Never Mind Grass-Fed, How About Elixir-Fed Meats?
Forget grass-fed beef and free-range poultry. China’s farmers say they have found the next big health-food craze: cows, pigs and ducks raised on a steady diet of ancient Chinese medicine.
Practitioners in China have prescribed bitter blends of medicinal plants and herbs for centuries to ward off disease in humans. Now, farmers are adapting the age-old elixirs — a dash of ginseng here, a speck of licorice there — for use on livestock. They’re hoping to tap into the growing popularity of traditional medicine and health food in Chinese society.
The results, they promise, are not only delicious but healthy: lean, juicy meats that can protect against colds, arthritis and other illnesses. (The science is less resounding, though one study did find that cows that were fed Chinese medicines performed better in hot weather.)
In the southern region of Guangxi, Lin Wenluo, 53, began mixing 22 kinds of herbs into the daily feed for his livestock several years ago. The pigs that Mr. Lin raises sell for $460, about $200 more than the typical price for conventional pigs, he said, and some customers even eat his meats instead of taking medicine.
“The pigs raised this way don’t get sick, they have good texture and they’re meaty,” he said.
Farmers like Mr. Lin hope that China’s increasingly health-conscious middle class will help bring medicinal meats into the mainstream. The health-food market in China reached $1 trillion last year, and it is expected to grow 20 percent annually for the next several years.
Mr. Lin said China was returning to something good from the past that had been neglected. “In the old days, we used traditional methods to feed the animals,” he said. “People’s longevity was very long.”