by Intern Joe

About two hours after making it out of the traffic-ridden streets of DC, I noticed the roads were no longer painted with oil slicks, but peppered with horse droppings.  Then I saw the first of many horse-drawn buggies, and a great number of Amish families, strolling through the streets in style (leaving little carbon footprint).  At this point I knew we must be close to our destination – or just very far from where I have called home for the past 23 years.  We pulled into a driveway that was longer than the street I now live on, and were immediately greeted by piercing, yet enthusiastic sounding barks.  They were coming from David’s puppies aka “guard dogs.” We had made it to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  David, our poultry farmer, lives in an old house on thirteen acres of rolling hills where, along with chickens, he also grows cabbage, peppers, strawberries and other seasonal produce.

David walked Robert and I to a fenced off stretch of long green grass.  The space was the size of two football fields and was home to a few dairy cows and 6 chicken shelters, although "shelter" might be a gross understatement.  These humble chicken abodes were like small condos: high ceilings and beautiful 360 degree views.  They serve to protect the chickens from mean foxes, hawks, rain, and the harsh rays from midday sun.  In order to give the chickens a fresh grass diet, David moves the abodes down the field on a daily basis.  This routine gives the used up land time to rejuvenate by using the natural chicken fertilizer.  The process was quite interesting and David seemed to know the system very well.  After helping David rotate his contraptions, he showed us around and sent us on the road with the gift of freshly picked strawberries.
We drove up the road to Roman’s, our turkey farmer.  This farm had a great feel: kids playing volleyball next to the duck pond, dairy cows hanging out, and best of all – a boutique gelato factory!  The only missing piece was the turkeys.  Unfortunately, his turkey hatchlings were on schedule to arrive the next day. 
We hadn’t planned on visiting Jake’s farm for another hour.  With time to kill, we grabbed a beer at Gap, PA’s finest – the Happy Rooster Saloon.  After making a few friends and a gentlemanly game of pool with Robert, we were off to Jake’s, the master beef farmer.  His children had just returned from a fishing excursion and were shy but very welcoming.  Robert and I took the short hike to the pasture where the cows were happily chowing down the tall green grass. 

Although I have never seen an industrial style cattle farm, I was in the midst of reading Micheal Pollan’s “Omnivores Dilemna” during the car ride and Jake’s was the complete opposite of what I pictured a feed-lot to be.  The animals had ample room to roam free and eat whichever type of grass they fancied.  Like Robert and I, these cows were relaxed and at peace while on this small farm in southeastern Pennsylvania.  After giving a farewell to my favorite dog Nikki (though to me, he looked more like a Puck; and to Robert he was Stump), Robert and I jumped in the strawberry scented car headed north for the freezer.
The KOL Foods freezer resides just a few hours north east of the Lancaster farms; it’s a huge warehouse hidden by trees and the surrounding hills.  Donna led us to our inventory where Robert and I broke open several boxes of differing cuts in order to put together a Grill Sampler perfect for the summertime BBQ.  Once the boxes were packed, the only thought on our minds was which Pandora station to jam out to on the way home.  It was a great experience… smelly, but great.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chicken, hold the arsenic: Pfizer, the FDA, and the end of roxarsone

Soon, Americans may be eating a little less arsenic.

Since 1944, arsenic-containing additives have been used in chicken feed for “for increased rate of weight gain, improved feed efficiency, and improved pigmentation” and “as an aid in the prevention of coccidiosis [a parasitic infestation]". Some of the arsenic that the chickens eat accumulates in their muscles, and when people eat the chicken, they also eat the arsenic.

Recently, evidence has been building that roxarsone and other arsenic-containing additives are not as innocuous as was once thought. The poultry industry has long maintained that use of roxarsone is safe for humans because roxarson contains an organic arsenic compound (meaning that it is chemically bound to carbon), rather than the carcinogenic inorganic form of arsenic; however, the arsenic in roxarsone can convert to this more dangerous inorganic form both inside chickens and inside people. Though there is no direct evidence linking the arsenic specifically from poultry to human disease, research has shown that exposure to arsenic in humans causes cancer and may contribute to other health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and impaired intellectual function.

The final straw for roxarsone came with an FDA study, published yesterday, that found that levels of the dangerous inorganic form of arsenic were consistently higher in chickens treated with roxarsone than in untreated chickens, meaning that use of roxarsone unnecessarily increases human exposure to a known carcinogen. After the FDA released its findings, Pfizer immediately released its plans to end sales of the additive.

While Pfizer’s action won’t immediately remove arsenic from the food system (first there’s the phase-out period, after which poultry producers will still be able to use what stocks they have, and then there are several other, less widely used arsenic-containing feed additives to contend with), it is a crucial and commendable step that has taken one unnecessary form of carcinogen exposure out of our lives.

