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What About Grass-fed Beef?
April 18th, 2010

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Feeding grain to cattle has got to be one of the dumbest ideas in the history of western civilization.

Cows, sheep, and other grazing animals are endowed with the ability to convert grasses, which those of us who possess only one stomach cannot digest, into food that we can digest. They can do this because they are ruminants, which is to say that they possess a rumen, a 45 or so gallon (in the case of cows) fermentation tank in which resident bacteria convert cellulose into protein and fats.

Traditionally, all beef was grassfed beef, but in the United States today what is commercially available is almost all feedlot beef. The reason? It’s faster, and so more profitable. Seventy-five years ago, steers were 4 or 5 years old at slaughter. Today, they are 14 or 16 months. You can’t take a beef calf from a birth weight of 80 pounds to 1,200 pounds in a little more than a year on grass. It takes enormous quantities of corn, protein supplements, antibiotics and other drugs, including growth hormones.

Switching a cow from grass to grain is so disturbing to the animal’s digestive system that it can kill the animal if not done gradually and if the animal is not continually fed antibiotics. These animals are designed to forage, but we make them eat grain, primarily corn, in order to make them as fat as possible as fast as possible.

Author and small-scale cattleman Michael Pollan wrote recently in the New York Times about what happens to cows when they are taken off of pastures and put into feedlots and fed grain:

“Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal’s lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal’s esophagus), the cow suffocates.

A corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike that in our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn makes it unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio.”

All this is not only unnatural and dangerous for the cows. It also has profound consequences for us. Feedlot beef as we know it today would be impossible if it weren’t for the routine and continual feeding of antibiotics to these animals. This leads directly and inexorably to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These are the new “superbugs” that are increasingly rendering our “miracle drugs” ineffective.

As well, it is the commercial meat industry’s practice of keeping cattle in feedlots and feeding them grain that is responsible for the heightened prevalence of E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria. When cattle are grainfed, their intestinal tracts become far more acidic, which favors the growth of pathogenic E. coli bacteria, which in turn kills people who eat undercooked hamburger.

E. coli 0157:H7 has only recenty appeared on the scene. First isolated in the 1980s, this pathogen is now found in the intestines of most U.S. feedlot cattle. The practice of feeding corn and other grains to cattle has created the perfect conditions for microbes to come into being that can harm and kill us. As Michael Pollan explains:

“Most of the microbes that reside in the gut of a cow and find their way into our food get killed off by the acids in our stomachs, since they originally adapted to live in a neutral-pH environment. But the digestive tract of the modern feedlot cow is closer in acidity to our own, and in this new, manmade environment acid-resistant strains of E. coli have developed that can survive our stomach acids — and go on to killl us. By acidifying a cow’s gut with corn, we have broken down one of our food chain’s barriers to infections.”

Many of us think of “corn-fed” beef as nutritionally superior, but it isn’t. A cornfed cow does develop well-marbled flesh, but this is simply saturated fat that can’t be trimmed off. Grassfed meat, on the other hand, is lower both in overall fat and in artery-clogging saturated fat. A sirloin steak from a grainfed feedlot steer has more than double the total fat of a similar cut from a grassfed steer. In its less-than-infinite wisdom, however, the USDA continues to grade beef in a way that rewards marbling with intra-muscular fat.

Grassfed beef not only is lower in overall fat and in saturated fat, but it has the added advantage of providing more omega-3 fats. These crucial healthy fats are most plentiful in flaxseeds and fish, and are also found in walnuts, soybeans and in meat from animals that have grazed on omega-3 rich grass. When cattle are taken off grass, though, and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they immediately begin losing the omega-3s they have stored in their tissues. As a consequence, the meat from feedlot animals typically contains only 15- 50 percent as much omega-3s as that from grassfed livestock.

This is certainly an advantage for grassfed beef, but it comes with a cost. The higher omega-3 levels and other differences in fatty acid composition contributes to flavors and odors in grassfed meat that most people find undesirable. Taste-panel participants have found the meat from grassfed animals to be characterized by “off-flavors including ammonia, gamey, bitter, liverish, old, rotten and sour.”

In addition to being higher in healthy omega-3s, meat from pastured cattle is also up to four times higher in vitamin E than meat from feedlot cattle, and much higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a nutrient associated with lower cancer risk.

As well as these nutritional advantages, there are also decided environmental benefits to grassfed beef. According to David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist who specializes in agriculture and energy, the corn we feed our feedlot cattle accounts for a staggering amount of fossil fuel energy. Growing the corn used to feed livestock in this country takes vast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil. Because of this dependence on petroleum, Pimentel says, a typical steer will in effect consume 284 gallons of oil in his lifetime. Comments Michael Pollan,

“We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine.”

In addition to consuming less energy, grassfed beef has another environmental advantage — it is far less polluting. The animals’ wastes drop onto the land, becoming nutrients for the next cycle of crops. In feedlots and other forms of factory farming, however, the animals’ wastes build up in enormous quantities, becoming a staggering source of water and air pollution.

