Otago Daily Times Comment "Over the Fence" · Industry Sadly Lacking in Nutritional Wisdom 16 Sept 2013

29/10/2013 at 7:01 in Otago Daily Times

What if New Zealand Lamb and Beef’s Iron Maidens promoted meat as medicine instead of just iron for energy? 


Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, one of the UK’s leading specialists linking nutrition to human behaviour points out lamb and beef fat has same fat composition as breast milk; a highly digestible food for humans.  What?  Imagine the kafuffle that causes at Weight Watchers, let alone among vegans and vegetarians! 


Here is an ideal opportunity to lift professionalism and profile of meat industry by creating a conversation around nutrition, all backed by science.  It won’t happen.  Why?  Because like all professional institutions, the meat industry is watertight to new thinking and information.  So is the dairy industry.


All indigenous and heritage diets consume animal fats.  Fat didn’t kill off our ancestors yet we demonise it today.  Fat is part of a balanced diet and where we find medicine in food.  Protein doesn’t store medicine. 


Meat companies understand this too.  They know a change in grazing practice lifts fatty acids like omega 3, the intelligence food.  Longer rotations, mature feed, and diverse pasture all conspire to create such a product.  This is why grass feed meat is sought after globally, and furthermore it’s not contaminated with genetically modified grains and fillers - yet.


Farmers are told to think with consumers in mind yet it’s a classic example of the meat industry saying do what I say not what I do.  Farmers are paid on weight and penalised on physical defects.  They are not paid on real nutritional value of meat. 


In fact, they are not even paid on eating experience of meat despite all the competitions; Glammies, Steak of Origin, etc.  Customers are charged on how their steaks are cooked: blue, rare, well done, etc, but farmers never see a penny from these options. 


Furthermore, imagine if dairy farmers were docked income because of excess nitrogen in milk?  How would that change farm practice?  Instead the public are encouraged to celebrate all fortified milk products and are blissfully unaware why they even exist.


Agriculture has long had a casual attitude to nutrition.  Nutrition is not the focus of farming; volume is.  Being a commodity game primary industries make money through transporting large quantities.  Quality is lower shipping and handling costs.  It’s not about stimulating customer health and well-being but preventing food spoilage.


Look at how nutrition is calculated for livestock; its focus is kilograms of dry matter and metabolisable energy as if these are the only two things that constitute a healthy diet.  Farming is the most complex profession but simplifying nutritional advice ripples along the entire supply chain.


Even energy content of grass is a guess; farmers use tables instead of measuring the real thing as standard industry tests cost $40,000.00 per pop.  Some farmers measure brix; the amount of soluble compounds in grass sap.  Just as with fruit and veggies, as brix rise so does integrity of grass which improves nutrition for livestock and eventually us.  For livestock producers it also lifts efficiency of grazing per mouthful.


Furthermore, since 1960 minimum intake of all elemental minerals has steadily increased (except selenium) with livestock production.  This is driven by pushing growth rates from lifting protein.  The resulting health problems livestock experience reflects dietary imbalances so minerals are added one at a time to fix problems.  Livestock never experience a balanced diet.


Even in confinement situations it’s incredibly difficult for scientists to balance livestock diets.  How do we know this?  Whenever given choice livestock outperform scientists by optimising productivity at lower cost with the same foods stuffs.  Scientists call this phenomenon nutritional wisdom yet we never hear about it because it doesn’t sell product.  When livestock access free choice minerals their consumption drops below the 1960 benchmark.  How crazy is that?


Industry attitudes to nutrition will not change until our prominent movers and shakers understand truly holistic perspectives.  For example, soil scientists commonly point out sodium is unnecessary in any fertiliser programme because it doesn’t influence plant growth.  This is true but ignores the real role of sodium which is to determine grass composition or its nutritional density. 


Sodium is necessary to ensure nutrients like carotene are present in pasture which is essential for vitamin A which is essential for breeding.  Dumb livestock know this but highly educated and trained soil scientists have yet to comprehend there is a relationship between nutrition, sex, and pregnancy. 


Independent British scientist James Lovelock said we celebrate eminence of any scientist by how long they block progress.  Sadly it’s not just scientists.  Intellect and open mindedness have little bearing on abilities to see new ideas.  When will agriculture lift its professionalism to focus on human health?  Farmers are the nation’s doctors.


John King is a Christchurch based agribusiness tutor, facilitator, speaker, and grazing advocate.

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