Whenever industry takes its own initiative to stop a profitable practice, even a potentially dangerous one, skepticism generally follows. Pfizer continued to sell roxarsone for years in the face of mounting evidence of its carcinogenic potential. In March, the failure of a Maryland initiative to ban roxarsone use in the state seemed to signal that arsenic-containing additives were here to stay. Crucial to Pfizer’s decision, then, is the fact that, given its evidence that inorganic arsenic is present in chickens treated with roxarsone, the FDA has the power to ban roxarsone as a carcinogen. Rather than face a ban, Pfizer pulled the product and in doing so took an unnecessary risk off the dinner table.

Unfortunately, the removal of roxarsone from chicken feed only scratches the surface of what could and should be done to improve the ethical, environmental, and health-related implications of industrial meat production. Industrial meat comes from factory farms where animals live in inhumane conditions, where waste is released into toxic “lagoons,” and where the use of chemical and pharmaceutical additives is the norm. My own questioning of industrial meat practices has led me to intern with KOL Foods, a company that provides kosher meat produced in an ethical, health-protective, and environmentally-friendly way. Alternatives to industrial poultry production, like those provided by KOL Foods, light a path as we take small steps to improve the food system that puts meat on our plates.

While changing this industrial meat system sometimes seems impossible, small steps like those that the FDA and Pfizer took last week offer hope that meat production practices can improve. I can only hope that this small victory will be the first of many.

*Amy Radding is an intern at KOL Foods. She prefers her arsenic-free, kosher, pasture-raised chicken spatchcocked and pan-roasted with lemon and rosemary.*

Reference/link format: [LINK TEXT](HTTP://LINK.COM) EX: KOLFoods

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Eat meat that doesn’t endanger the environment

April 22nd was Earth Day when we think about protecting the environment by recycling, by driving less, by planting a tree. But rarely do we think about the industrially raised kosher meat we eat. Because factory farms raise huge numbers of animals for meat, they generate huge amounts of waste. Factory farm waste dumps, euphemistically called “lagoons,” endanger the environment by leaking into water and soil and by emitting toxic gases. Even worse, the chemicals and pharmaceuticals added to these animals’ feed are still present in their waste, and these additives are spread throughout the environment when waste is used or disposed of as compost, incinerated waste, and even feed for other animals.
At KOL Foods, all of our meat comes from animals raised artisanally, on small-scale sustainable farms. The chemical- and pharmaceutical-free waste from these animals goes back into a natural cycle of fertilization, enriching the land so that it can continue to support the animals. Choose sustainably raised kosher meat from KOL Foods. It’s better for the environment, it’s better for your Jewish values, and it’s better for your taste buds.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Chicken with a side of arsenic: a poultry industry additive’s threat to human health

By Amy Radding

In March, a bill in the Maryland legislature that would have banned the use of arsenic in chicken feed was killed . Since the introduction of the bill in February, a public controversy arose over this little-known but widespread poultry industry practice. The months of debate, culminating in the death of the bill, force us to closely question what goes into the food that we eat and what we can do to make our food system better.

Why is there arsenic in chicken feed?
In 1944, the Food and Drug Administration approved roxarsone, an arsenic-containing organic compound, for use in chicken feed. This metallic element, a powerful poison, is used “for increased rate of weight gain, improved feed efficiency, and improved pigmentation” and “as an aid in the prevention of coccidiosis a parasitic infestation".  These broadly worded designations that allow for widespread use. Indeed, the routine practice of industrial poultry producers is to dose chicken feed with roxarsone and other pharmaceuticals in order to get as much meat as possible as quickly as possible from each bird.

Who uses roxarsone and why?
Many American poultry producers, in Maryland and across the country, use roxarsone and have done so for decades. It has become common practice to use roxarsone and other chemical and pharmaceutical additives in order to cheaply and quickly produce commodity chicken, since these additives promote maximum growth in minimum time and with minimum inputs. Given this history, many producers rely on the fast growth sped by feed additives in order to maintain their profit margin in the face of all the other producers of identical supermarket chicken using the same chemicals. Thus, the practice persists.

What happens to the arsenic?
Much of the roxarsone fed to chickens passes into chicken waste, which is then spread to the environment in the form of fertilizer, compost, cattle feed, and incinerated waste. The arsenic in this waste can then contaminate water, air, and soil.

The arsenic that doesn’t make its way into the environment accumulates in chickens’ muscles. When people eat these chickens, they consume arsenic. The poultry industry maintains that use of roxarsone is safe for humans because the arsenic in roxarsone is in a different chemical form from the type shown to cause cancer; however, it can convert to this more dangerous form both inside chickens and inside people. Though there is no direct evidence linking the arsenic specifically from poultry to human disease, research has shown that exposure to arsenic in humans causes cancer and may contribute to other health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and impaired intellectual function.

What is the problem?
Given that arsenic is a known carcinogen and can be dangerous even at low levels, all possible steps should be taken to limit exposure. The use of arsenic in poultry production unnecessarily risks human health. Not every American poultry producer uses arsenic, and the practice is banned in the European Union, demonstrating that, even though some producers depend on it, roxarsone is not necessary to raise chickens. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to tell from the label of supermarket chicken, be it conventional, kosher, “all-natural,” or “free range,” whether or not roxarsone was added to the chicken’s feed. Only poultry that is specified as raised on additive-free feed or is certified organic can be counted on to be arsenic-free.

