photo of a ham sandwich

The Round Barn:
Cured or Uncured Ham

We've all seen the terms at the grocery store - "hormone free," "raised without antibiotics," "nitrate free," "all natural."
What do they really mean? In this week's episode of The Round Barn, Dr. Jim Lowe and Dr. Ashley Mitek dig into that.
Tune in to learn about the complicated context surrounding these terms - which ones mean what they sound like they mean,
which ones are technically true but not as meaningful as you might think, and which are mostly just misleading.
Plus, Dr. Lowe goes into different ham curing methods, how consumer tastes for different meat cuts have changed over time,
how greenhouse gasses and calorie deficiencies fit into the food production conversation, and much more.
 

A transcript of this episode is available below.


 

released November 24, 2021

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Dr. Ashley Mitek: I want to talk to you about my kid's lunch.

Dr. Jim Lowe: They should eat it, all of it.

Dr. Mitek: I am a Lunchables mom. Have you ever had one of those?

Dr. Lowe: I'm too old for that, Ashley. I mean, that was passed me. I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Dr. Mitek: Okay, well, there's usually a chocolate or some type of candy, right? And then, the ones, I've pulled all them off the shelf, I usually buy 10 at a time to get us through the week, is a ham and cheese one with crackers, which has been a big winner in my kiddos. But, I have a few questions about the label for you.

Dr. Lowe: Well, you know you can buy those things separately, right?

Dr. Mitek: It takes too much time to actually put the sandwich together.

Dr. Lowe: Okay, okay. It's really hard to put the sandwich together.

Dr. Mitek: Yeah. Takes me too much time. It's, like, easy. You just open the refrigerator door, pop it in a lunchbox, you're good to go.

Dr. Lowe: Hi, I'm Dr. Jim Lowe.

Dr. Mitek: And I'm Dr. Ashley Mitek.

Dr. Lowe: And welcome to The Round Barn.

Dr. Mitek: Alright, Jim, I have a question about uncured ham. What exactly does it mean to have uncured ham?

Dr. Lowe: Well, Ash, why don't you read us that label off that Lunchable? Because when we talked about that before, it's absolutely fascinating to me what gets put on the Lunchable labels. So, what were the words on the Lunchable label?

Dr. Mitek: There's a lot of words on there. And a lot of them I honestly don't understand. But, it says fully cooked uncured ham and cheese. No nitrate, no nitrite, no antibiotics, and no hormones. And, I have to keep it refrigerated. That's a lot of information for me to take in while I'm shopping.

Dr. Lowe: Well, the tick is, keep it refrigerated, because that's a food safety thing. So, this is the interesting space and food today. We have a lot of labels. And I think most interestingly, most of those words are very unregulated. So, as long as they're not a bold-faced lie, there's not a lot of regulation that FDA has in packaging.

This term "uncured" is a fascinating word to me, because there's no legal definition of that. What does that really mean? There's no clarity around that. So, when we talk about ham, we're talking about the back leg of the pig, so, those muscles. To call it "ham," we've really got to use those back leg muscles of the pig. We probably all grew up with a ham with a bone in it.

Dr. Mitek: I did not grow up with that.

Dr. Lowe: Well, those of us that are like Midwesterners, that was the Easter or big holiday meal. We'd have a ham, the whole back leg of the pig is there, and you'd carve it off. And today, we consume most of our ham boneless. So, we take that ham and we bone it out, and then we reconfigure those muscles, individual muscles, into products  - like what goes in your kid's lunch here, or the ham sandwich I would eat for lunch. I eat a boneless ham product for lunch most days. A little mayonnaise and white bread. Right up my alley.

Dr. Mitek: That's your go-to?

Dr. Lowe: That's my go-to, yeah.

Dr. Mitek: Do you make it each morning?

Dr. Lowe: All by myself.

Dr. Mitek: Wow! Wait, you spend more time on your lunch than I do on my kids' lunches. I gotta up my game!

Dr. Lowe: You need to think about your life, Ashley.

Dr. Mitek: I need to start - I'll bring you some Lunchables and you can test it out.

