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Osteopath’s search for poultry that is both kosher and organic leads to a new business
(Eddy Basch prepares an organic kosher chicken at his home. Gazette photo: Peter McCabe)
By Michelle Lalonde, The Gazette
About a decade ago, Montrealer Eddy Basch decided to start eating only organically grown foods. As an osteopath who embraces a holistic approach to health and well-being, Basch was becoming more and more convinced that many of the aches and pains he was treating in his Outremont office, as well as chronic illnesses, could be prevented through healthy eating and physical fitness. ”Most of the people I see are really out of shape and not aware how much what they are eating affects them. People seem to think that eating well means controlling calories and they forget about quality,” he said. Basch had always been physically active and interested in environmental issues. Turning away from processed foods and embracing organics was something that just made sense to him, especially after his two children came along. Switching to organic vegetables was no problem, especially since Basch loves to garden and grows as much of his own food as he can on a plot of land he owns in the Laurentians. But the hunt for organic meat was more challenging, since Basch and his family are Jewish and eat only kosher foods. Under Jewish dietary law, certain animals may not be eaten at all, but those birds and animals that can be eaten must be killed in a certain way. Kosher slaughter is not done by machines (as is the case at most industrial farms), but by a “shochet,” a person who is specially trained to slaughter animals in as humane a manner as possible. Aside from the slaughter method, kosher organic chickens are raised just like other organic poultry. This means the birds spend time outside every day hunting and pecking, they are not given growth hormones or antibiotics (except to treat illness), and they are fed grain that is organically grown, not grain that has been genetically modified or treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Industrially produced chickens, on the other hand, are generally raised in windowless buildings, crammed into small cages, exposed to artificial light and given drugs to make them grow faster and prevent disease in this unhealthy environment. Not wanting to choose between organic and kosher, Basch decided to take matters into his own hands. “I knew we could get kosher organic poultry from the states, but that was not a practical solution, so I decided I would make it myself,” he said. So in 2002, Basch approached the owners of Marvid Poultry Inc., a kosher slaughterhouse in Montreal North and then went to visit several certified organic farmers in the eastern townships. They made a deal. Basch would arrange for transportation of live, organically raised chickens and turkeys to Marvid Poultry, where they would be slaughtered in a kosher manner and packaged under Basch’s new brand name, “Tiferet Organics.”. ”I just went on a hunch that there were other people like me, educated professionals who adhered to kosher dietary laws and were looking for organic foods. I gambled, and it has paid off.” Though Basch declined to say how many clients he has, he says his business is growing steadily. Basch and his wife, Tania, now run the business from their Cote des Neiges home, attracting customers mainly through word of mouth and their website.They sell their kosher organic chicken and turkey at a half-dozen groceries and health food stores in Montreal, as well as a few outlets in Ottawa and Toronto. But many clients prefer their home delivery service, Basch said, because even with the delivery cost, they save on the retail mark-up. The price for kosher organic poultry is, of course, considerably higher than conventional chicken and turkey. A whole chicken is $12.63 per kilogram ($5.73 per pound) and a boneless skinless chicken breast is $30 per kilogram ($14 per pound). Yup, that’s pricey, but presumably Basch’s customers would rather eat organic, cruelty-free meat less often, than the cheaper, less tasty, less healthy meats offered at most grocery stores every day. Although most of Basch’s clients are looking for kosher poultry for religious reasons, he expects to gradually broaden his client base to non-Jewish customers who like the idea of a more humane killing method. Kosher slaughterhouses, he explained, “use a surgical scalpel to cut into the neck of the animal in such a way that the animal doesn’t feel anything … so it is a far more humane way of doing it. These guys are very smooth, so they don’t panic the animal. If the animals panic, they release adrenalin, which affects the quality of the meat and the taste. That’s why many people claim that kosher meat tastes better,” Basch says. Tiferet Organic products are certified by Ecocert Canada, an organization that conducts on-site inspections to ensure production rules for organic agricultural products are respected. But Basch says the Kosher inspection process at Marvid is probably even more thorough. ”Each animal is inspected for flaws in the viscera, by inspectors who have been trained just in that, and if there are defects, which could indicate some illness, those animals are disqualified, so they cannot be declared kosher,” he noted. For Basch, it all comes down to respecting our bodies and what we put in them. And if supporting local, organic farmers can also help protect the environment, all the better, he says. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Unlike conventional farming, organic food production does not rely on hormones, antibiotics, growth promoters, synthetic herbicides and pesticides. Organic farmers employ soil management techniques that enrich the soil with organic matter and limit soil erosion, techniques that are not as destructive to the environment. The end result is a food product that is healthier and more nutritious for your family to consume because it is free of dangerous chemicals and is grown in a nutrient rich soil.