From a humanitarian perspective, there is yet another advantage to pastured animal products. The animals themselves are not forced to live in confinement. The cruelties of modern factory farming are so severe that you don’t have to be a vegetarian or an animal rights activist to find the conditions to be intolerable, and a violation of the human-animal bond. Pastured livestock are not forced to endure the miseries of factory farming. They are not cooped up in cages barely larger than their own bodies, or packed together like sardines for months on end standing knee deep in their own manure.

It’s important to remember that grassfed is not the same as organic. Natural food stores often sell organic beef and dairy products that are hormone- and antibiotic- free. While these products come from animals who most likely were fed less grain than the industry norm, they typically still spent their last months (or in the case of dairy cows virtually their whole lives) in feedlots where they were fed grain. Even when the grain is raised organically, feeding large amounts of grain to a ruminant animal compromises the nutritional value of the resulting meat or dairy products and exacts an added toll on the environment.

Just as organic does not mean grass-fed, grass-fed does not mean organic. Pastured animals sometimes graze on land that has been treated with synthetic fertilizers and even doused with herbicides. Unless the meat label specifically says it is both grassfed and organic, it isn’t.

Grass-fed beef is typically more expensive, but I’m not at all sure that’s a bad thing. We shouldn’t be eating nearly as much meat as we do. While there are surely many advantages to grassfed beef over feedlot beef, this is still not a food that I, for one, am able to recommend.

It takes a long time and a lot of grassland to raise a grassfed steer. Western rangelands are vast, but not nearly vast enough to sustain America’s 100 million head of cattle. There is no way that grassfed beef can begin to feed the meat appetites of people in the United States, much less play a role in addressing world hunger. Grassfed meat production might be viable in a country like New Zealand with its geographic isolation, unique climate and topography, and exceedingly small human population. But in the world as it is today, I am afraid that grassfed beef is a food that only the wealthy elites will be able to consume in any significant quantities.

We do not yet have studies that tell us what percentage of the health problems associated with eating beef would be reduced or eliminated by the eating of grassfed beef. I’m sure grassfed beef is much healthier than feedlot beef, both for the environment and for the consumer. But doing well in such a comparison hardly constitutes a ringing endorsement. While grassfed beef and other pastured animal products have many advantages over factory farm and feedlot products, it’s important to remember that factory farm and feedlot products are an unmitigated disaster. Almost anything would be better.

I am reminded of a brochure the Cattlemen’s Association used to distribute to schools. The pamphlet compared the nutritional realities of a hamburger to another common food, and made much of the fact that the hamburger was superior in that it had more of every single nutrient listed than did its competitor. And what’s more, the competitor had far more sugar. The comparison made it sound like a hamburger was truly a health food.

The competition, however, was not the stiffest imaginable. It was a 12-ounce can of Coke.

Comparing grassfed beef to feedlot beef is a little like that. It’s far healthier, more humane, and more environmentally sustainable. It’s indeed better. If you are going to eat meat, dairy products or eggs, then that’s the best way to do it.

But I wouldn’t get too carried away and think that as long as it’s grassfed then it’s fine and dandy. Grassfed products are still high in saturated fat (though not as high), still high in cholesterol, and are still devoid of fiber and many other essential nutrients. They take less toll on the environment, but the land on which the animals graze still must often be irrigated, thus using up dwindling water resources, and it may be fertilized with petroleum-based fertilizers.

And there are other environmental costs. Next to carbon dioxide, the most destabilizing gas to the planet’s climate is methane. Methane is actually 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and its concentration in the atmosphere is rising even faster. The primary reason that concentrations of atmospheric methane are now triple what they were when they began rising a century ago is beef production. Cattle raised on pasture actually produce more methane than feedlot animals, on a per-cow basis.

Plus there is the tremendous toll grazing cattle takes on the land itself. Even with U.S. beef cattle today spending the last half of their lives in feedlots, seventy percent of the land area of the American West is currently used for grazing livestock. More than two-thirds of the entire land area of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho is used for rangeland. Just about the only land that isn’t grazed is in places that for one reason or another can’t be used by livestock—inaccessible areas, dense forests and brushlands, the driest deserts, sand dunes, extremely rocky areas, cliffs and mountaintops, cities and towns, roads and parking lots, airports, and golf courses. In the American West, virtually every place that can be grazed, is grazed. The results aren’t pretty. As one environmental author put it, “Cattle grazing in the West has polluted more water, eroded more topsoil, killed more fish, displaced more wildlife, and destroyed more vegetation than any other land use.”

Western rangelands have been devastated under the impact of the current system, in which cattle typically spend only six months or so on the range, and the rest of their lives in feedlots. To bring cows to market weight on rangeland alone would require each animal to spend not six months foraging, but several years, greatly multiplying the damage to western ecosystems.

