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Recently, in our chat, we did a deep dive series on the necessity of glycine in our diets. Specifically, I spoke of its importance in our health and ways we can incorporate those glycine rich foods in our everyday meals. A couple of days later I got a picture from a wonderful rancher friend of mine. I like it when he sends me pictures from his abattoir and his fields. It’s the kind of farming and ranching stuff I really geek out on.
The picture he sent me was of the hides of two bovines. One was a yearling steer and the other a four year old heifer. It’s not uncommon for a steer or a bull to have thicker hides than their female counterparts, but what was interesting about this image was that the one year old had a dramatically exaggerated hide thickness compared to the much older heifer. Why? The year old steer, an animal that my friend was butchering in his abattoir for someone else, was given hormonal implants.
It was those two things - the deep dive into glycine, which goes hand-in-hand with collagen and gelatine, and the conversation my farmer friend and I had about those two bovine hides that nudged me into tackling this issue. And what is this issue I speak of? Well, it’s the issue of the animal foods we eat being encapsulated and powdered, refined and isolated. We’re assured, this time, this processing elevates the whole food and makes it so darn convenient.
I’m going to specifically address the encapsulated organ mixes and collagen powders people are paying good money for. Are organs and collagen wonderful foods? Of course they are, but there are details the average consumer should know about farming practices lest they assume “grass fed” or “regeneratively farmed” means some utopia that delivers purity in a pill. We need to ask questions about the details that are often not spoken about, or massaged into oblivion, so that profits can be made.
Let’s start with collagen powders. If you look up where they’re from most of them will say Brazil, some from Australia, a few from North America. Bovine collagen powder is made from their hides. Just like what you see in that picture above. What do you suppose might also be in those hides that get boiled and refined and run through solvents and deodorizers so they don’t taste and smell like death? What happens to the anti-parasitical pharmaceuticals that are ubiquitously given to cattle? Is anyone testing for those residues? What about the herbicides and chemicals in their food? Are those being tested for? Are those cattle given hormonal growth promoters? We don’t get to know. The label just says “grass fed” and the videos show cattle roaming iridescent pastures, frolicking with butterflies and birds.
Let’s pause here for an injection of common sense. If I gave you a hunk of cow hide, what could you do with it in your kitchen to make it palatable? Nay, what could you do with it to make it smell and taste like nothing at all and easily dissolve away in your cup of coffee? You could do nothing. Trust me, there’s nothing you could finagle to make that hide look anything like the stuff we buy. These are the obvious clues of processing. What do we lose in that? Are we okay with not knowing for convenience? Are we okay for risking further health issues? If we are, that’s okay, too. Honesty with ourselves is always better than fooling ourselves with platitudes. We can pluck one ingredient and isolate but let’s not be fooled. Nature is not mechanistic, she is a whole and she demands respect of her rules. Anything else is always proven folly.
Grass fed is a meaningless term. Absolutely meaningless. If a calf nibbles on grass does it erase the implant in his ear that has synthetic or “natural” hormones in it? If he goes off to a feedlot where he is given another implant and whatever further vaccinations and medications necessary to keep him alive and make him grow fast in an artificial and stressful environment, does it even matter that he once ate grass? I’m glad he did, it doesn’t mean nothing, but there are a whole many more chapters to this story.
Back to the collagen powders. The process to go from wet, hairy, tissue filled hide to powdery, deodorized supplement is an involved one filled with mystery and intrigue (and industry secrets). They might use chemicals, they might use electrolysis. They may do this and that step, they may go another route. We just don’t know. It’s certainly not going to be labeled on your bottle of stuff. But the references at the end of this essay will help to give you a good idea on how these things are done. But outside of the unknowns, we still have many knowns. And those knowns are best arrived at with common sense and basic questioning of what’s on offer.
Let’s take the wildly popular (at least in the ‘health’ space) issue of buying encapsulated organs. Are organs a superfood? I’d vote yes. There’s certainly tons of information about the nutrients in organ meats. How much do we need them? That part is more contested. For us, living from the food of our farm and the animals we hunt, our organs come pretty close to what our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have had access to. Each animal brings its own.
In the autumn, when harvest has been complete, we have three bovine in our freezers along with some deer or elk (if the hunting gods are good to us), a load of meat rabbits, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, and lamb. Maybe pork, maybe not. This year and last, not. Just not feeling it. Anyway, the point is that with each of these animals comes their organs. So as we make our way through the animal, the portion of their kidneys, lungs, liver, spleen, heart, and brains are also included in our diets. I am a strong advocate for nature’s innate intelligence and design. I stick with her. Always.
So let’s consider this in the context of a necessary daily allotment. There isn’t one and I think that’s wise. We eat organs a couple of times a week. That may look like something like duck paté that includes the livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs, and testicles of our ducks along with raw butter and foraged seasonings. Or it might look like a package of beef liver that was immediately cut up and frozen after we harvested an animal (that makes all the difference in the sweetness and flavour of liver, by the way) cooked in some homemade ghee with onions and bacon. Doesn’t matter. I just know when I go into our freezers how much meat I have and how many organ sources are left and, like with all of our food, I allot our nourishment appropriately to make those things stretch out over a year.