The sticker price of most conventional food may be less expensive than its organic alternative but the actual cost of the food to society and the environment is far greater.
Take poultry production as an example. If soya is used in the feed, chances are that it is a genetically modified organism. In addition, chemical substances such as synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers are used in producing the poultry feed which in turn pollutes the environment. The costs of detoxifying soil from these pollutants as well as reclaiming the soil from erosion are not factored into the consumer price tag. However, the clean up is a real cost to society because it will have to be done. Residues of hormones and antibiotics in the poultry itself have potential serious health consequences that are borne by society in the form of radically increasing health-care costs. In addition, poultry farmers may get subsidies from federal and provincial government agencies to keep prices competitive.
There are no hidden costs associated with the production of organic food and there are no government subsidies aimed at defraying the costs of production. The sticker price reflects the actual cost of production.
So, is organic food expensive? The short answer is ‘yes’. But the cost of conventional food also has its price. All things considered, perhaps conventional foods are becoming too costly for ourselves our families and the environment. And perhaps, this is one of the reasons why organic food is the fastest growing sector of the food market. More and more people are choosing organic and voting with their wallets.
When we compare the prices of conventional foods to those of organic foods, many people are left wondering if eating organic is worth the higher price. So why then are so many individuals switching to organic?
The answer may be found in examining the ways in which organic foods are produced. For example, organic poultry are produced without hormones, antibiotics or any growth promoters. These Chickens are fed non-genetically modified organic grains that have not been spayed with synthetic herbicides or pesticides. In addition, the poultry are Free Range, meaning they live in open barns and never in cages. Weather permitting they are given access to the outdoors as well. No artificial lighting cycles are imposed upon them to increase the amount of feeding, and the chickens are awake by day and asleep by night.
Given these factors many people find the price tag of an organic chicken worth it. Knowing that these creatures are given the best possible feed and a better life before they become our food, is considered by many to be worth the extra cost.
The Kosher Aspect
The kosher slaughter adds yet another dimension to this subject. Aside from the potential health benefits of eating organic food, many individuals who eat organic do so for ethical reasons as well. As described above, organic poultry are raised in a more humane manner and this is important to many organic consumers.
The kosher slaughter is always done by hand and never mechanically. The Mashgeach (Kosher Slaughterer), is a highly trained individual and very experienced in his trade. He has to comply with numerous details of his work with exacting care. It takes two individuals to slaughter a chicken. One person holds the bird and the other uses a razor like blade to precisely cut the neck in an exacting place and fashion.
Having witnessed this form of slaughter many times, it seems more like a submission than a violent struggle. The birds are not panicked and do not seem to suffer. Any deviation from the protocol demanded of his trade renders the animal unfit to consume. Additionally the viscera of each bird is individually inspected for blemishes or other such signs and if any are found, the animal is rejected and not consumed.
One can argue that not only is this a more humane slaughter than the conventional one, but it is also a more selective process, achieving a higher standard of quality as well. These factors I believe are appealing to the ‘ethically minded’ organic food consumer and in the final analysis argues in favor of spending the extra dollars on kosher organic poultry.
Eddy Basch DO