The USDA’s Animal Damage Control (ADC) program was established in 1931 for a single purpose—to eradicate, suppress, and control wildlife considered to be detrimental to the western livestock industry. The program has not been popular with its opponents. They have called the ADC by a variety of names, including, “All the Dead Critters” and “Aid to Dependent Cowboys.”

In 1997, following the advice of public relations and image consultants, the federal government gave a new name to the ADC—“Wildlife Services.” And they came up with a new motto—“Living with Wildlife.”

This is an interesting choice of words. What “Wildlife Services” actually does is kill any creature that might compete with or threaten livestock. Its methods include poisoning, trapping, snaring, denning, shooting, and aerial gunning. In “denning” wildlife, government agents pour kerosene into the den and then set it on fire, burning the young alive in their nests.

Among the animals Wildlife Services agents intentionally kill are badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, gray fox, red fox, mountain lions, opossum, raccoons, striped skunks, beavers, nutrias, porcupines, prairie dogs, black birds, cattle egrets, and starlings. Animals unintentionally killed by Wildlife Services agents include domestic dogs and cats, and several threatened and endangered species.

All told, Wildlife Services, the federal agency whose motto is “Living with Wildlife,” intentionally kills more than 1.5 million wild animals annually. This is done, of course, at public expense, to protect the private financial interests of ranchers who wish to use public lands to graze their livestock.

The price that western lands and wildlife are paying for grazing cattle is hard to exaggerate. Conscientious management of rangelands can certainly reduce the damage, but widespread production of grassfed beef would only multiply this already devastating toll.

“Most of the public lands in the West, and especially the Southwest, are what you might call ‘cow burnt.’ Almost anywhere and everywhere you go in the American West you find hordes of cows. . . . They are a pest and a plague. They pollute our springs and streams and rivers. They infest our canyons, valleys, meadows and forests. They graze off the native bluestems and grama and bunch grasses, leaving behind jungles of prickly pear. They trample down the native forbs and shrubs and cacti. They spread the exotic cheatgrass, the Russian thistle, and the crested wheat grass. Even when the cattle are not physically present, you see the dung and the flies and the mud and the dust and the general destruction. If you don’t see it, you’ll smell it. The whole American West stinks of cattle.” — Edward Abbey, conservationist and author, in a speech before cattlemen at the University of Montana in 1985

While grassfed beef certainly has advantages over feedlot beef, another answer is to eat less meat. If as a society we did this, then the vast majority of the public lands in the western United States could be put to more valuable — and environmentally sustainable — use. Much of the western United States is sunny and windy, and could be used for large-scale solar energy and wind-power facilities. With the cattle off the land, photovoltaic modules and windmills could generate enormous amounts of energy without polluting or causing environmental damage. Other areas could grow grasses that could be harvested as “biomass” fuels, providing a far less polluting source of energy than fossil fuels. Much of it could be restored, once again becoming valued wildlife habitat. The restoration of cow burnt lands would help to vitalize rural economies as well as ecosystems.

And there is one more thing. When you picture grassfed beef, you probably envision an idyllic scene of a cow outside in a pasture munching happily on grass. That is certainly the image those endorsing and selling these products would like you to hold. And there is some truth to it.

But it is only a part of the story. There is something missing from such a pleasant picture, something that nevertheless remains an ineluctable part of the actual reality. Grassfed beef does not just come to you straight from God’s Green Earth. It also comes to you via the slaughterhouse.

The lives of grassfed livestock are more humane and natural than the lives of animals confined in factory farms and feedlots, but their deaths are often just as terrifying and cruel. If they are taken to a conventional slaughterhouse, they are just as likely as a feedlot animal to be skinned while alive and fully conscious, and just as apt to be butchered and have their feet cut off while they are still breathing — distressing realities that tragically occur every hour in meat-packing plants nationwide. Confronting the brutal realities of modern slaughterhouses can be a harsh reminder that those who contemplate only the pastoral image of cattle patiently foraging do not see the whole picture.

These comments are moderated to support respectful, non-commercial, and open-minded dialogue.

53 Responses to “What About Grass-fed Beef?”

  1. Joe says:

    Re: the “world hunger” comment: if 20 (or 40) years ago, people advocated for FREE BIRTH CONTROL instead of cheap food, there would be no world hunger. The planet was never intended to sustain 7B+ people. If you really truly want to save the world, DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN. Tell everyone you know NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN. Offer to pay for birth control/abortions for anyone that wants one.

    Changing your diet, using fewer plastic bags, and whatever other stupid things people advocate as being “good for the environment” is nothing compared to agreeing not to procreate.

  2. Katrina says:

    Look up rendering plant and spend some time looking through the photos you get. This alone should make you want to eat only locally grown meat so that you know what it has eaten and what you’re about to eat. I dont’ know about you all, but I don’t like the thought of taking in anything that been fed another mashed up animal that may have been sitting around for a while.

