Back to the wholesome farm is the only answer
The more wholesome your ingredients, the better tasting your recipes will be. It doesn’t matter if your dish is a vegetable dish, a fruit dish, an appetizer, dessert or an entrée. Every five-star restaurant knows this is true.
Many people are choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet for health or humane reasons particularly because of the unsatisfactory practices of conventional animal agriculture. If you are choosing to eat meat, poultry or sea food, then you may want to make sure that the animals you eat are as healthy as you would like to be. How they are raised, what they are fed determines the quality of their health and thus your health. When it comes to beef, you want the absolute best. Here's a little about Beef, which will help clarify the need for new animal agricultural practices.
The most high-quality beef is grass-fed, free-range beef for several reasons. Studies show that it’s higher in beta-carotene, contains the proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, is higher in stearic acid and medium-chain fats, is higher in vitamin E, contains more CLA, has about one-third less fat and less calories, and can be antibiotic-free, hormone-free, and chemical-free, compared to commercially-raised beef from feedlots. All these benefits add up to reduced risk of developing breast and other cancers, heart disease, allergies, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, and an easier time losing weight.
The big controversy about corn-fed/grain-fed and grass-fed beef started over 50 years ago when the USDA decided to let ranchers “finish” herds with grain. “Finishing” means getting them ready for slaughter. The grain fattened up the animals for market and allowed a calf to grow from 80 pounds at birth to 1200 pounds in 14-16 months instead of the usual 4-5 years.
Although it wasn’t known at the time of the USDA decision, the longer farmers fed the cattle grain, the more the omega-3 content of their meat dwindled toward zero. Essential fatty acids are found in high concentration in the grasses and in greens. Years ago, when our beef was grass fed, this high-quality protein was also a major source of the essential fatty acids, along with fish and greens. In the last 50+ years since cattle were corn and grain fed, though, Americans have been eating meat devoid of EFA’s, and as a result, our own bodies have become devoid of EFA’s. That’s why many see the necessity of using flax oil for omega-3 supplementation. The bottom line is that what is good for the cow is also good for us. It’s the cycle of life.
The Cow’s Natural Diet Cows don’t normally eat corn (and grains) simply because they can’t digest it. The grain makes their digestive system abnormally acidic, upsetting the healthy bacterial flora that usually survives in a neutral environment, allowing other harmful bacteria to colonize.
Grazing animals such as cows, sheep, and goats, have a rumen, which is another ‘stomach’, specifically for the fermentation of cellulose from grass, hay and alfalfa, into proteins and fats by bacteria. This fermentation process is known as rumination.
Switching a cow from grass to grain can cause health problems in the animal. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is why cows often belch. But when grains are added, the process of rumination slows down almost to a halt, and a layer of foamy slime forms, causing trapped gas. This causes the rumen to inflate like a balloon, and press up against the animal’s lungs. It’s possible the animal can suffocate when this happens.
But give a cow his natural diet and the number of problems with its health dwindles to very few. It’s similar to us: when we eat our natural diet, we do well, too.
Cows on Drugs Corn-fed diets can also cause a type of heartburn in cows. With the heartburn, it’s not uncommon for the animals to stop eating, pant and salivate excessively, kick at their own bellies to try to relieve the pain, and eat dirt. Left untreated, the condition can lead to bloat, ulcers, liver disease, diarrhea and a weakened immune system that predisposes it to numerous infectious diseases. That’s when antibiotics are given.
According to The Union of Concerned Scientists, antibiotic use in livestock shot up from 16 million pounds in the mid-1980s to 25 million pounds in the year 2001. Scientists and health care practitioners warn that this practice contributes to antibiotic-resistant diseases.
Better Immunity with Grass Fed Beef Corn-fed diets also raise concern about the type of corn that is used in the feed. Genetically-engineered (GE) corn has potential risks, according to a secret, 1139-page Monsanto document that showed rats on the GE corn had smaller kidneys and blood abnormalities. The report was enough for European countries to sound the alarm and warn their population not to eat beef from America.
Switching cattle from grain to grass lowers the production of acid-resistant E. coli bacteria, according to researchers from Cornell University in 1998. The more natural the diet of the cow, the more disease resistant the animal (and subsequently the less risk of E. coli for consumers). Also, an acidic environment is a perfect breeding ground for pathogenic E.coli in the meat, which can cause serious illness or death in those who eat uncooked beef. When we change the cow’s natural diet, we end up hurting ourselves.
There are other factors that affect the possibility of E. coli contamination in meat. Swedish researchers found that calves raised on a pasture showed no signs of the deadly strain of E.coli, called 01157:H7. Calves raised in pens, on the other hand, had at least one positive sample.
Consuming grass fed beef instead of commercial beef can lower your risk of two other food-borne illnesses, campylobacter and BSE. Campylobacter bacteria often affects children under the age of 5 and young adults from 15 to 29. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, and fever can occur from two to ten days after eating infected meat. However, in an Australian study, scientists discovered that only 2% of those cattle raised and finished on pasture carried the bacteria, compared to 58% of those raised in a feedlot.
A diet of 100% grasses and other green plants on the range means a diet containing no animal by-products; it’s the consumption of animal by-products that predisposes them to potential bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). When a case of BSE was discovered in the state of Washington in 2003, it spread alarm and fear throughout the country. However, the simple act of consuming grass fed beef rather than commercial meat protects you from BSE.
There are other aspects of commercial livestock production that should be included here; the environmental degradation that occurs as a result of the feedlots generating five tons of waste per year for every American and their sustainability, as examples. We’ll include more on these in the sustainability chapter.
