Thursday, June 14, 2007

Organic Schmorganic

Well, it's official: we've finally switched over to organic feed for our animals. After going back and forth over whether double the cost is worth it or not and negotiating with a local feed store to get it for me, I made the plunge.

Why? Because the organic label and pesticide free is better for the animals and the earth? Partly.

The biggest sway, however, and what eventually got me over to the organic feed side has more to do with being fed up with GMOs and industry by-products in feed. There's little whole grain or whole anything in "natural" feed anymore—as most of the stuff comes from the oilseed, cereal, brewing or other industries, after all the other processed mush has been removed from it and extruded into familiar shapes like Scooby-Doo or Spiderman or other wholly unnatural shapes for food—what's left over is sold to feed mills and reprocessed into something resembling protein and carbs.

One custom mix feed mill operator wrote,

The main thing I see is that it is VERY IMPORTANT to start with whole grains. Most mills "reassemble" grains from byproducts. The more I learn about the biochemistry of grains and animals the more convinced I am that there is a lot of undiscovered science out there that we'll someday use on an everyday basis. Most things work best if you start with a whole grain. It doesn't need to stay whole by any means, but the feed should include the whole thing.

The reason it is so expensive to buy whole grains to make your feed with versus buying in commercial feed is that the commercial feed companies are making their feed from grain "fractions"—they are not using whole grains in many of the feeds you are buying. It's accepted practice in the industry to use wheat midds instead of wheat, for example. Wheat midds are a fraction of the price of whole wheat. Well, YOU can't get wheat midds cuz they are bought by the truckload or more likely railcard load.

Some of it is the buying-in-volume thing, and some is that there is an actual difference in the ingredients. Most feed companies are connected with human food companies and are basically using up the leftovers to keep the main company more profitable. Of course the sub-company is expected to also be profitable, but they are ensured a source of ingredients through their parent company and are not shopping for them on the open market as you and I are.

I get irritated with the whole "organic" industry itself for similar reasons of commercialization, industrialization, and control. Organic for the sake of "organic" as a symbol, whether political or social, just doesn't do it for me. The issues of impact are far more complex than simply purchasing something with an organic label. My goal had been to locate non-gmo local sources of whole grains, but apparently that's nearly impossible these days, as the corn at all the local feed mills is not only gmo but mostly trucked in from the mid-West anyway. Short of growing our own grains, for which we have neither the land nor the equipment, organic is the only way to get whole food to supplement our animals' foraging here at the farm.

Nature's Best Organic Feeds are milled in Pennsylvania, about 120 miles northeast of us, and while I'm sure they truck their grains from all over, I've decided they're the least-impact compromise in this complex game.

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