  3. Jan at Wassi's Meat Market says:

    Seriously, those of us that LOVE a good steak would NEVER consider eating a piece of grass fed beef. Granted it is lower in fat and price, but it is also lower in quality and tendernesss.

  4. Usiku says:

    The entirety of the American and global problem is capitalism that exceeds balance. Without addressing this moral, spiritual and philosophical deficit, the issues will be unending leaving us without enough fingers and toes to plug the holes.

    Secondly, the solution is not to turn range land into solar and wind facilities, it’d be much better to decentralize energy production back into the hands of the individual. For starters, it should be standard for all homes and buildings to be at least 50% energy sustainable. We should make it advantageous instead of illegal to grow food in our front yards. There are so many beneficial steps we could take but overall we should learn to use less energy just as we should learn to eat less meat.

  5. Jim says:

    There are so many untruths written here that I don’t even know where to start.
    -Cattle were not slaughtered at 3 to 5 years old in history
    -Not all cattle are given growth hormones
    -Antibiotics are used only when needed
    -Feed lots are typically sanitary
    -The animals typically are treated humanly
    -Grass feed beef does not taste nearly as good, perhaps the fat is a problem for our bloated population but that is not the industries fault.

    Try writing about something you know about!

  6. Alan says:

    Your comment about cholesterol unfortunately shows a complete lack of knowledge about it, or having done the research which is in over-abundance on the internet. And a personal “opinion” is generally one-sided and therefore slanted or prejudiced, making it biased and not truly weighing both side of the issue.

    You are not alone, as many of those who have responded fall into the same category. Some have even been so narrow-minded as to focus on the misspelling of a word, as though somehow that places them in some sort of a superior intelligence that by some stroke of magic makes their comment nullify an entire article as to it’s value.

    There is clearly a problem with our food, and our government only pretends to care, all the while bowing to the demands of the almighty power of money and greed. It’s not new…it’s just finally gotten completely out of hand and we, the general public, pay the price.

    Feedlot s are inhumane and produce something that passes for food that slowly kills us. It could be chickens, turkeys, pigs, it doesn’t matter. As for the slaughterhouses and their methods, I’m sorry but they are animals. They are not humans and trying to make a human out of an animal is just nuts. According to the book I read we are to subdue and rule. We are to kill and eat.

    But as our culture is today, it has gotten so that everyone has to have a cause to feel important. It makes no difference whether it’s a cow or a football team! Personally I think that people are more important, and that the health of a nation is more important, than whether a word is misspelled or how an animal is prepared for market.

    This is not about being right or wrong, and it makes no difference whatsoever if someone likes this verbiage or not. There’re just my thoughts and in reality, only important to me. If wisdom can be extracted then so be it. One thing is blatantly clear. There is a problem, and there is a solution. Let action speak louder than words.

  7. david says:

    the article states:

    “Cattle raised on pasture actually produce more methane than feedlot animals, on a per-cow basis.”

    can you cite a source for this information? thanks.

  8. Natalia says:

    Ok Daniella Miss Braniac. Why not use the word dumbest?……after all it is a word. Sooooooo ???? Your point???

    Secondly the word cattle was used FIRST, then followed by cows which in the end weather it was a mistake or just something simply missed, who cares? and you are going to allow those two things from preventing you to read an article???

    If that’s all it takes , you must not read very often.

  9. Gary says:

    There are lots and lots of unfounded opinions in this article; pieces here and there are truthful, much, much more is inaccurate.

    Cattle are on grass for the majority of their lives. The beef cow, who produces the calves (either bull or heifer) that become beef, most certainly spends the entirety of her life on grass or forage of some kind. Their calves are on grass with their mothers until they are weaned at 150 to 250 days of age (average is about 205 days). Then, they may go to grass for another 90-150 days before they spend the last 100-150 days on corn or other grains to be finished. So, first of all, let’s clear the air on this whole thing that cattle do not spend most of their lives on grain. They do not. Fact. Ask someone who actually knows, or makes their living from the beef industry.

    There is so lttle the public does not know because they have not cared to know, they just believe wild-eyed people who want to destroy other people’s way of life and means of making a living. Most people in the U.S. are spoiled by low food prices and are so many generations removed from the farm that they simply do not understand current economics in the farming and ranching industries.

    If you want REAL answers that tell the TRUTH about modern agriculture, ask someone who actually EARNS their living in the business or is involved in the industry at the production level.

  10. Nancy says:

    The problem with feed lots are the inhumane living conditions the cattle are made to live their short lifes. Belly deep in fecus and urine, causing foot rot, downer cow syndrome, mad cow disease and e-coli in our food chain. Montana has no law for feed lots, as long as the cattle has food and water, no laws are broken. I want to change the law for better living and slaughter conditons. How do I go about starting or changing the laws on Montana’s books? Please advise.