Grass Fed is Not the Same as Organic The term ‘grass fed’ can have a different meaning to various groups and organizations in the industry. The American Grassfed Association defines grass fed products from ruminants as those food products from animals that have eaten nothing but their mother’s milk and fresh grass or grass-type hay from birth to harvest their entire life long. They note, however, that grass is a significant part of the diet, but not the entirety of the diet in grass fed non-ruminants, including pigs and poultry.
The USDA, on the other hand, defines grass fed as animals that receive 99% of their lifetime energy supply from grass and forage. Animals kept in confinement, fed harvested forage, corn silage and other grains that have not been separated from their stalks, and those fed antibiotics and hormones are allowed in the latest proposed USDA claim for legal usage of the term grass fed.
Most consumers define grass fed to mean animals humanely raised in grass pastures from birth to harvest, the way nature intended. It’s possible that pastured animals can graze on land treated with herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, so get all the facts before you buy. Organic beef that is hormone and antibiotic-free may be a step up from beef from commercial feedlots, but if the animal has spent its last months prior to slaughter fed grain, the nutritional value has been compromised.
It’s important to get to know the farmers in your area on a personal basis. Take an interest in their farm operations without sounding judgmental. Ask them questions such as:
- Do you raise your cattle on pasture?
- Do you feed them anything else besides grass? (Listen for animal by-products, commercial feed (some of these can contain feathers, cement dust, rotten and outdated food)
- Do you ever feed grain? If so, how long of a period of time?
- How long have you been farming? How did you get started in the business?
- How do you finish the cattle? Do you give them grain for several months prior to slaughter? One month? Not at all? (Remember that each day the longer grain is used, the omega-3 fat content will decrease.)
- Do you send the cattle to the feedlot? If so, how long do they stay? How many other cattle are with them?
- How often do you use antibiotics?
- Do you ever use hormones and steroids?
The cost of grass fed beef in some markets may be higher, which makes regular use prohibitory for many people; but the benefits outweigh the cost.
If you build your menus around plant-based foods instead of beef, the savings in health and food costs is still quite significant. What you’ll most likely find is that by always deciding to make the best food choices, your pocketbook wins in the long run.
Conventional animal and chemical agriculture are also responsible for a huge toll on the pollution of our air, water and soil. One of the most powerful ways to turn your own health around, along with the health of the Earth is through your food choices. We are completely dependent on clean air, mineral rich food, proteins and other nutrients found only in vibrant soil and clean water.
Where we place our dollars has a huge impact on the economic flow and change needed for creating a healthy food supply. Investing in organically grown and sustainably raised food is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself, the environment, the economy, and your grand children. Sustainable agricultural practices play a huge role in animal welfare as well. (We will cover more on the agriculture, environmental impact and animal welfare in future articles).
Your food choices fit closely in the grand scheme of the natural order. With excellent choices, you will be rewarded in many ways.
Resources: Abbott, A., Basurto, M., Daley, C.A., Nader, G., and Larson, S. Enhanced nutrient content of Grass Fed Beef: Justification for Health Benefit Label Claim. College of Agriculture, California State University, Chico.
Aro, A., S. Mannisto, I. Salminen, M. L. Ovaskainen, V. Kataja, and M. Uusitupa. "Inverse Association between Dietary and Serum Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Risk of Breast Cancer in Postmenopausal Women." Nutr Cancer 38, no. 2 (2000): 151-7.
Bailey, G. D., B. A. Vanselow, et al. "A study of the food borne pathogens: Campylobacter, Listeria and Yersinia, in faeces from slaughter-age cattle and sheep in Australia." Commun Dis Intell 2003, 27(2): 249-57.
Dhiman, T. R., G. R. Anand, et al. "Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets." J Dairy Sci 1999, 82(10): 2146-56.
Jonsson, M.E. et al. "Persistence of Verocytotoxin-Producing Escherichia Coli 0157:H7 in Calves Kept on Pasture and in Calves Kept Indoors" Int. J Food Microbiol 2001, 66, 1-2, 55-61.
Lean, Geoffrey. Rats fed GM corn due for sale in Britain developed abnormalities in blood and kidneys. Environment Editor, May 22, 2005.
Lipsky, Joshua. "The Future of Food Safety," Meat Marketing and Technology, April 2001.
Russell, J. B., F. Diez-Gonzalez, and G. N. Jarvis. "Potential Effect of Cattle Diets on the Transmission of Pathogenic Escherichia Coli to Humans" Microbes Infect, 2000, 2, no. 1, 45-53.
Scott, Tony, and Klopfenstein, T., et al. "Influence of Diet on Total and Acid Resistant E. coli and Colonic pH." 2000 Nebraska Beef Report, pages 39-41.
Simopolous, A. P. and Jo Robinson. The Omega Diet. New York, HarperCollins, 1999.
Smith, G.C. "Dietary supplementation of vitamin E to cattle to improve shelf life and case life of beef for domestic and international markets." Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.
Sweets, Ellen. “Ranchers of grass-fed beef talk up its virtues”, DenverPost.com, July 26, 2006.
Wing, S. and S. Wolf. "Intensive livestock operations, health, and quality of life among eastern North Carolina residents." Environ Health Perspect, 2000, 108(3): 233-8.
Uproar in EU as Secret Monsanto Documents Reveal Significant Damage to Lab Rats Fed GE Corn. Revealed: health fears over secret study into GM food, The Independent (UK Newspaper).
Additonal Resources: J. Animal Sci. 2002, 80(5): 1202-11. J. Anim. Sci. 2000, 78: 2849-2855 J Animal Sci. (1993, 71(8): 2079-88.