Red Meat — Corn-fed vs. Grass-fed

Corn fed beef is bad for your health, carcinogenic in nature and contaminated with antibiotics and pathogenic bacteria. The support for this is difficult to debate/argue. Grass-fed beef is good for you, high in CLA, beta-carotene and omega-3, it is anti-inflammatory and a beneficial part of a human diet. Now you can buy organic beef, pasture-raised beef, “Step-3” beef, free-range beef, grass finished beef and probably some more varieties I am unaware of.

First, cows were designed to eat grass. Grain makes ruminantes very sick. Despite America’s best efforts to the contrary, cows evolved to eat grass, not corn. Corn fed beef is what you are eating unless you know otherwise. The vast majority of American cattle production is carried out behind closed doors and in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) where the smell of bullshit can only be matched by the line of bullshit the American Cattlemen’s Association is selling you.

On the other hand, grass-fed cows provide a necessary service to the environment. They poop! Cows provide natural fertilizer that enables more plant diversity and top soil conservation. They roam a great distance, displacing topsoil with their heavy hooves and aerating the dirt while distributing beneficial microbes into the soil that enrich and further the cycle of life. Migratory ruminantes are a balanced part of the ecosystem for which they were intended. Migratory is key. Left in one place all animals will exhaust their surroundings and contaminate the environment with feces and urine.

So what about the beef caught in between feed lot special and grass-fed?

Organic beef means only that the animal was fed organically and no hormones or antibiotics were administered. This leaves room for corn, soy and grains to be added to the cow’s diet. If I had to pick something besides grass-fed beef this would be it. Still not a healthy choice though as the omega-6 (inflammatory omegas) content is far too high, there is mold toxin in the organic feed, and feeding grains to ruminantes is just plain mean.

“Step” beef was created by Global Animal Partnership as a way to determine how well the livestock in question was kept. Whole Foods’ meat section will have their level of approval on each package of meat that they sell as indicated by the numbers 1–5. While they have developed a consistent way of deciding just how far down the moral scale you are willing to slide in order to get your burger fix, this system is not specific. The beef that Whole Foods sells out of their cases is “Step 1”, meaning no antibiotics and no hormones go into the cows and no animal byproducts are allowed into the feed. Step 1 is still fed grain however, albeit for a shorter period of time than CAFO beef, but grain is present none the less. Whole Foods dialed in on their customer’s desire to euphemize animal production and the Step program fit the bill with its omissions about the things that are still allowed to happen in meat production. Win-win. Whole Foods makes money and looks good doing it while middle class, white American moms get to feel good about their purchase. The matter is not helped by the fact that the CEO of Whole Foods lumps all meat into one category and refuses to acknowledge the difference in health benefits between corn-fed and grass-fed cows.

“Free range” sounds nice but has about as much clout behind it as the food industry’s other favorite word — natural. The definitive intent of free-range as a description is to imply that the animal was allowed access to an outdoor area, free of confinement. This means anything you want it to mean so long as you buy into their marketing. Free-range means corn fed in confinement with a small area for the animal to go outside and stare at the clouds. Ignore it and buy grass-fed, grass-finished beef.

“Pasture-raised” is yet another euphemism for corn fed beef. All cows must spend the first 6 months of their lives on pasture or they will die in a feedlot before slaughter. All cows are pasture raised before they are sent to the feedlot to fatten up on corn.

Cows fed on grass and finished on grass are really the only healthy and humane option. The industrialized food complex is sweating because their customers are becoming more aware of the horrible atrocities CAFOs commit against animals, the American consumer and the environment. They are inventing words that mean nothing to push product that is bad for your health. Corn flakes are all natural but what they do have is far worse than what they don’t have. The food industry wants a gold star for not adding BHT and MSG to your breakfast cereal but they don’t tell you that the corn was sprayed with glyphosate (a mitochondrial toxin) and fertilized with chemical nitrogen. The same goes for your beef.

I am not going to pretend that grass-fed beef is inexpensive. At the low end, you’re looking at $8 per pound and at the high end…there is no high end. However, if you ate half as much red meat or meat in general and it was nutritious, you would be getting more bang for your buck. Nutritionally, morally, environmentally grass-fed beef becomes less expensive when you examine the impact of CAFOs. We can choose between depletion of resources or sustaining an ecosystem. Poisoning our bodies or supporting our health and that of our nation’s. Contributing to some rich guy’s bottom line or supporting our local family farmer. The decision is clear.

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