  11. Andrew says:

    cow= singular
    cattle= plural

  12. MARY KATE CLARK says:

    In Argentina, the cows still get the grass nature intended. People still eat many of those cows, but they are healthy cows… and the people don’t get sick either.
    It’s disgusting that, because it’s cheap, cows are forced to eat grains that make them sick. It’s karma that people can eventually inherit the fallout from that, but it’s not fair that those who suffer the worst from E.coli outbreaks tend to be innocent children and the immunodeficient or elderly.
    Cows need grass… Grass can be supplied. Healthy cows. Even the milk is healthier. Many problems solved.
    But, in the US, some jerk and his wallet somehow hold more sway, why is that?
    Makes for more bad karma.

  13. Carol says:

    Likely to be skinned alive and have their hooves cut off while they’re still breathing? You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Check your facts before slandering the hard working people who feed the world.

  14. Daniella says:

    First of all, I cannot take this article seriously if within the first two sentences the words “dumbest” and “cows” are used. The plural form of “cow” is “cattle”, or you can also use the scientific word for cattle and that is “bovine”

  15. Em says:

    Why is there not more research on meat, veggies, etc? It seems that large corps are buying out the food industry and we truely do not know what is going. I truely beleive the increase of diseases in the last 30 years is because of the way our food is being produced. Hormones, genetically modified, and antibiotics play a large role. There needs to be honest research done by companies that do not have an interest in making “money” off of food, but doing what is best for our present and future generations. Just food for thought…..

  16. John Wise says:

    The problems cited with land degradation due to cattle grazing are from OVER grazing. A pasture or range grazed sustainably is home to a wide array of wildlife. When you plow that land to grow grain you destroy the habitat of countless insects,birds,reptiles and mammals.

    And what was on the vast grasslands of the plains before the white man came? 65 million bison,all emitting methane. If the national cattle herd was kept at this number,there would be no net increase in the natural emission level of methane.

  17. kamen says:

    I LOVE BEEF!!!!!!

  18. Jill says:

    Richard Oppenlander has recently written a book titled “Comfortably Unaware” and it deals strictly on the effects our food choices have on the environment. His well researched information and clearly written facts give the scary and harsh reality of where our planet is headed if we do not become more aware of and change the way we look at and choose our meals. I commend John Robbins for helping but there is still not enough information available about this and I believe everyone should share when they do come across vital and imperative information about how to make the world a better place. Check out Comfortablyunaware.com

  19. Jeremy says:

    This is an interesting article, but I would like to see sources for all of your statistics and claims… Much of it seems a little far stretched and a little like “the sky is falling!” On the flip side we do eat less meat than we used to and do buy grass-fed beef and free-range chicken when possible it’s good to see an post supporting that.

  20. Fed lot up says:

    “So, I feel that we must all make a personal decision on the matter based on who we each individually are, for everything is relative to the individual person.” Max

    Not really, what you do there affects me here whether I choose to partake or not. Therefore in this ever shrinking world, it’s not to each his own, because your each takes my own.

  21. Fed lot up says:

    But you do use antibiotics, Barry Baehr?

  22. Shayne says:

    I agree with most of what you said but I have one complaint which is a pet peeve of mine. You and many others continually refer to the beef we buy and consume as coming from “cows”. The truth is it comes from steers and heifers not cows. The cows that are slaughtered end up in things like cooked meat as in summer sausage, weiners etc, etc. So hopefully in your next article you could refer to beef cattle in the proper context. Thanks

  23. Ashley says:

    It’s not true that you can’t hardly grow a beef quickly on grass. We had a bull that we butchered at about 10 months old and he was over 800 lbs. He had nothing but milk and forage. Good pasture can be very high protein. We have a lot of clover.

  24. Quora says:

    Is vegetarianism good for the environment?…

    Yes. The simple rebuttal to your friend’s argument is that 70% of all farmed land is used to produce food not for humans but for livestock. If everyone became vegan, we would need only about 1/7 of that land to substitute production of an equivalent n…

  25. Skinner says:

    Well written, not entirely sound though. You need to cite this entire article. After reading this I searched and scoured books and the internet; a lot of this information is old and has been countered and a lot of it seems to appear out of thin air. I agree completely that people need to eat better and treat our future food better, but this information, if presented to an educated individual, is not going to help the cause.

  26. Colin says:

    Folks, you are missing the real cause of all the problems….Too many people on the planet and a world economic system that demands continuingly more ‘consumers’ in order for the system to continue. The grain-fed industry is only one example of what is happening right across the entire spectrum of of modern civilisation. Makes me glad I’m nearing my ‘three-score and ten’ and living in the smallest and most remote civilised country in the world, (New Zealand) Cheers folks.

  27. Debbie West says:

    Great information but where do I go to get the better beef?

  28. Barry Baehr says:

    My wife and I own several horses and we love them. Wild horses are feral horses, they are not native to North America.Any student of the Old West knows that many of the wagons were pulled by oxen. Cattle grazing on public land is monitored to prevent overgrazing, most of them are required by law to be removed during winter months.
    The fact is, that if allowed to run wild and keep breeding,(they have no natural enemies) the feral horses would totaly destroy all of the grass, shrubs and eventually trees in the American west. This very thing happened in New Zealand when 3 deer were imported in the 1800s.(same deal- no natural predators)They multiplied until there was no grass and the hillsides all started eroding.