Now, let’s consider some of these bigger companies selling everyone organ meats, desiccated into a form that allows them to be put in a pill. I definitely think they have a place, especially if people are not going to eat any organs if they don’t come in that form, but there needs to be some awareness around what else could potentially be lurking in these foods.
Here’s some questions I have about these organ pills:
First, the volume of organs being purchased. Consider how many, many animals we’re talking about. Almost all of the organ pill brands report to be getting their organs from New Zealand and US sources. That’s a lot of organs and a lot of animals. The claim is that all animals are farmed “regeneratively”. That’s great, but where? What farms? Show us. Name them. Give us the sources.
How many animals are in each of those pills? Do we have the blood of 20 animals? 50? 200? And is that mixed with the brains of multiple animals and the livers of multiple animals and the kidneys of multiple animals? All from a place far away? What is that message to our bodies? Where is the resonance? The carrying of structured information in a language our body understands? What do our bodies do with such an unnatural situation? Never in the history of us would there have been a time where we run around a field, every single day, nibbling pieces of organs of hundreds of animals. It’s bizarre.
Another issue is the rampant use of anti-parasitical drugs in cattle farming. It used to be Ivermectin that was ubiquitously used for everything from cow lice to parasites, but there is now drug resistance to this drug with agricultural practices around the world. Now, many farmers have returned to the older classes of drugs for the same purpose. Add that to the host of vaccinations cattle get but are not labeled. As an example, in New Zealand, most of the beef exported is coming from the dairy industry. One need not look very far to see the issues with conventional dairy. All of these products can still be labeled “regeneratively farmed” - a label with no oversight.
The New Zealand dairy industry (4.4 million cows; DairyNZ, 2011) is considerably larger than its beef breeding industry (1.14 million cows; Beef+Lamb NZ, 2010). It contributes to beef supply both as a source of surplus calves for beef finishing and also as a direct source of beef from cull dairy cows. This creates significant diversity in terms of production systems (surplus dairy calf, prime beef, bull beef, and cull cow beef) and genetic background (dairy and beef × dairy breeds), as well as influencing which markets are targeted (e.g., lean beef for the North American hamburger market versus prime table beef markets). The dairy industry also causes significant seasonal peaks in the flow and type of cattle slaughtered, with implications for supply chain infrastructure.
So what does that mean for us? Many of my readers avoid these things in their own lives. Indeed, many of the companies selling these products tote them as some super elixir to bring us to health nirvana. Would we put these hormones and pharmaceuticals into our bodies. Maybe we are unknowingly.
Growth-promoting hormones are used widely in beef production in the United States and in other meat-exporting countries. In the United States, hormones have been approved for use since the 1950s and are now believed to be used on approximately two-thirds of all cattle and about 90% of the cattle on feedlots. In large U.S. commercial feedlots, their use approaches 100%. Cattle producers use hormones because they allow animals to grow larger and more quickly on less feed and fewer other inputs, thus reducing production costs, but also because they produce a leaner carcass more in line with consumer preferences for diets with reduced fat and cholesterol.
Growth-promoting hormones include compounds that either naturally occur in an animal’s body or mimic naturally occurring compounds. Estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone (three natural hormones), and zeranol and trenbolone acetate (two synthetic hormones), may be used as an implant on the animal’s ear. Melengestrol acetate, which can be used to improve weight gain and feed efficiency, is approved for use as a feed additive. Not all combinations of hormones are approved for use in all classes of cattle. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cooperate in regulating growth promotants for livestock. Both of these agencies maintain that hormones in beef from an implanted animal have no physiological significance for humans. All animal drug products are approved for safety and effectiveness under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.).
About 30 animal growth-promoting products are marketed in the United States. In addition to the United States, other countries that have approved the use of growth-promoting hormones in beef production are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, Chile, and Japan, among other countries. The use of hormones in beef production, however, is not allowed in the European Union, or in other European countries that assume many of the rights and obligations of the EU single market. To date, the EU continues to ban imports of hormone treated meat and restricts most meat exports to the European Union to a limited quantity of beef imports that are certified as produced without the use of hormones.
Health is a birthright. God gave us everything we need to thrive. If we’re not thriving, we are not living lives aligned with that to which we belong. We will never find a supplement that will patch up a lousy diet or lifestyle or lack of exercise. It’s amazing how well things start working when you pay attention to the light in your environment, to your diet, relationships, joy, perspective, to the health of your home free of chemicals, to natural fibres in your clothing and bedding, and allowing yourself to wallow in authentic sadness and grief when it comes. The body strives to be healthy. Taking away the interference from toxins and dysfunctional living cycles brings us in congruence with what is always waiting.