Dr. Lowe: No, I'm going straight for the ham sandwich. But, this ham. So, there's this boned, bone-free, boned-out ham, or boneless ham. And we reconfigure that. And so, ham is really, in its kind of meat way, only two things. It's either what we'd call green ham, or uncured ham, which is muscle that looks just like a pork chop. I mean, it's, if I cook it, it would be white. It doesn't have any color to it. It would just be a chunk of pork roast at that point, back-leg pork roast. If it was a cow, we'd call it a round. It's the same piece of meat. And then there's cured ham, which is what we all think of as ham. And that tends to be pink in color. And so, when we think about - let's step back one more step - the process of curing. Curing has always been a route of preservation. And curing is an ancient thing that's happened. And it was a way, when we harvested an animal, really any animal, before refrigeration, how did we keep that meat fresh - or, not spoiled. I guess it wasn't fresh. But, how did we keep that meat from not being spoiled? It spoils because you've got protein and sugar and water together. And so, when we think about curing, we think about removing the water from that meat so that it doesn't spoil. And that's turned into an art. We think about Serrano hams, we think about all these fancy European hams, about how we put things together.

And so, you think about those bits, and you say, okay, this is something that's gone on for, more than a day or two. And certainly in the U.S., right, you can buy sugar-cured hams in the South, to this day. So, that kind of curing which is very historical, was always dry curing. So, we packed that ham in salt and sugar and allowed the salt and sugar on the outside to pull the moisture out. So, if you go to a ham factory in Europe making Serrano hams, those are hung up for a long time and allowed to dry. They just literally hang in a big, dry room, and they control the temperature really closely. If you go to Tennessee, you'll hear them talking about a country ham in Tennessee. Those are hung up quote-unquote "in the barn." I mean, we don't put them in a barn anymore. But, that's how they would have been made. You'd have butchered a pig, taken its two back legs, packed it in salt, and then hung them up in a sack so that they dried and then they were preserved in that state. That product is, if you've all had Parma ham or Serrano ham, or what we think of as European ham, they carve that out very carefully, it's dry, it's almost like jerky. But that's traditionally how we did dry curing.

Today, when we have ham, the ham that's in your Lunchable kit - well, not exactly. But, the ham that's in your Lunchable kit and the ham that I would eat for lunch, it's pink, it's soft, it's juicy, it's moist. So, kids like it. I mean, old men like it, too, it all works. And it's not because I have bad teeth. I have very good teeth, but I still like the soft stuff. So, that has been cured to retain the moisture inside of it. So, that's a wet curing process. That's a very different deal. Those still have to be refrigerated. They're not shelf-stable like a dry-cured ham is. And so, traditionally, to do that, we would pump it with a salt brine. And that works best when you use some sodium nitrate or nitrite. Nitrates is what's in the in the brine. That sodium nitrate plus salt plus sugar stabilizes the meat, it gives it the right color, stabilizes the protein, stabilizes the muscle fibers in it, and it prevents bacterial growth. So, it's quite stable. It's not shelf-stable, but the hams that we buy today, that come in the plastic wrap or the boneless ham, most of that is cured in that way. And that's to give it the taste, to give it the flavor, that's why it's moist, because that actually retains the water in there, the pump does. So, when we cure that, we actually inject that product right into the ham.

Dr. Mitek: You just have a big needle and syringe.

Dr. Lowe: Seriously, yeah. It's a giant pump machine. It's a whole series of needles that comes down on that ham, and it pumps it in there, and it fills it up and it adds weight. And then you put it in a thing called a tumbler. So, you bounce it around for a while to distribute that fluid inside of it, and it's in a brine bath when it does that. You take it out, put it in a bag, and you smoke it then. So, you cook it. Then you put it in a bag and you're off to the races. So, that's the kind of classic smoking-type process. But, it's brined before. It's the same way we make bacon.

I think they used the word "uncured ham" in this.

Dr. Mitek: Yes.

Dr. Lowe: That's a crazy misnomer. It's cured, and it's cooked. To get the color and the taste and the flavor, it has to be cured. There has been water added to that product. The difference between the quote-unquote, labelled "uncured ham" and the quote-unquote "cured ham" it's not cured, it's that it's not cured with nitrate. So, there's no sodium nitrate. There's some concern that large-lines sodium nitrate are bad for you, it can bind oxygen and you can have nitrate toxicosis. We're worried about nitrate in water. But it has to get to really high levels. So, if you're worried about nitrate in your ham, you'd have to eat more ham than me, and I'm probably 10 or 12 standard deviations above the mean for ham consumption in the United States.

Dr. Mitek: How much ham do you eat?

Dr. Lowe: Let's not talk about my problems.

Dr. Mitek: Do you eat it more than once a day?

