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Please tell me why/if large-scale industrially produced (feed lot) meat is better/as good as local pasture-raised.

A few years ago I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. Since then I've done quite a bit of reading in the press and elsewhere (NY Times, New Yorker, etc.), plus movie watching (King Corn) on the subject of large scale feed lot beef production. And I've toured lots of dairy and meat farms and have spoken with quite a few farmers who raise grass-fed beef. All of this has pretty well convinced me that meat production in this country is an ailing industry and that without reform we all risk literally getting sick. Not to mention pollution and the welfare of animals forced to eat a diet that doesn't agree with them, and the resultant abuse of antibiotics.

That said, I've gotten a lot of flack on this board for this view. So I started thinking, maybe there is a significant body of counter-evidence? So I'm hear to ask anyone with knowledge of feed-lot farming to tell me (with evidence) why it's a well-regulated, clean, sustainable industry that produces a healthy product and why I should feel good about buying plain old supermarket beef rather than shelling out for local/grassfed/organic. Any magazine articles, books, internet sites, or even suggestions for large scale farms/slaughterhouses to visit would be great. Thanks!

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  1. I think the fact that no one has answered this question is the answer to your question.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lulubelle

      Exactly. And to the OP, for the vast majority of the people who buy mass-produced meat it just comes down to the simple fact that it's cheaper (and for many, the only affordable option if they want to eat meat). I think most people would prefer to eat better food if they could, but it's not always an option. No one can really argue your point.

    2. The arguments I've heard seem to be either of these, or both:

      1. I can't afford "gourmet" meat, I can only afford grocery store meat.
      2. The government wouldn't let me get sick.

      I don't particularly agree with either viewpoint, and you won't hear me defending it. I would not eat any meat if the only kind available to me was grocery store meat produced in factory farms and "supervised" by the USDA. And "afford" is a term not very easily quantified. Many people "afford" cigarettes or cable or cheetos or Coach bags or whatever else you don't necessarily "need" but don't wish to spend their money on a safer meat product because it costs a little more. I work my budget around "affording" that kind of meat because it's more important to me than having cheetos, or a coach bag, or a daily latte, or whatever.

      8 Replies
      1. re: rockandroller1

        I don't hold with #2, but your attitude toward #1 is a little harsh. I buy grocery store meat. I do not buy daily lattes and the closest I have been to a Coach bag is when I used to live on Long Island & would see them on the arms of some of the mothers at my kids' school. I have 5 people to feed on one salary (my husband's). We are fortunate enough that I can stay home with my kids, as that is important to us (NOT saying it is a better choice, just happens to be our choice). So, I buy grocery store meat & cook from scratch. The prices for small-farmed, grass-fed, "boutique" meat is such that it would make our food budget explode. I do the farmer's market when I can, make the best choices I can, but until the "gourmet" meat is more widely available at competitive prices, I will keep doing what I do. I continue to work on weaning my meat-centric husband off of so much meat, and buying the best that I can afford to.
        That said, the best piece of beef I ever had was a grass-fed hangar steak.

        1. re: elfcook

          That is definitely true, elfcook. And I should say, too, that I'm not always successful with buying local/organic at all. It is much more expensive and we are on a single income too (family of soon-to-be four). We end up eating vegetarian a lot (lucky my husband will go for it!)-- or I get free-range whole chicken and stretch it over a bunch of meals. It's a really complicated problem.

          1. re: elfcook

            "competitive prices"... I think there is a lot to be said about the cost of meat, especially when considering what you are NOT paying for with the cheaper grocery store meat... just food for thought!

            1. re: elfcook

              You mentioned "until the "gourmet" meat is more widely available at competitive prices" ... i don't think that will ever happen, the reason is in the grass environment the farmer could only properly feed a certain number of cow/chicken ... per acres ... therefore there is no way that the price could come down to be competitive with the feedlot/grainfed meat. I like to recommend articles and video by Joel Salatin, the farmer mentioned in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma
              http://www.polyfacefarms.com/
              I think it's a matter of priority to go with grass-fed meat or not and also here in the US we eat far more meat than any other countries in the world so it's also a matter of cutting back the portion and may be we could afford to eat grass-fed beef :-
              )I have a related post here,
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/400836

            2. re: rockandroller1

              But your tax dollars go to corn subsidies and the corn feeds the cows in the feed lots so the market price can be lower, so you are paying for it

              1. re: rockandroller1

                I was going to argue the same point. Many people who say they cannot afford it certainly can afford it, they just don't want to give up the other crap they buy, and would rather buy ground beef with filler that has been gassed with ammonia than make a trip to a store with higher quality food.

                One thing that I notice is that when I shop at a natural food store, I actually spend less money. I can buy things like spices, organic rice, and steel cut oats in bulk. I tend to make my sweets from scratch (which is cheaper and healthier) b/c of the lack of selection of boxed goodies. I don't bring home a lot of junk food and impulse purchases like I might if I shopped at Super Target or the like. I am far more careful when I shop these stores and end up having a better quality diet.