The gap in our connection to farms allows all sorts of tomfoolery to go on. We don’t know what we don’t know. And entering into a product buying relationship without real knowledge of what we’re buying, outside of labels and marketing taglines, leaves us vulnerable to manipulation.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about mainstream products made of chemical soups or “alternative” products aimed at the health conscious. I’ve seen all sorts of tallow products made from commercial beef fat. Fine, but in creeps the issues I already mentioned. Pigs are loaded with pharmaceuticals and ractopamine (a heinous drug that is given shortly before butchering to increase lean mass). Do we want to eat or rub this stuff in our skin to be absorbed into our bodies? There are never honest shortcuts. Where there is absence of relationship, there is shadows to hide in.
It’s a label manipulated by big business, yes. “Organic” doesn’t mean that the animal is solely grass fed, but neither does the label “grass fed”. That’s what always amazes me about the whole Kerrygold marketing (a brilliant campaign) that convinced millions that their “grass fed”, conventionally glyphosate fed cattle were somehow special. Like I said, every cow is grass fed at some point in their lives. Might as well avoid the slew of vaccines and pharmaceuticals that, at the very least, the certified organic label protects us from - for now. Big industry has been lobbying for years to have the regulations around this changed and it looks like they’re making good progress there (links at bottom of this essay).
So, if pills and powders aren’t the answer, what is? Getting your cooking muscle in gear. Having direct relationships with farmers. Asking questions, learning more about how your food is raised and grown. Educate yourselves on farming practices because it’s not good enough to just think about your own body. We need to think of the quality of life that the animal had, the plants have, Mother Earth experiences. Participate in your food system. Food was never supposed to be an anonymous commodity that dollars divorced our union from. It’s supposed to be a relationship and it requires all of our voices, advocacy, and engagement.
Look to the perfection and intelligence of Creation to guide you on your food choices instead of some internet shaman. Have the confidence to ask questions and listen to your intuition. Nobody should override the voice of your soul. Sit down on the forest floor and have a conversation with a little beetle or the swaying trees. Connect to your deeper self. All the answers you need are right there and somewhere inside of you, you already know it.
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collagen extraction from animal skin - the process outlined in NCBI
how and what are collagen supplements made
process for production of hydrolysed collagen from agricultural resources: potential for further development - science alert
this is a fun little ditty about the pharmaceutical corporations using collagen from the waste materials of the leather industries to use in all sorts of products they put into human bodies
The US-EU beef hormone dispute
Nutrition for the Skin Yes, collagen is important but so are all of the co-factors that go with it and are found in our food.
Licking behaviour and environmental contamination arising from pour-on ivermectin treatment in cattle
ivermectin resistance nematodes - this study is from western Canada, but there’s reports from all over the world. This demonstrates how ubiquitous these “pour on” treatments are (as in pour on the hide)
They’re switching to other drugs for the nematode (parasite) resistance issues in cattle
Valorized food processing by-products - “valorizing” by taking garbage and making it into food. I always like to read what the industries are doing so that when these products hit the shelves, I’m already in the know.
The Australasian beef industry - challenges and opportunities in the 21st century
Biology, Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Management of Anthelmintic Resistance in Gastrointestinal Nematodes of Livestock
Anthelmintic resistance in ruminants - challenges and solutions
When we moved from New Mexico to Maine a few years back we brought thousands of pounds of meat with us that we had raised. For the next year we slowly ate the meat imbibed with our previous home's energy. As the next growing season came to a close and we harvested meat from our new home, we slowly weaned off the meat we had brought as we wittled away at our stores. It was such a beautiful experience. I chose to move but still missed my old home dearly. I got to bring a part of her with me and she helped me grieve and transition in my new surroundings until one day I only had nourishment infused with the qualities of my new farm. I too eat mostly from my own land and I too feel the dissonance eating something from afar fills me with. Especially with meat. It feels exponentially wrong to me to eat an animal I don't know. Its such an intimate thing to take in another's flesh and make it your own. Eating is more intimate than sex in some ways and eating faceless meat feels similar to one a night stand at best or prostitution at its worst. To lovingly prepare a meal with the body of a beloved beast I helped usher into the world, then tended to with such devotion and then helped lead to the afterlife is nothing short of holy. Spending hours, or sometimes days, sorting through its flesh, reading its hidden stories with every knife stroke. Smelling the scent of cherished forage on its fat and then carefully tucking it all away in a subzero bed to wait until the time comes to nourish my little one's bellies. That experienece isnt something you can buy. I have never felt closer to whatever God might be since I started homesteading almost a decade ago. Hoemsteading is the closest thing I have found to religion and truly being apart of the natural cycle of things has nourished apart of my DNA I didn't knoe exhisted, let alone needed love and healing.
"regeneratively farmed" has now been greenwashed and captured by the corporations. Predictable. I think it's better to just not use any labels to describe your farming practices, because if they become popular and sought after, corporations will capture it for profit. Permaculture will be next ... toss in a comfrey plant near the CAFO and the label will read "raised on a Permaculture farm".