Dr. Lowe: If I was left to my own devices, I'd eat it three meals a day.

Dr. Mitek: Oh my gosh. Do you eat other meat, too?

Dr. Lowe: Sure.

Dr. Mitek: Do you eat vegetables?

Dr. Lowe: Yes.

Dr. Mitek: And fruits?

Dr. Lowe: I like the vegetables. It's just like a ham sandwich.

Dr. Mitek: I'm going to have to give this whole real ham sandwich thing a try.

Dr. Lowe: The real deal, Ashley, is that I could eat the same meal 100 times over. It's just about calories. I'm not a changeup guy. Just, fine, that's great.

Dr. Mitek: What do you eat for dinner?

Dr. Lowe: I get a real meal for dinner. It's just, if I'm there by myself, I'm like, I'll just do the ham sandwich. It's just too much work to cook, I'll just eat a ham sandwich. I'm full and I go off. That's the deal.

So, I don't think it's a big safety concern when we think about this, but it's certainly a heck of a marketing concern to say, moms are worried about too much nitrate for the kids, therefore, I want to feed them this ham that is nitrate free. And so, when you see that label on there, and they say it doesn't have nitrate in it, that's really the take-home. It doesn't have nitrate in it. It's just cured in a different way. It's not uncured, it's just nitrate-free. Should we eat too much nitrate? No. But that's become a hot button marketing issue, and their job is to sell stuff. I don't begrudge them. That's their job as merchants and as producers. And so, they've said, people want to buy this. You don't even know what you're buying. I mean, I want this for convenience, but they've tacked that on there because obviously for some people, that's important. So, that's the nitrate, the uncured conversation. If you eat too much of anything, it's never good for you, right?

Dr. Mitek: Right. Now, I think we're just used to seeing ham in these Lunchables. You were talking about how a ham is from a certain part of the pig. Is there a reason? Is there another part of the pig that they could put in there that's edible, or a name for it?

Dr. Lowe: No. Food is part calories, part culture. Maybe a bigger part culture than it is calories, right? So, we have historically cured the back leg of the pig and called it ham.

Dr. Mitek: Does it just taste better?

Dr. Lowe: No. That's what we've done.

Dr. Mitek: I see. What do we do with the front leg?

Dr. Lowe: The front leg of the pig is known as the butt, which is confusing.

Dr. Mitek: What?!

Dr. Lowe: The front shoulder of the pig is known as the butt.

Dr. Mitek: B-U-T-T?

Dr. Lowe: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Mitek: Did a pig vet name this?

Dr. Lowe: No, it's always been called that. It's called actually called the Boston butt, the very top of the shoulder's called the Boston butt. So, when you take the front leg off, got the top of it's called the Boston butt, then you've got the picnic, which is the piece below that. Again, don't ask me where the names come from, I just know what they are. -But, the muscle structure in the front leg is very different than the muscle structure in the back leg. There's a lot more connective tissue in that front leg. Most of the weight in all of our animals is on the front leg. And so, the front leg tends to be less tender. If that was a cow, we call the front leg the chuck. Everything out of the front leg is a chuck, and everything out of the back leg is a round. You don't think about having a chuck steak, you have a chuck roast, because we're going wet cook that and we're going to break down the collagen that's in it because of the fiber. That back leg tends to be a little more tender. It's not as tender as the middle meat, that loin muscle in the middle. But, could we ham cure a front leg? Sure, we could ham-cure muscle off the front leg. We could ham-cure a loin. We do that all the time, we call it Canadian bacon.

Dr. Mitek: A loin is the top part of the pig?

Dr. Lowe: Yeah, it's the top part of the longissimus dorsi muscle, the middle of your back.

Dr. Mitek: You're taking me way back to anatomy.

Dr. Lowe: The longissimus dorsi muscle is the loin on all of our animals. In the pig, it's the whole thing. And when we cure that, it's the same way like you cure bacon or like you cure a ham. That gets called Canadian bacon. So, the Canadians would have cured not only the belly and the back leg, but also the back of the pig, the loin of the pig, as a way to preserve it. That's where Canadian bacon comes from. Canadian bacon is a pork chop cured like a ham.

Dr. Mitek: Americans, we don't eat the front leg of pigs very often.

Dr. Lowe: We eat it. It's one of the most valuable parts of the pig right now. Because we make it into barbecue.

Dr. Mitek: Oh, okay.

