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Back to the Future: Grass-Fed Beef

February 22, 2010

The Life-Cycle of Your Supermarket Beef

When half-grown, beef cattle are shipped in diesel-fueled trucks to huge feedlots. There they are stuffed with delicious pesticide treated corn and soy, and implanted with synthetic hormones to make them grow faster. And of course, to prevent disease they are given antibiotics.  When they are nice and marbled (in usually less than 2 years!), they are trucked again to slaughterhouses, butchered and shrink-wrapped ready for your consumption.  Yummy.

There is no wonder beef has such a bad rap.  If you don’t believe me, watch the film Fast Food Nation or Food Inc. Both films give a close captioned view of what’s going on at those huge slaughterhouses that are producing over  99% of the beef being consumed by Americans.

So What’s the Big Deal?

1. Biologically, cattle are ruminants perfectly evolved to graze on grass.  What researchers have found is that a cows fed a grain-based diet (yes corn is a grain!) raises the acidity in their guts and reeks havoc on their digestive systems. On top of giving them stomach ulcers and liver abscesses, this problem breeds an acid-resistant form of E. coli that can spread from feces-contaminated carcasses to the meat we consume. Supermarket and restaurant beef claims to be E. coli free, but the system is far from perfect.  According to USDA research, more than half of grain-fed cattle have been found to have acid-resistant E. coli in their feces! In other words there’s shit in your meat. Ewww.

2.  How do you make a human fat? Feed them grain. How do you make a cow fat? Feed them grain. Industrialized cows carry much more fat (mostly saturated), their meat is much higher in omega 6 fatty acids and almost void of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  This means that when we consume grain-fed beef we are eating meat that contributes to inflammation, chronic disease (like heart disease), and sickness.  This is the reason everyone is under the impression red meat is bad for you. The truth is that it’s industrialized, grain-fed, hormone riddled beef that is bad for you — not grass-fed lean beef.

3. Overuse of antibiotics has caused more and more bacteria to become resistant to treatment, a factor in the deaths of more than 60,000 Americans each year.  An estimated 70% of the nation’s antibiotics are fed to livestock and poultry to prevent illnesses and promote growth.

What’s so Great About Grass-Fed Beef?

In the past few years, more than 1,000 U.S. ranchers have switched their herds to an all-grass diet. Pure pasture-raised beef only represents less than 1% of the nation’s supply, but sales reached some $120 million last year and are expected to increase more than 20% a year over the next decade.

Grass is a low-starch, high-protein fibrous food, in contrast to carbohydrate-rich, low-fiber corn and soybeans. When animals are 100% grass-fed, their meat is not only lower in saturated fats, but also lower in omega-6 fatty acids and slightly higher in omega-3 fatty acids.  Not to mention they are rarely fed antibiotics or hormones.

Here’s a comparison of Grass-fed cows and Grain-fed cows courtesy of Dr. Nick Araza:

Grass-Fed Cows Grain-Fed Cows
# of Cows/farm About 100 1000s and 1000s
Place Open pasture/barns Crammed feed lots
Feeding Eat grass when hungry Force-fed unnatural foods
Drugs 0-1 Vaccinations Antibiotics, vaccines, hormones by the truckload
Time Calf Spends with Mom 8-10 months Few hours to a few days
State of Health Healthy Sick
Cost More. Anywhere from $4-35 / lb depending on place of purchase and amount purchased.Bulk is ~$4.50-6.50/pound. Great for quality, health and your longevity. Less. Tax payer dollars subsidized corn = cheap unhealthy meat.But how much does cancer, diabetes and heart disease cost??
Farmers Caring; cows are treated with an understanding of their physiology and needs. Inhumane treatment. Treated as products.
End of Life Euthanized on lot, or humane slaughter-house (I haven’t personally checked this aspect yet) Slaughter House (herded by tractors, very stressful death.)
Overall Life PLEASANT/ WELL-CARED FOR TERRIBLE
Overall Result for Us Healthy Unhealthy
The truth is that grass-fed vs grain-fed cattle are 2 totally different animals when it comes to what’s inside your burger patty.  Check out http://www.eatwild.com for a comprehensive resource about pasture raised animals and links to farms that sell all-natural grass-fed products.
After-all, you truly are what you eat! Choose wisely.
Your health Coach,
Dr. Ryan Hewitt
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2010 2:28 am

    You mentioned in your bio that you mean to be controversial, so I hope that you will engage in conversation with me on the topic.

    I am a young cattleman, raised on a family cattle operation in Arkansas, recent graduate of Oklahoma State University, and soon to be employee in a Texas feedyard. I have worked on conventional cow/calf and stocker operations in Arkansas, Natural beef programs in Wyoming, and feedlots in West Texas, so I have experienced a wide spectrum of the cattle industry.

    Anyone can use words like “crammed”, “force-fed”, and a picture of a mountain pasture to paint a picture of whatever you want. When organizations like HSUS, PETA, and those that filmed “Food Inc.” tell their audience what they are seeing when they are first exposed to the broken, fragmented images of food production, that is exactly what the audience will believe. When one is shown emotional, pieced-together images and told what they are seeing, it is what they will believe, no matter the subject matter. Have you actually worked with cattle producers or worked with the cattle to experience life on a cattle operation? Have you actually been to the feedlots to ask why we do things the way we do? If you had, you would find that we cattle producers are very open to discussing the process that takes beef from pasture to plate.

    We cattleman take great pride in caring for our animals. Are there operations that are solely profit driven? Yes. If we were not striving for enough profit to feed our families, we would starve. That is why it is called business. We are people just like you, trying to feed our families, and most cattle producers love our way of life, because if we were in business for big profit, we would not be in the cattle business.

    Should we let a few bad apples ruin the image of an entire industry? No. Take a look at agricultureproud.wordpress.com and on Facebook “I am Agriculture Proud” to see the many stories straight from the farmers mouth about why we love being a part of everyday agriculture.

  2. drhewitt permalink*
    May 27, 2010 4:55 pm

    Hi Ryan, thanks for your comment and of course I will reply to what you have to say. First, I have not been to a feedlot before I have only done research on what happens on those lots. Although, I have been to farms that pasture their cows and have humaine operations and I much prefer to purchase my beef from said farmers. My arguement is that the product coming from a farm that strictly “grass-fed” is better for your health compared to most industrial beef that you find in your local supermarket.

  3. October 2, 2010 12:19 am

    We raise grass fed beef on our family farm in central mass. We started this to feed our family. I can testify that if you eat it you will feel the difference.
    Tom

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