Where do we go from here?
The death of the Maryland ban, despite its support by environmental groups and concerned individuals, is a sobering call to question the ensconced meat industry and its power in government. Indeed, the environmental committee in which the bill had originated killed the bill before it could reach a vote, saying that more studies about were needed despite clear evidence showing the dangers of arsenic-containing additives. In the words of a Maryland lawmaker, “[banning arsenic-containing additives] is an issue that makes sense to ten out of ten people,”, and yet, common sense was not enough to ban an irresponsible practice over the protests of a powerful poultry industry and the constraints of our current food system.

By raising awareness about this issue, popular opinion against roxarsone use could lead more states to propose bans and put crucial support behind those initiatives. Public opinion could also pressure poultry companies to stop using a compound that has dubious benefits and well-known costs.

Additionally, policy interventions could be undertaken to help wean the poultry industry off its dependence on roxarsone and similar chemicals. Taxes or subsidies could be introduced to favor producers that do not use these additives and compensate for the additional costs incurred. Labeling law could also be changed in order to force producers to tell customers more about the chemicals they do or don’t use by writing it on their labels, allowing buyers to choose which practices they want to support and allowing producers to charge a little more for a markedly different, feed-additive-free product.

Pushing for change
Unfortunately, the roxarsone issue just scratches the surface of ethical, environmental, and health-related problems associated with industrially raised meat. Industrially produced chickens today come from factory farms where chemical and pharmaceutical food additives, including roxarsone, are the norm. Taking a closer look at practices involved in the production of industrial meat raises the question of whether we can be doing more to reach for higher standards that align with both common values and common sense.

My own questioning of industrial meat practices has led me to intern with KOL Foods, a company that provides kosher meat produced in an ethical, health-protective, and environmentally-friendly way. KOL Foods works with poultry farmers that raise chickens in pastures, eating grass, bugs, and additive-free feed, producing poultry that is healthier, environmentally friendlier, and tastier than the industrial standard. By bringing producers and customers closer together, KOL Foods promotes transparency and good practices in farming. Alternatives to industrial poultry production, like those provided by KOL Foods, begin to break industry’s hold on our food system and offer opportunities for future change.

Our food choices have power to shape a more ethical and healthier world. We can write off the Maryland bill’s failure as evidence of the food industry’s unshakable hold on our diets, or we can take it as a challenge to reclaim power over our own foods. By carefully considering what practices we support on our dinner tables and by raising awareness about practices we choose not to accept, we can change our food system for the better.

*Amy Radding is an intern at KOL Foods and a senior at Yale University, where she is studying as much as she can about sustainable food. She prefers her arsenic-free, kosher, pasture-raised chicken spatchcocked and pan-roasted with lemon and rosemary.*

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sustainable Turkey

Here is a nice JCarrot blog about sustainable kosher turkeys for Thanksgiving with a shout out to KOL Foods...

For those who keep kosher, every meal is an opportunity to connect the physical earth with the mystical God. If there is one time a year that all Americans get a taste of this experience, it is the ritualized meal of Thanksgiving. Enter a growing awareness about the savagery of the modern meat industry, an uncomfortable exposure of assumptions about kosher meat, and most of all, a horror of Tofurky, and kosher consumers everywhere are seeking out new options for the holiday.

As recently as a couple of years ago, the availability of kosher turkey bearing the label “organic” or “pasture-raised” or even “natural” was pretty much zero. Now, it’s a land of plenty out there, relatively speaking. While this type of turkey isn’t something that you can find on the shelves of your kosher grocer, you can order them from companies like KOL Foods. With shipping, these companies will send you an 11-12 lb. turkey for $80-100. This is a lot of money, but perhaps not too exorbitant for a special meal that you can truly be grateful for and comfortable eating.
Read more:

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Kosher-vore’s Dilemma: Kosherfest 2010 by Daniel Infeld

If you shop in almost any grocery store in the US, chances are you have bought a product that is certified Kosher. According to Sue Fishkoff’s new “Kosher Nation” “one third to one half of the food for sale in the typical American supermarket is kosher.” This is big business, “$200 billion of the country’s estimated $500 billion in annual food sales is kosher certified.” Kosher food is often perceived to be more pure or cleaner than treyf, yet it seems that there are many parallels between the Kosher and mainstream food industries.
Kosherfest, which is taking place this week in New Jersey, is an annual gathering, highlighting this big business. It is the time a year where Kosher food producers gather to tout their wares to industry professionals, supermarket buyers, chefs, and other food service providers.

In his keynote presentation, Menachem Lubinksy, founder and president of LUBICOM Marketing and Consulting, and co-producer of Kosherfest, claimed that the industry is moving towards offering healthier products. Apparently schmaltz is out, and olive oil is in. Yet, spending a day at Kosherfest made me wonder, is the kosher industry actually trying to produce healthy and sustainable products, or are they just greenwashing (promoting a product as environmentally friendly, when it actually isn’t)? Click here to read more.