Dr. Lowe: Pulled pork is almost exclusively made out of front leg. Because, again, when we're thinking about cooking a chuck roast, I'm going to cook a picnic in a pig, there's a lot of connective tissue in there. So, low, slow, and wet is the ticket for tough meat. And so, you want to cook it slow, you want to cook it at a low temperature. Those go together. And I want to cook it wet, or I want to make sure that the moisture is retained. So, I'm going to put moisture on it, you know, put it in a closed pot, put it an enclosed container on it and cook it. And so, wet cooking on that front leg is important. And so, barbecue does a perfect deal, right? I can cook it super slow, I can smoke it, pull it apart, but barbecue sauce on it. I've got a nice, moist, edible product there. And so, because of the popularity of pulled pork, that front leg of the pig today is super valuable. We sell those parts out at a high value today.

Dr. Mitek: What's the most expensive part of the pig? Well, how do you measure it, pounds?

Dr. Lowe: Dollars per pound, yeah. Just to tell you how things have changed, historically the loin, pork chops, would have been the most valuable part of the pig. Today, there is a clear winner that the belly is the most valuable part. Bacon is the most valuable part. If we could have a pig that had five bellies, it'd be great, because of the value of bacon in the marketplace today.

Dr. Mitek: That's because of consumers really wanting bacon?

Dr. Lowe: That's what they're willing to pay for, that's right. That's the trend. The trend has gone away from eating pork chops, and gone away from eating ham, and gone to eating bacon. So, at one point, it would have been the loin, and the ham, and we almost couldn't give the belly away. Nobody wanted to eat bacon, and the front leg was an afterthought. And now, we would say, the belly, then the front leg, and then the ham, or maybe the loin and then the ham. But, what was historically more valuable parts, they're not as valuable today, because consumers' tastes have changed.

Dr. Mitek: Interesting.

Dr. Lowe: We don't eat a lot of ham in this country. We export a lot of hams. A tremendous amount of ham gets exported to Mexico, but it gets exported not as cured ham, but as green ham, so uncured ham, because they use it in their cuisine in an uncured format. They'll cook that just like a regular roast. That's part of their, again, cultural differences, and what parts they want to use, etc.

Dr. Mitek: I think the other cultural thing that is really sensitive to Americans right now is the topic of antibiotics in meat. And that's definitely one of the labels that's very prominent on these Lunchables, is that it says no antibiotics. Do you think that's true?

Dr. Lowe: Well, I know it's true. And I also know that that's another one that's a bit confusing as a label. So, what they're really talking about when they say "no antibiotics" is raised without antibiotics. Products that are labeled with quote-unquote "no antibiotics" are raised without antibiotics. Those animals had never been treated with antibiotics, from birth until the time they're harvested. And that's a true statement. The companies do that, they believe that. There's audit trails. I've been involved in that process. And so, that happened. So,that individual animal that ends up in that package was individually never given antibiotics. That individual has never received antibiotics.

Now, what happens when we have a barn of pigs and we've got one sick one? Well, we treat the sick pig. He just doesn't get harvested in the "no antibiotic" program. So, there's basically two flows of those pigs through the packing plant. Two flows of those turkeys, two flows of those broilers, two flows of those calves, through the market. We see a lot of that happening. It's really big in the turkey side, really big in the chicken side. And it's pretty easy in chickens because they're only around six weeks. From hatch to marketing is only six weeks in a chicken today.

Dr. Mitek: Is it hard to raise pigs antibiotic-free?

Dr. Lowe: No. But the success rate isn't 100%. If I have 100 pigs, I'm not going to get all 100 pigs raised without antibiotics. We raise them in groups, and I would hope that I would get 70% to 80% of the groups to not be sick and require some kind of intervention.

Dr. Mitek: And in American swine industry, what percentage, would you say, of those pigs are raised antibiotic-free versus farms that raise them with some antibiotics? If they get sick, they're gonna have to get a little bit of... I don't know, what's the most common antibiotic you'd give to a pig?

