Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Grass-Fed Beef 101

Welcome to class, everyone. Today we'll be exploring the controversial topic of beef production! Why? Well, because Jen is craving a huge giant cheeseburger and beef is on the forefront of her mind!

Ok, let's get started!

Two primary groups of thought:

Sustainable Beef Producers:
Bio ~ This group favors the use of science and technology to meet the needs of a growing population.
How they feed ~ Corn/grain/growth hormones/recently accused of feeding candy
Primary Argument ~ Americans want their beef and they want it fast and at an affordable cost.

Grass-Fed Beef Producers:
Bio ~ This group favors the use of responsible farming practices to provide reasonable amounts of meat to an increasingly-aware population.
How they feed ~ Grass only, normally consumed in open pastures
Primary Argument ~ Grass-fed is proven to be better for the animal and for the environment, which ultimately leads to a healthier, more responsible product.

Can you tell whose side I'm on yet?

I studied at Iowa State University for a little while, one of the absolute best large-animal veterinary universities in the world. In one of my Animal Science courses, we were privileged to meet a group of cows participating in a nutritional/digestive study. Each of these cows had a tube surgically inserted into their rumen (one of four stomachs)...the tubes acted as a safe, functional method for collecting samples directly from the cow's first stomach. I remember the instructor putting on this huge glove and reaching deep into that tube....the cow just munched away, didn't even flinch. He pulled out a mass of her stomach contents (gross, I know, but bear with me), and explained what they've found.....

Wanna know the Secret Tube Revelation?

Cows can't digest corn. Nope. The rumen was designed to ferment and digest only grass. Corn makes cows sick, deathly sick as a matter of fact.

Hmmm, funny. So if they can't digest it, how do we get that Big Mac? Well, I'll tell you. But it ain't pretty, so don't read this while you eat...especially if you're eating a Big Mac.

So when cows eat corn, the rumen releases a gas that stimulated the production of E. Coli. Yep. Read that right. The same E. Coli that kills humans, kills the cows we devour with that huge side of fries. To make matters worse, most sustainable beef producers raise cattle in commercially-organized feedlots, meaning the animals are shoved in an outdoor paddock with hundreds of other animals, all wading around in their own poo-poo, all fighting against the deadly E. Coli growing in their tummies.

Another awesome corn by-product? Sludge. Cows can't break down corn, remember? So instead of naturally-fermenting grass and healthy burps, corn creates this disgusting sludge inside the rumen, making it nearly impossible for the gas to escape. This in turn causes bloat, which suffocates the cows to death. They will also suffer ulcers, liver damage, and an essential breakdown of the digestive system.

To avoid massive product loss, sustainable beef producers will inject "science" into their cattle. Oh and by science, I meant antibiotics, those drugs we depend on, but are unfortunately rendering themselves useless against mutating bacterial cells...cells that are evolving quickly because of our abusive overuse of said antibiotics. So yes! Shoot 'em up! We wouldn't want to lose our money precious cattle. We care too much!

Don't worry, because in addition to injecting your cows to keep them healthy, some sustainable beef producers make sure your meat is squeaky-clean and ready for grillin by running it through a series of vats that spray massive amounts of ammonia all over it. That awtta do the trick. Science!

Other items I didn't touch on but you can read about anywhere: growth hormones, government bodies led by shady sustainable beef-producers, how humans don't need meat every single day, the fact that if you pick up a package of beef from the grocery store it will list five different countries as the "source," GMO corn feed, proven human risk and loss caused by E. Coli in beef....the list is endless, really. And sad.

I think it's important to mention these are not speculative views I'm presenting here. This is reality... all of it. And before you go thinking, "my grandma ate regular ol' beef and she lived 'till 108!" may I please remind you it often takes generations to realize the full consequences of a populations' poor choices. Smoking was once classy, people...even for pregnant chicks.

But all is not lost. Grass-fed, pasture-raised beef is becoming more readily available every single day. People are opening their eyes to the benefits of knowing where our food comes from and how it is processed. It does cost more for grass-fed beef, and rightfully so. We live in one of the most plentiful countries in the world. How is it we've created an economy that allows chemical-laden, addictive value meals to cost less than a bag of chemical-free carrots? As consumers, we have the power and responsibility to change what we demand from food producers.

Those of you living in Iowa or Northern Illinois can cash in on an incredible resource I've been using for just over a year now. Wallace Farms is a family owned and operated farm in Iowa. They raise animals the right way, are transparent in their practices, and deliver the food to a town near my home. Just tonight we had a batch of these bad boys:


In case you can't read it, let me please point out those are bacon and beef hot dogs. Yes.