  29. Barry Baehr says:

    This is an astonishing article, unfortunately it contains a lot of what a bull leaves behind.
    I am a 68 year old rancher, all of my life I have raised beef cattle and sold beef. I have raised and marketed organic grain fed beef,conventional grain fed beef(including the ear implants of hormones) and grass fed beef(3 year old heifers). The first indication of ignorance is the terminology; “cows” are older animals that produce calves, when culled for any reason the are normally processed into hamburger. The cuts you see in the grocery store are from “steers” castrated males or “heifers” unbred females. He is right, these animals will be young; from 18-24b months at harvest.
    The absolute fairy tale is that feedlot cattle are fed antibiotics every day. I personally have never done this and have worked for cattle feeders that feed from 10,000 to 100,000 head and no one that I am aware of does this. ( this is not true of chickens, turkeys or pigs)
    It is true that most feedlots are crowded and in wet weather the pens are knee deep in manure.
    Personally, my cattle are treated much better, with lots of room and a clean shaded environment.
    BELIEVE HALF OF WHAT YOU SEE AND NONE OF WHAT YOU READ!!

  30. Jeremy says:

    [citation needed]

    Your writing is convincing and I want to believe this article, but without a single cited study or shred of data I can’t.

  31. Amy says:

    Thanks to you, Mr. Robbins. I have read many of your books over the years and you always are illuminating. Yes, we could all eat less meat and that would be one answer to the many problems caused by livestock. It’s too bad that many people will never consider that as a possibility.

  32. Elaine Nash says:

    This is a very interesting article. As a person who grew up on a farm/dairy/ranch operation, I recognize many of the areas where our thinking about what we eat and how we grow it has gone awry as population and demand increases. I noticed one glaring hole in your article, though. There was not one single mention that over-selling of grazing leases for cattle is responsible for the BLM’s race to complete the total elimination of America’s treasured wild horse herds. Also surprising to me is that none of the comments made before mine mentioned the wild horses, either.

    The BLM is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to remove the wild horse herds from public lands, just so more cattle can graze there. Most herds are being wiped out completely, with the few herds that are left being reduced to levels that prevent genetic sustainability- therefore assuring their total elimination in a very short time.

    The BLM treats gorgeous, majestic wild horses like so much vermin, and kill hundreds of them in the most brutal ways imaginable- like chasing them so far and fast with helicopters that foals literally run their hooves off as they race in terror to keep up with their mothers. A few days ago, BLM’s helicopter pilot purposely hit a young, exhausted colt with the one of copter’s skids to force it to move faster into the capture pens. Onsite at the round-up that are currently underway, horses are choked to death, shot, foals left behind to starve, and other senseless, unnecessarily brutal treatment that results in death or injury to the horses.

    BLM allows many wild horses to be ‘adopted’ cheaply or free to Mexican and Canadian slaughter house agents. If you think beef slaughter houses are cruel, you should visit one of the Mexican or Canadian horse killers and see what they do to living horses or all ages. The wild horses who avoid slaughter- the “lucky” ones, are loaded into trucks and shipped to feedlots in the Midwest to live out their lives. BLM’s spin doctors claim that they are ‘rescuing starving horses’, yet wild horse advocates can find literally no wild horses that are not fit, fat, and healthy, except for those who fail to thrive in the feedlots established to house the captured horses.

    Not even a national outcry from the public or Federal lawsuits have slowed the process one whit. All this to allow a few more cattle onto public lands.

    Do we want to take our grandchildren to show them the ‘real west’, and have nothing to see but domestic beef cattle roaming the wild lands? Really?

    I’d like to see you address this issue to your otherwise good accounting of the very unpleasant realities our country faces as a result of our becoming ‘beef crazed’ in our diets. I was one of ‘them’ until I very recently became aware of how my appetite for meat was contributing to the very ugly picture we’re painting with our forks.

  33. Max L. F. says:

    I am a rancher, born and raised, and this is very interesting information to me. I don’t believe that grazing cattle on range land, public and private I might add, is a completely destructive use of the land. I understand that restoring land to a “valuable wildlife habitat” would be beautiful and nearly natural (a word that doesn’t hold the same definition it would have 100 years ago) but would this mean just public land or some seizure of private land held by ranchers too?
    I guess, without typing out an entire essay, I feel this information is informative and interesting but also doesn’t contain all the subtleties that are encompassed by private family ranching operations. There are certainly places where improvements can be made and new technology and research can, and should be, utilized; however, there will never be a time when ALL parties will be satisfied. So, I feel that we must all make a personal decision on the matter based on who we each individually are, for everything is relative to the individual person.