Dr. Lowe: Oh, there's a lot of choices, but let's just say penicillin. So, the "raised without antibiotics" market in United States continues to be very small. It was expanded quite rapidly several years ago. Demand isn't there. So, consumers in the U.S. ... there is a segment of the consuming public who is willing to pay for that. There is a much, much larger segment that is not willing to pay for that. And there is a cost. There's two bets. Raised-without-antibiotics are sold more expensive. They're more expensive to produce, by a little bit, not a lot. It's 3% or 4% more expensive. Because there's some tracing, and I've got to do some different stuff. And if we have sick animals, we do treat them. It's just that those animals don't end up in that program. But, we can raise them without a tremendous amount of cost. It's that there's a tremendous amount of tracking of that product, then, which the U.S. industry doesn't do with that granular a level. So now, instead of having one flow of pigs or one flow chickens through a packing plant, I now have to have two. I've got to have the ones I'm keeping track of that didn't have antibiotics, and the ones I'm keeping track of that may have had antibiotics. Raised with doesn't mean they got them.

So, there's some tracking. And then, quite frankly, there's a marketing value. I don't know what Lunchables you buy, it doesn't make a difference, but that's a consumer brand.

Dr. Mitek: Whatever they have at Aldi.

Dr. Lowe: Whatever they have at Aldi, or Oscar Meyer, whatever it is. I'm not begrudging them, but that's how they differentiate in price. So, there's a consumer value that they charge. And they're like, we're not going to add this for nothing. We're going to charge more for that. And the American consumers are not really willing to pay a lot more for that.

Dr. Mitek: And, no hormones.

Dr. Lowe: Well, can I finish one thing on the antibiotics?

Dr. Mitek: Yes!

Dr. Lowe: Why that "no antibiotics" is misleading is that all meat products do not have detectable levels of antibiotics in them. By federal law. And as a veterinarian, my job is to ensure that that doesn't happen. And I have legal liability if it doesn't. So, we understand, if we have to treat an animal how long it must be held so that it has a chance to get rid of all that antibiotics out of its system.

Dr. Mitek: And when you say you want to make sure that animal is held before it's harvested, you mean this concept of withdrawal time?

Dr. Lowe: That's right. Yep.

Dr. Mitek: That you as the vet have to keep track of, or you have people that keep track of this, that if you decide to give penicillin to a group of pigs, they can't go to slaughter probably the next day. I don't know what the withdrawal time is for penicillin.

Dr. Lowe: Penicillin is a bad example, it's 300 days.

Dr. Mitek: It's 300 days?

Dr. Lowe: Yeah, it's forever. So we don't use penicillin.

Dr. Mitek: Okay.

Dr. Lowe: But if I use tetracycline, it's 14. So, I know that I can't market any animal that's been treated for 14 days after it was treated. And if I think it might take longer than that for them to clear out the antibiotic, because they were sick, or they're not eating or something, then I have to extend that. And that's my legal responsibility as a veterinarian to do that.

Dr. Mitek: How long does it take to grow a pig?

Dr. Lowe: Six months, plus or minus. They're about six months old when they go to harvest, a little over six months, six and a half. So, there's four months before that, and pregnancy.

Dr. Mitek: Three months, three weeks, three days?

Dr. Lowe: That's right.

Dr. Mitek: Whoo! I still remember something from your class!

Dr. Lowe: See? That's one thing I taught you. So, I got this 115 days. And then I've got, from the time it's born til the time it gets harvested is six and a half months, somewhere in that neck of the woods. It's pretty predictable.

Dr. Mitek: Got it. Did we cover antibiotics?

Dr. Lowe: Yeah, that's the antibiotic thing. It's another case of kind of a misleading label, right? Because there's never antibiotics in your meat. But what they're saying is, those products were raised without antibiotics. And we think that's important, more power to you. Let's do that. We kind of think that sick animals ought to have treatment. Maybe I'm biased as a veterinarian. But little kids get sick, little pigs get sick, we ought to do those things. We ought to eliminate that suffering. That doesn't mean that animal isn't good for food. We should use it that way.

Dr. Mitek: Sure. And hormones. That has been a hot topic, too.

Dr. Lowe: Misleading label number three.

Dr. Mitek: [LAUGHS] Well, talk to me about hormone use in food... food animals?

Dr. Lowe: Yeah, food animals. So, here's the really cool thing. You had a turkey Lunchable and a ham Lunchable. They both kind of said hormone-free, right?

Dr. Mitek: Yeah.

Dr. Lowe: Well, here's the cool part. There are no hormones approved for use in turkeys or pigs or broilers, so, chicken. And it's not just not suggested; it's illegal to use them. I can't go find something else designed for horses and give it to pigs and make that legal. You go to jail for that. So, that's, again, a really misleading label because it's just ... yes,  they're raised without hormones, absolutely, because we're not all wearing orange jumpsuits today.