They sell every meat product you could imagine, from well-fed pork to pastured cattle to turkey and chickens and ducks, oh my! Seriously just go check out their website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. I purchase in bulk during their frequent sales and get a huge amount of value for my money.

We're privileged enough to be witnessing a moment of true food revolution in our country. Educate yourself, your friends, and your family and then do something about it! Don't let another dollar of your money go to people who are more concerned with the dollar than the person behind it. Class dismissed!!

As a side note, Wallace farms did not endorse this post or pay me any money to write this. I love sharing good things with good people and let me tell you, this company is one incredibly good thing.

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for that. I knew it and hate it but still oh yes eat ammonia and antibiotics and dying flesh. YUMMY!! I am checking out the Wallace farms as we speak. I knew about them but you know Garden Fresh is right here.

    I am also looking into 100 acres in Tennessee and growing my own cows, pigs and chicken, maybe a goat and homeschooling and going about life Laura Ingalls style.

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    1. I love that idea!! Sounds like heaven on earth :)

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  2. I wish you would have used conventional in place of sustainable. Using sustainable is a little confusing.

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    1. Yes, I agree, the term "sustainable" can be confusing in this respect! When I first researched beef production, I was shocked to find CFO-supporting beef producers referring to themselves as sustainable. It was only after I dove deeper into the conversation that I realized these producers meant "sustainable" only in regards to the current demand for meat....they seek to sustain a high supply at the low price. Conventional would've been a good word, too, but I chose to go with the more confusing name as I think it's important to call them out! Knowing the difference between their sustainability and my/your definition of sustainability is important. Thanks so much for reading!

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  3. I just fell in love with a complete stranger!

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    1. Awww! I'm blushing like a rare rib-eye over here! Thanks so much for reading :)

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  4. I have purchased meat from Wallace Farms for over 5 years now. It is good to know your farmer & how the animals are raised. Wallace Farms does it right.

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    1. I completely agree! I'm lucky they deliver to a location near me; I don't know what I would do without them!

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  5. We have been buying from Wallace for years. We live in IL. Recommend them to everyone. Love their products! Thanks for the good info, gross, but good.

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    1. Absolutely, thank you so much for reading!

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  6. Great work, Jennifer! I look forward to reading more! Thanks and best regards, Peggy Gould NYC

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    1. Oh, thank you Peggy! So glad you stopped by and thank you for reading!

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  7. Hi Jennifer, well done. Got right to the bottom of the issue - sick cows for fast food. Crazy.

    Do you have any source links I can dig further into?

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    1. Hi Bill! Thanks so much for reading! Most of the info I've learned about the anatomy and physiology of a bovine digestive system can be credited straight back to my animal science classes at ISU. There are a few great links out there, though, that discuss both the grass-fed and sustainable beef production viewpoint. I've listed a few of them below. If you're more into movies, I highly recommend checking out Food Inc. ~ I'm pretty sure you can stream it for free from Netflix. It's an engaging film!

      Food Inc. website: http://www.takepart.com/foodinc

      Sustainable beef production: http://www.sustainablebeef.org/
      http://grsbeef.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1560213

      Corn and cows:
      http://www.naturalnews.com/027185_ethanol_ecoli_corn.html
      https://www.lakeforest.edu/live/files/1135-graberreviewaprintpdf

      Cows eating candy article:
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/cows-fed-candy-drought_n_1819366.html

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  8. Excellent, thank you Jennifer!

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    1. Anytime, glad I could help! I placed another reference in my reply to the commenter under you, as well. Have a great weekend!

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  9. http://extension.psu.edu/animals/beef/production/telling-the-grass-fed-beef-story

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    1. First, I'd like to say thank you for reading. I appreciate opposing viewpoints and welcome discussion, especially on a topic as important as food! I'll start by saying we'll always find a plethora of information to support both sides of every story. I am thankful for your post as it gives me the opportunity to dive a little deeper into the topic of grass fed vs. grain fed beef.

