Recently, I did a research paper on the feed lot cattle industry. What spurred my interest was an important movie called Food, Inc. which, for those of you who haven’t seen it, will make anyone question where their food comes from. They dive into more than just the treatment of the animals and find out the overall effects of this type of agriculture (if one can call it that). I can assure you that this is not an exaggerated issue. I personally have traveled through parts of the state of Wyoming and Nebraska in which the smell from these feedlots is so overwhelmingly intense it makes me nauseous just thinking about it. All I kept thinking while driving past the feedlots was, “That place is so disgusting and we actually eat what they grow, that can’t be good for us”. And it isn’t.
It all boils down to what the cows are fed. These days, cows are fed corn, hormones and remains of other cattle. Why? Because they get fat, fast. According to Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore’s Dillema, cows 50 years ago took four or five years before they were big enough to slaughter. Today, we see them growing at enormous rates. A steer will go from 80 pounds to 1,100 pounds in 14 months. Plus, corn is a cheap feed as is the remains of their fellow species. In other words, the cattle industry makes a much higher profit at a faster rate.
What you end up with is a cow who is suffering from anything from bloat to acidosis. Their stomachs are becoming more acidic due to the starchy corn feed. What happens then is the bacteria in their stomach becomes acid resistant. So when we eventually eat this cow’s meat, the bacteria that would normally be killed off by our own stomach acids isn’t killed at all. Hence the E-Coli outbreaks we’ve all heard about. This spreads very easily when you consider the living conditions of these animals. Typically, they are overcrowded facilities in which the animals are standing ankle deep in feces. Yeah…not pretty.
Feeding cows the remains of other cows also yields a problem. This is helps to spread that lovely little disease known as Mad Cow Disease or Encephalopathy. The USDA knows of these practices, but has yet to put a strict ban on them.
There is a solution to these issues. Grass feeding cattle. It is practical and natural and will reduce the sicknesses in animals by up to 80%. Cows would no longer be eating corn which causes the acid resistance. Therefore, E-Coli would be significantly reduced and the need to pump antibiotics in these animals would be eliminated. Plus, they wouldn’t eat the remains of other cows so the spread of Mad Cow Disease would also be eradicated. Seems like a fantastic solution to me!
However, the USDA has deemed it unfeasible. Why? Grass is a renewable resource. It’s easy to grow. You can reduce any harm on the environment with cattle rotation (which simulates the way Bison would have roamed years ago). The meat is higher in Omega-3 fats and is more lean than corn fed beef. Seems feasible to me.
If you want to find grass fed beef in your area, I highly recommend it. Make sure you read the labels carefully. You can contact local farmers directly or visit your local farmers market or natural food store. It may be more expensive, but it tastes good and you’re not filling your body with unhealthy fats, antibiotics and potentially dangerous viruses.
I am posting my full paper online, for more sources check out Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen and Food Matters by Mark Bittman.