  34. Wendy says:

    I would like to know the sources for your information in this article. I haven’t eaten beef in years because of my belief that a lot of this is true (I have a sister-in-law who is assistant director of the Iowa Dept. of Agricultural Health and Safety), but if I am to convince others I need to know your sources for your information.

  35. Gary Chiro says:

    what a read.Reminds me of the recent movie, food inc. I do find it funny how beef tends to marketed as grain fed which makes mist people believe grain is better.

  36. Sid says:

    Meant to say I disagree…

  37. Sid says:

    Very good article, but I agree with the off odors you describe. I raise grass finished beef and consume it and have never had any of these odors. The only thing that is different is the more wild flavor form the grasses the cattle eat. You indicated that as a quote from some other source and I wish you had given the reference. I totally disagree.

  38. Dana says:

    There is not a single shred of scientific evidence that either saturated fat *or* cholesterol is bad for you. Saturated fat makes up much of the material of the cell membranes (you know, the things that hold in cellular contents–kind of necessary) and cholesterol is a major building block of the human brain. You can make both saturated fat and cholesterol from carbohydrate intake, but you wouldn’t want to rely on that; the longest-lived people in the world also have the best insulin sensitivity and the lowest insulin levels, and you don’t get those from eating sugar all your life. (Starch, by the way, turns into sugar in the body–so “eating complex carbohydrates” is NOT the answer.)

    This is one of my objections to the publicity surrounding grass-finished beef. GF ranchers love to talk about their beef having less saturated fat in it. My body *likes* saturated fat. I feel *good* having it in my diet. And my lab numbers like it too; my total cholesterol is under 200 and my triglycerides are in the sixties!

    I think a lot of the problem with meat consumption as we do it currently as a society is that we try to eat animals too young. If you look at studies of hunter-gatherer peoples as well as carnivorous other-than-human animals, universally you will find that they favor the old and the slow for their hunting. In both cases that means the prey animal is *fatter.* One of the characteristics of traditional human cultures is a fondness for animal fat, with good reason: it contains the fat-soluble vitamins we need for assimilation of proteins and minerals. OTH animals like internal organs for the same reason. There was a zookeeper many years ago who noted his lion charges were failing to thrive, so he went to Africa to observe how wild lions hunted. When he realized they went for the organs of their prey first, he went back to the states and changed the diet of his lions to include organ meats. Not only did they thrive, they had cubs. Organ meats are also high in fat.

    (Carnivores and omnivores are not the only animals that favor fat consumption. Even cattle get lots of fatty acids in their natural diet–the ruminant bacteria in their guts turns grass into fat for them.)

    But I digress. The point is that with us favoring young cattle these days, either we’ll be stuck with lean meat that takes longer to cook and doesn’t taste right, or we wind up artificially aging the cattle by feeding them grain. (People, by the way, age more rapidly on a grain diet as well.) The obvious answer is to let the cattle live longer, but of course that would affect someone’s bottom line.

    People like you love to claim that if we all gave up meat we’d be able to live on grain because we wouldn’t compete with cattle for it. I have a better idea. Let’s give up grain agriculture and raise ruminants on that farmland instead. The land will be healthier and not depleted of its minerals, *we’ll* be healthier and you’ll stop seeing so many degenerative diseases out there.

    A lot to ask, I realize… But in the end that’ll be the only answer.

  39. Donna McClellan says:

    October 2, 2010
    The most shocking portion of this well written article is:
    “Seventy-five years ago, steers were 4 or 5 years old at slaughter. Today, they are 14 or 16 months. You can’t take a beef calf from a birth weight of 80 pounds to 1,200 pounds in a little more than a year on grass. It takes enormous quantities of corn, protein supplements, antibiotics and other drugs, including growth hormones. ”
    Responding to Paul Allen’s question: “Can the eater tell the difference?” Absolutely.
    If you have never eaten farm-raised poultry, pork or beef you are not informed enough to ask the question. Since the mid-1980s beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and any other meat or poultry product mass produced hasn’t tasted like the REAL thing. Over the last month, I have made aware the reason nothing tastes like it’s supposed to is because the mass-produced chicken, turkey, beef and pork have been injected or fed with antimicrobials, antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, etc. not to even mention what’s added to the water troughs that are not cleaned daily – averages 12 to 16 days depending on season of the year at the feedlots. Start studying – you’ll be appalled at what happens after the butchering process with regard to the additional chemicals, etc. used to produce the final product.
    I recently sent a communication to the USDA and USFDA requesting that the Departments use the established rules and regulations to CLEAN UP or SHUT DOWN FACILITIES hoping to at a minimum reduce/eliminate the suffering of the poultry and livestock confined in the windowless buildings.

    I would like to suggest all responders also see: http://www.karinya.com/meat.htm,
    http://fading-hope.blog-city.com/where_does_your_meat_come_from.htm, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-gunther/usda-antibiotics_b_649673.html and then check out what’s available on the “Net” for USDA and USFDA. Then watch the documentary. Food, Inc.