      I'd like to address the Top Five Main Issues I have with the source you linked above:

      1. "The reality is there is no evidence whatsoever that grass-fed beef has any advantage for safety, human health, or impact on the environment than grain-fed beef." ~ This is a blanket statement...always dangerous when debating hot topics. The author has already discredited his article by essentially ignoring the reams of evidence provided by places like the Mayo Clinic, The Environmental Working Group, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

      2. "Coupling these results with a 30% increase of harvest age of grass-fed cattle compared to grain-fed, it becomes clear there is a 500% increase in greenhouse gas emissions for each pound of beef produced from grass-fed compared to grain-fed cattle."
      ~ When you allow an animal to grow at a normal pace, as opposed to pumping it with hormones and abnormal levels of chemical nutrients, it will use more resources. What he fails to address is the long-term environmental impact of both feedlot and grass-fed herds...feedlots slaughter earlier, so they've got grass-fed herds on the emissions category, but what about feedlot water contamination? Or the long-term benefits of grazing herds on perennial grasses? The 2009 Ireland study tells us what we already know...the longer a living thing's life, the greater the impact on the planet. Now the debate will continue to rage as to which herd will result in the most damage....but as I addressed in my blog post above, being a responsible consumer means regulating your meat intake, period.

      3. "In the case of E. coli, this contamination happens in a processing plant and has nothing to do with how or where the animal was raised. Cattle in all types of environments-feedlots and pasture- have been shown to have the virulent form of E. coli in their digestive tract, and it requires the special care that is taken in beef processing plants to prevent meat contamination." ~ Another blanket statement with fairly little support. Yes, E. coli can be present in grass-fed beef....but in much smaller concentrations (about 80% less for grass-fed beef: http://www.ars.usda.gov/services/software/download.htm?softwareid=409) E. coli is also transmitted more easily in feedlots because the cows are in abnormally close proximity to each other and are forced to wade around fecal matter.

      4. Not a single mention of the long-term effects of antibiotics, which are an essential part of a feedlot diet.

      5. The author doesn't even touch on the health of the animals, which is important to me. I'm a bit of a softy like that.

      Again, I am thankful to have captured your attention and welcome your posts. It is always wonderful to see opposing viewpoints because ultimately, knowledge is power!

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  10. Thought provoking article! I'm hoping that we can expand access to grass fed beef. I eat very little beef these days, mostly because it is expensive and I just sort of got out of the habit. But reading this will certainly alert me to look for grass fed beef next time I shop!

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    1. Thank you Seana! I am the same way.....my husband LOVES eating beef and I'm more of a chicken person. He was happy to make the switch to grass-fed though because it just tastes 100x better! Thanks so much for stopping by...these comments are making my day :)

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  11. Great blog! I am very supportive of this idea. Farm to fork! I'm in Saskatchewan and there are great ranchers all over. Consumers vote with their dollars. Vote well!

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    1. Thank you Danah! Farm to fork - love it!! And YES the voting started long ago but most didn't realize the impact our dollars had...so excited to spread the word! Thanks for reading :)

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  12. Also, as a sufferer of kidney stones (horrid, horrid pain), its also important to eat grass fed b/c that's the only type that has quantifiable vitamin K2, which is responsible for telling calcium where to go (into bones, NOT kidneys or arteries). I have to take massive amounts of K2 b/c I don't have much access to grass fed anything. Happy SITS day!

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    1. I had no idea! What an awesome piece of info - thank you so much for sharing! I am so sorry you struggle with pain like that, though...and it's sad to hear you don't have access to grass-fed where you're at. I am praying for a day when the grocery stores sell it at a decent price and it becomes the "norm".....until then, I'll just keep buying from Wallace and making sure every dime I spend is on the stuff that really helps! Thank you so much for stopping over!

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  13. Wow - this is truly great information. I try to by organic, not sure if there is a difference and probably not but will be focusing more on grass-fed. I'm near enough farms where I should be able to find one nearby to get fresh meat and produce from, will be doing so shortly. Thanks for sharing this information and Happy SITS Day Jennifer! Happy Friday -Iva

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    1. YEAH! Glad to hear it - I think you'll notice it tastes SOOO much better and is so good for you! Thank you Iva - I am so glad you stopped by and thank you so much for reading!

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  14. Good info! It's better to buy local as much as possible so that we can sustainably eat meat :)

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  15. Everyone should read this. It's like we are eaten a pooh-filled, ammonia covered slab of meat. No wonder meat doesn't taste like it did when I was a kid. Thank goodness I'm not much of a meat eater, but I can assure you my next meat-purchase will be grass fed.

    Oh and congratulations on your SITS Day. I really enjoyed seeing you featured.

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    1. Thank you SO SO much!! You're one of my favorite bloggers and I am so honored to have you visit my page!!!! And yes, meat is completely different than it was back when we were younger. It's smothered and covered...and not in the awesome Waffle House definition of smothered and covered. Thank you so much for reading!!

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