A local news station here in San Francisco recently ran a story about the benefits of small local farm, free range, so called "heritage" meats. Because the farms are smaller operations, they have tighter controls over the conditions the animals live in, and proactively work to ensure their animals enjoy a proper diet of good food, clean water, and sunshine, all while moving about freely. It is also worth noting that none of the pig's tails are docked, or cut down to a nub, a practice in commercial farming operations to keep the pigs from chewing on each other's tails while confined several animals to a cage. Watch the video here: New Trend Toward Purebread Meats.
In counterpoint to all of that, one writer believes the locavore small farm, free range idea is actually more hazardous to our health. James McWilliams, author of the upcoming "Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly"
states that in fact because of the protocols of sterile efficiency that commercial factory farms must practice, they are much less likely to produce something hazardous to our collective health. In his New York Times op-ed piece, McWilliams uses vague and ambiguous statistics to tell us that basically we are paying twice as much to make ourselves twice as sick. His basic argument is that because free-range animals are not in a controlled environment, they are exposed to potential contaminants that an animal in a commercial operation technically would not be exposed to. The problem for McWilliams is that there is no chance a pig with the ability to roam free and away from it's own waste is dirtier or more hazardous than a pig crammed into a pen with 5 or 6 of his cousins.
But, you know, check it out for yourself. Read James McWilliams' op-ed article in the New York Times from April 9th, 2009.
Oh, and by the way? The study McWilliams sites for his article was funded by the National Pork Board, as noted by the NYT editor.