    I sincerely hope young adults, especially those who have begun raising children, will make an effort to get the agencies who have the rules and regulations in place to do the work the Departments were established to do, i.e., setting standards and regulating the byproducts of livestock and agriculture that reach Americans grocery stores and dinner tables.”

    Thanks! Donna signing off.

  40. Anita says:

    What’s astonishing is the number of people who think something is true just because it appears on the Internet. Joel Salatin can operate his hobby farm and feed his family because of his astronomical speaking fees, not because his farm is productive or sustainable. It is neither. I have two degrees in agriculture and grew up on a family farm. I do the research and know what I’m talking about before I start lipping off.

  41. rachael says:

    This is amazing info… I actually sent your article to friends who are dairy farmers. 5 vets couldn’t explain to them why it is normal to lose .10 to .25 of your dairy herd in the first few years, especially if you are not using continuous antibiotic treatment. Wow!

  42. kedir mohammed says:

    It is too informative & aware able!
    It would have been nice to see an analysis of even the fraction of grass-fed beef that’s actually grazed.

  43. AgainstTheGrain says:

    This is a good article with some accurate info, but saturated fats do NOT clog arteries. They are vitally important for good health. 70% of fats in people who have developed heart disease were unsaturated. The biggest contributors to heart disease are vegetable oil fats, which sometimes includes hydrogenation and trans fats, white flour products, grains, sugar, and stupid concoctions like high fructose corn syrup. Saturated fat actually reduces heart disease, by raising HDL (even though it does raise LDL as well, it increases the large, fluffy LDL particles, which DO NOT promote heart disease.) In addition to that, the ratio of HDL to LDL is more important anyway. Saturated fats from beef, lamb, butterfat (especially grass fed butter), coconut oil, contribute to a very healthy heart and robust cellular structure, blocking free radicals from entry. This helps the body with mineral absorbtion and even helps the body utilitze the omega-3 fats more efficiently. Saturated fat was framed. Find the truth!

    🙂

  44. george says:

    great article… but can man live without meat?

  45. Paul Allen says:

    Nice article, but you make it sound like all grass-fed beef is grazed destructively on public lands in the West. It would have been nice to see an analysis of the fraction of grass-fed beef that’s actually grazed sustainably. Polyface Farm is the prime example, but surely there are other operations that are based on stewardship of grass rather than just cheap range land. How much sustainable grazing is going on? What’s the bottom line difference for the farmer? Is the product better? Can the eater tell the difference?

  46. John says:

    It’s a well written article, but I do have to disagree with the contention that grass fed can’t feed the country. You mention New Zealand, but left out Argentina, both countries have switched to a majority, and almost completely to grass fed beef production. While their numbers are smaller, so are their countries and likewise their rangelands, and they seem to be doing quite fine producing enough beef to meet local demand.

    The line, “grass fed can’t feed the country” to me is a NCBA crutch that let’s them off the hook for the environmental damage caused by feedlots. You mentioned most of them, but didn’t touch on the manure run-off issue associated with feedlots.

    There are a few things that pro-feedlot people (apparently not you, but others I’ve heard this argument from) forget about grass fed beef and how we could feed this country grass fed.

    1. Management intensive grazing (MIG) – through MIG techniques, a grazier can use significantly less acreage to graze cows. In some areas of the country, you can almost graze cattle on a 1:1 basis. Joel Salatin, eco-ag legend, grazes 85 cattle on 100 acres. Gene Sollock raised 50 head on 66 acres in Texas. This is approximately 75% (probably more) less land than open grazing requires. Western lands might not reach the same acre/head ratio, but can experience the same reduction in amount of land needed if ranchers were to switch to management intensive grazing.

    2. Far less corn – If we converted the US to grass fed, hundreds of thousands of acres of land currently being used to grow corn just for livestock consumption could be converted back to pasture. Author Jim Gerrish writes that the same cornfield that produces 150 bushels/acre will be just as efficient growing grass. This is potentially very fertile rangelands that are not currently considered as available lands when statements such as what we’re discussing come up.

    Joel Salatin just had an article published in Acres USA stating that eco-ag can feed the country and the world. We just have to decide to do it, and stop letting the cattlemens’ associations and fertilizer and agribusiness industries telling us it can’t be done.

    Thanks,

    John D.
    Grad Student in Agriculture

  47. ck38 says:

    Very informative.I truly believe in my heart, all the cruelties towards the animals as far as @ the slaughterhouses is concern, will undoubtedly be judged by God himself. This includes all cruelties that are happening towards God’s creation.

  48. andy says:

    So if we, as a society ate less meat, could we conceivably spare some time and resources to more humanely slaughter the cow? Great article.

  49. Ivan says:

    A very good review about grazing and feedlot beef cattle, and it seems it’s too complicated to get the best choice for human beings. Thanks to the author.

  50. trisha says:

    This is astonishing. There is so little that the public does know. There neeeds to be more of an awareness; I am just embarking on this new journey.

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