So, where is that deal? We do use hormones, and we use anabolic steroids in cattle.

Dr. Mitek: For what?

Dr. Lowe: For growth promotion. Cattle respond very, very nicely to the implantation of a synthetic testosterone, trenbolone acetate.

Dr. Mitek: Even girl cows?

Dr. Lowe: Even girl cows. So, it's mixed with a little bit of estrogen. And so, we give the girls a little more estrogen than we do the boys. But, we put a implant, literally an implant. You know these birth control implants that they're using in humans, right? All that is is a series of plastic pellets that elute a hormone over time. In that case, progesterone and estrogen, they release, and they release a steady dose of that over time. So, the plastic is designed, it's soaked in the hormone, then it's released out. Okay, well, instead of putting progesterone and estrogen on it, we put trenbolone acetate and estrogen on it, and we put it behind the ear of a cow. So, this little absorbable pellet goes away, contains those two hormones.

So, why do we do that? Well, it decreases the amount of feed needed by about 20%. So, they're 20% more efficient. And in steers are more responsive than heifers. Male castrates are more responsive than intact females. If you think about it, that's because  male hormones, testosterone, is a potent anabolic steroid. It does deposit muscle. Think about all the baseball players that were taking roids and their heads got big. McGwire and Sammy Sosa could hit the ball really far because they were taking horse steroids, they were taking straight testosterone intended for horses. And so, that effect, in some respects, happen to cattle, to a much lesser degree. But, it forces them to shift energy used to muscle production instead of fat deposition, and particularly external fat deposition. So, we worry about cattle putting fat up on their back. Just like older men put fat on their belly, cattle put fat on their back as they gain weight. And so, what we do is we shift that, and we say, don't be putting on fat, put on muscle. So, it makes them more like teenagers instead of old men, is really what we've done.

Dr. Mitek: I don't know which one's worse.

Dr. Lowe: Yeah, both. They do act like teenagers. They're squirrely. And the reason we do that is that we don't feed intact males in this country. We feed only male castrates, for two reasons. One, when you feed intact males, you can get an off flavor to the meat. Bull meat or boar meat tastes very different than male castrate, barrow or steer meat. And then, that is actually enshrined into federal law. If you harvest a bull or intact boar, you can't buy that at the grocery store in the meat case. Those animals are not eligible to go into the regular meat supply.

Dr. Mitek: Is there a health concern?

Dr. Lowe: No, it's a taste concern, so that people would have trust that when I buy it, I know I'm not buying old boar meat. I know I'm not buying bull meat. So, those animals are harvested, but those animals end up in sausage products, they end up ground. They don't end up in the meat case where the intact muscle is at. That's enshrined in law. We can't even send those animals, by law in the U.S. So, we raise all male castrates. And that's great behaviorally, that's fantastic.

The challenge is, those animals aren't very efficient. In the cattle world, it's a hot debate. There's a consumer preference in part of the consumer base that they would much rather buy beef from cattle raised without anabolic steroids. And that sounds great. The problem is is that the people that want to buy meat without anabolic steroids tend to be the same group who is significantly concerned about greenhouse gases. I think we're all concerned about greenhouse gases, but they're more actively concerned about greenhouse gas admissions. So, I now just put 20% more feed in the same calf to produce the same amount of weight, which is 20% more greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Mitek: And takes longer to feed them, too?

Dr. Lowe: Yep. So irrespective of the economics - if you're willing to pay me for it, we'll do whatever. It's a simple business, right? If you want to buy beef raised without anabolic steroids, sign me up, here's what it cost. And it's more expensive, it's significantly more expensive. But it wouldn't kill us all to spend the same amount of money on a little less meat. I don't think that's the problem. The problem is, is that that really changes the greenhouse gas footprint of cattle production. And so, whether they're significant contributors or not, doesn't make a difference. But I know they're going to add more to the mix if we don't use these technologies. And I think all of this discussion gets back to this idea of, how do we balance technology use for making food safe, making food affordable, and minimizing the amount of resources we need to produce that food, with consumer demand for some of these... I'm going to call them, not enhanced, but different management practices, different rearing practices, animals reared in a different way.

Dr. Mitek: That's a lot of things to balance.

Dr. Lowe: It's a lot to balance, and it's a really hard question that a lot of really smart people have worried about. The retailers think about this all the time.