                1. re: rockandroller1

                  I agree 100% - peope have different priorities and they show it with their purchases. It used to drive me crazy that people would buy their dog trash like Kibbles n' Bits or Beneful or 'better' trash like IAMS and Purina, and then complain about skin issue, yeasty ears, hyperactivity, and vet bills. Hello?!?! Your dog would be better off catching his own food rather than consuming the sugar- and fat-laced baked grain concoction that we call 'pet food'.

                  At the same time, I'm living at near poverty level with my husband right now, so though I do place a premium on real, healthy foods, I know that many others do not. Mostly it's a matter of education, and people not wanting to believe that yes, food corporations are getting you addicted and ruining your health. You're labeled a 'conspiracy theorist' if you try to inform peopl of the truth.

                2. I am totally with you all. But man, you should have read the thread on which two posters (self-described wives of farmers) said such a view was "clueless" and "laughable." I figured it was just knee-jerk industry defensiveness but wanted to know for sure. Maybe I'll post a link to this thread on that one and see if they have anything constructive to add. I really am curious as to how this industry rationalizes its practices.

                  I just eat a lot less meat and much cheaper cuts so I can afford the local, pasture raised beef (and in my area, pork as well). I agree with you, rockandroller1, it's all about priorities. Americans have unrealistic expectations about how much food should cost.

                  34 Replies
                  1. Oh and I'm not just a wife of a farmer. I am the daughter of a farmer. The granddaughter of a farmer and the great granddaughter of a farmer. And half of the farm is mine so I am a farmer too. I mow hay, chop corn, fill silo, build fence, and work the cattle along with my husband as many farm wives do and I work another job off the farm too just like my husband does. I am proud to be a farmer and farm wife and your snide attitude does not reflect well upon you at all.

                    1. re: vafarmwife

                      To be fair, I think there is a difference among factory farming, small family-owned farms and more artisinal farms that sell items such as organic beef or grass fed. The shame of the modern industry is that smaller, family owned farms that use techniques that aren't labeled organic are squeezed and disappearing. A tragedy really.

                      1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                        Good point about smaller farms taiwaniesesmalleats-- some in our area have gone organic just b/c they get better prices selling to Whole Foods and other "boutique" stores in the city. It's always the little guy who gets squeezed, I guess. But I'm still not clear on how smaller, non-organic farms work-- do they ship their animals to CAFO's elsewhere?

                        vafarmwife, no offense meant. I just took from your handle (vafarmwife) that you identify as the wife of a farmer-- I didn't mean to imply that you don't work on the farm. And I'm definitely pro-farmer-- clearly, or I wouldn't go out of my way to buy local meats etc. the way I do. I'm just freaked out about e. coli, overuse of antibiotics, and animals being force-fed food they're not meant to digest. These may be issues not relevant for smaller farms-- I don't know which is why I'm asking.

                        1. re: Procrastibaker

                          I have no idea about organic farms. I'm a small producer- 400 acres and about 120 cows.

                          I don't know where you have picked up that cattle are not supposed to eat corn. Cattle have been eating corn, hay, and other forms of grain and silage for many, many, many years. They are ruminants. Cattle will eat most anything including leaves, acorns, treebark, tomatoes, turnips, electric fencing, house siding, house shingles, and they just love the flowers in my yard. My point is cattle stomachs can digest just about anything. Even cattle on pasture- like my Angus, Simmentals, and Sim-Angus get corn in the winter to keep the layer of fat on them to keep their body temperature and energy level up so they can keep producing milk to feed their calf. My cattle are pasture raised until they reach 800-900 then they are sold to a larger operation to finish or go to the stock market. They are not given antibiotics unless they are sick- just like humans. The main things they get sick with are scours or diahrrea and respiratory illness (cough, runny nose, fever). They are given vaccinations for IBR, vibrosis, leptospirosis, clostridal disease, black leg, BSRVD, tetanus, and host of other diseases- just like humans. They get the first vaccinations a couple of days after being born along with an identifying eartag. Then at six months, they are given booster shots. When they are weaned from mamma, they are given another booster for BSRVD and are given an external wormer for internal parasites such as lung worms, intestinal worms, and external parasites such grubs. After they are weaned, they go a separate pasture when they are given grain and silage to finish them. When they are sold, some calves are finished in a feed lot and some are finished on grass and corn. It just depends on the producer's resources. Is a feedlot system perfect? No it's not, but it's an efficient way to produce enough beef to feed the demand and feed the world. If there were no feedlots, how would many people would be able to afford or obtain beef or pork? And if you think feedlots are nasty, have you been to a chicken facility? Ugh-after going to one, I've never bought commercial chicken again. Anyway the point is, feedlots are an efficient way to raise beef without large amounts of land. Farmland is a disappearing resource in this country. We all should be concerned about this.

