While recent headlines about horse meat being found in ready meals make our stomachs churn and the veins in our temples bristle with anger, they are at least giving food quality a place in the national conversation. Because it isn’t just the fact that some meat comes from a totally different animal that’s cause for concern, it’s the way all cheap meat is produced that poses serious health risks. So it seems like a timely moment to consider what else is lurking out there in the meat section of your supermarkets.
Assuming it’s cooked and stored properly, the biggest factor that determines how healthy a piece of meat is is where it comes from. That means whether it was produced in a natural, ‘free range’ environment, or whether it was factory farmed.
What’s the difference, health-wise? Quite a lot, actually. While you may be fooled into thinking that a free range chicken looks, and therefore is the same animal as one without the free-range label (or the bigger price tag), they are fundamentally different creatures. A factory farmed animal is basically a severely disabled, disease-ridden mongrel version of the species you envisage running around on a farm. And if your label doesn’t say free range (or organic, which must also be free range to attain its status), no matter how fancy the packaging, you’re buying a factory farmed animal.
That’s not just bad for the animal or the environment. It’s bad for you. Because if your animal is factory farmed, as many sickening investigations have revealed, the animals (whether they be pigs, chickens, cows, horses, or even horses disguised as cows) will have been bred to be extremely unhealthy: full of chemicals, artificial growth hormones and diseases. Yes, diseases.
In factory farms, the cramped conditions mean the animals literally live in each other’s faeces. This leads to E.coli infections, which cause urinary tract infections, kidney disease and permanent brain damage, according to the US Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention. And the University of Arizona found that some cheap meat is so infected that it goes on to contaminate people’s whole houses. They found more poultry faecal matter on some meat eaters’ tea towels than they did in their toilet bowls.
As anyone who has investigated the meat industry will tell you, factory farmed animals are bad news, no matter what the meat.