Dr. Mitek: Would you say the vast majority of beef in this country gets that implant?

Dr. Lowe: Yeah. The beef that is not getting that implant in the U.S. is what you see as all-natural. You'll see meat labelled - well, all meat is natural, right? Unless it's, you know, some lab-grown stuff. But if it came out of a critter, it's natural. But there's a beef label that people use that' called "natural." And so, those cattle, generally, there's no added hormones in those cattle. They may or may not be antibiotic-free, that's a loose deal. They may or may not be agent-source-verified, meaning that they're guaranteed less than 20 months of age, which is necessary in some of the export markets. So, there's some interesting - again, it's one of these labels that becomes a marketing hook that doesn't necessarily mean very much. It probably means they didn't put a hormone implant in there.

So, again, there's a market for that material, and there are people that are willing to pay for it. But, it's the balance of, what am I doing with these enhanced kind of practices, and what does that do to the trade-off? It's an interesting deal, right? Hungry people don't ask these questions. And I don't say that being sarcastic. But people who are in a calorie deficit - and there's a lot of people who are in a calorie deficit, even in this country. We have a lot of people that are poorly fed in this country, which should be an embarrassment to all of us, right? But we have a lot of people who don't have enough calories, don't have enough protein, globally, in this country, wherever. They aren't asking these balanced questions of, how do you raise it, what do we do? They're like, I just need some calories. And it's the balance between calorie availability for the poor, for the hungry, and the wants of the wealthy. And how do we balance those things in a food supply chain? And it's interesting stuff that keeps me engaged, but none of it is simple.

Dr. Mitek: And it's changing. It seems like it changes every week, what people want, or what becomes the new fad, if you will, for food, right?

Dr. Lowe: Yeah, there's an interesting article I saw, and now I can't recall what it is. But how do we get food fads? What drives these? Why do we come in and out? A lot of it is around spin, marketing, whatever you want to call it. And I don't mean by companies, but by people who are advocates for particular views, right? So, health, or whatever. I mean, I'm not picking on anyone. But they're like, oh, we should do this. And so they go down this path. So, I remember years ago, they said bran prevented heart disease. I don't know who came up with that. My grandma believed it, and she ate, like, all-bran cereal. And if you've seen that, it's awful. Like, you might as well just go eat the grass. And so, she ate all-bran cereal every day because she had heart disease, and she thought, because her doctor said this was the thing to do, right? We come to find out that none of that was actually true. But, somebody had advocated that. And so, you see these, you see these food fads, and you see these things coming around.

And the problem is, is that they push the food fad - this is the point of this article. I wish I could remember what it was. But, this food fad comes out, and it's supposed to be nirvana, and it doesn't happen. Or, it is achieved, and nothing fantastic happens. And so, then, we have to have the latest new craze to move in the right direction. And again, food's a cultural thing as much as it is a calorie thing. And the intertwining of that becomes very interesting. It's interesting, if I go to Europe, there is very little discussion about how we should raise pigs to make Serrano hams, or how we should raise pigs to make Parma hams. Like, I think they could destroy the world, and it's not a debate, because we're not giving that up, because that's a deep part of the culture. And so, it's,  how do we balance these things? And how do we continue to produce food that cheap enough for people to afford, that provides the nutrients necessary for them, in a way they want to consume it, which is a new bend on the thing. It used to be, you just bought whatever you had, and you had to make it right.

But, Lunchables are a perfect example. How do they want to consume that? So, how do they want to consume it? And, in a way that really minimizes resource use? We forget the whole environmental debates. The world is growing and we don't have any more land. And the more land we dedicate to agriculture, i.e. in the Brazilian rainforest, the worse it is for the environment. So, we've got to figure out how to feed more people on the same amount of resources, or probably less resources over time. So, all this gets mixed up. I keep saying, it's not going to be an interesting time to be in animal ag, but it just continues to be a fascinating time to be in animal ag.

Dr. Mitek: Well, now I'm hungry.

Dr. Lowe: Great.

Dr. Mitek: I'm sure our listeners are, too. So, we should probably wrap it up so everybody can go get a snack.

Dr. Lowe: Make sure it's a ham sandwich.

Dr. Mitek: Or a Lunchable. Or a kale smoothie, whatever your thing is, or almond milk latte. And with that, thank you very much, Dr. Lowe.

Dr. Lowe: Thanks, Ash.

Dr. Mitek: Have a great day!

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