                          I take exception to you 1) making sweeping generalizations ("nasty agribusiness") about something you have no first hand knowledge of. You keep quoting a book a magazine article, and you gone on farm tours. Well BFD- that's like me saying I've seen a surgery and read a medical book and now I'm ready to do brain surgery; 2) you condemned American agriculture and said you didn't trust it in one of your previous postings because it made a profit. Are farmers not supposed to make a profit? I bet you that if you lost money year after year at your job, you wouldn't be doing it would you? Well guess what? Most farmers do just that. We are at the mercy of the weather, the government, the pricing, and whole host of factors that we have no control over. We lose money every year and we stay in it. Why? Because we love it. Am I sensitive about your attitude and comments- you bet. BTW what do you do? Is your industry perfect? Does it make a profit? and 3) your statement about cheap corn is so off the beam. Do you know who much a bag of corn seed costs? How much a ton of fertilizer costs? How much nitrogen costs? How much weed control spray costs? How about diesel fuel? Well let's see what I spent last year for corn. Corn was $200/bag. Fertilizer was $900/ton. Diesel was $4.00 gallon. I don't remember how high nitrogen was or how much weed control was. Anyway we're looking about $25,000 for 20 acres of corn. How cheap is that?

                          I have tried to be succinct here and address your questions, but I may have veered off tangent. If I have, I apologize. I applaud you for buying local beef. We have several people every year who buy a steer from us for their use. I would love to be able to sell like this, but there is not enough demand for this for us to be able to pay for the land and the farm expenses so we do sell to a larger operation. All I can say is I love my animals. Yes some of them have names and I can go out in the field and pet most of them. I take care of them because I have money invested in them and I want them to produce the best offspring that they can. I pay top dollar for my herd cows because I want good genetics so they will have good calves that will gain weight and finish well. I want the producer I sell the calves to satisfied as well. I want him to come back to me every year because he knows my stuff is good and it will make him money. It's alot easier and more cost effective to sell out of the field rather than at market.

                          There's many factors that go into farming that people don't take into consideration. If you haven't done it, you don't know. It's a way of life that is dying out quickly.

                          1. re: vafarmwife

                            One more thing to add. If the dairy buyout goes through next year, watch out for dairy cow meat to flood the markets. Holstein meat is not red or pale red like true beef. It's kinda greenish. Dairy cattle are not beef cattle. Most people think a cow is a cow. This is not true.

                            1. re: vafarmwife

                              vafarmwife - I found your post interesting and informative however I take exception to your conclusion that since cattle will eat corn and have eaten corn for a number of years they are supposed (or at least not, not supposed) to eat corn. Cattle were domesticated 8,000 years ago in the old world where there was no corn. Cattle evolved for over 7,500 years prior to being exposed to corn. It is difficult to say what an animal should and should not eat. I ask: what is healthier for the cow; does ingestion of corn increase the likelyhood of needing antibiotics and what produces a product heathier for humans to eat? After considering these questions I eat mostly grass-fed beef. I buy in bulk directly from a local farm which keeps my cost down. When I compromise, I still insist on beef that is never administered antibiotics. Everyone must decide for themselves; I just wish people chose to be more well informed.

                              1. re: jfish

                                You're going to have to consult an authority with more book learning than me for your answers. All I know is when it's zero and the snow is blowing, a cow will choose corn silage over a hay bale every time. I guess if they didn't like it, they wouldn't eat it.

                                1. re: vafarmwife

                                  Jfish,
                                  I'm sorry if my previous reply seems flippant. When I reread it, it seemed that way to me. I asked DH about your questions and he suggested that you may want to consult the Beef Cattle Science departments at Purdue University, University of Nebraska, and Cornell for research concerning this.

                                  1. re: vafarmwife

                                    vafarmwife- Not taken as flippant at all. I do appreciate your contributions to this thread and will furhter my research. Thanks

                                  2. re: vafarmwife

                                    Children will choose candy over broccoli and chicken every time, too. That doesn't mean it's good for them. Sugar, like sex, sells. :-)

                                    I have enormous respect for the hard work farmers do, and I hope for a time that meat and farm fresh produce and dairy become more locally avaialable and that family farmers, not giant agribusinesses, get the subsidies that make it possible to turn a profit while avoiding many of the standard farming practices.

                                    That said, I don't want food that's been grown near weed spray, chemical fertilizers, or meat that's ever been fed corn or grain. It's not good for them, and the meat is less healthy for us. I won't buy supermarket meat, nor do I buy "naturally raised" meat that's been fed grains.

                                    My next purchase for my home will be a chest freezer to store meat that I plan to buy from a farm a couple of hours from my home, cut to my specifications and 100% grass fed and buy produce from a CSA contracted with a produce farm an hour away. I already grind my own meat for burgers and meat loaf so I control the quality of what goes into it. It's better for me and my family, and I hope more people making these efforts will result in more farms switching to grass feeding and pasture raised poultry and dairy cows, etc.

                                    1. re: vafarmwife

                                      Are you talking about fodder corn silage or corn grain? One problem with corn (grain) consumption by cattle is the high methane output.

                                      1. re: vafarmwife

                                        Simply because an animal likes to eat something doesn't mean it should eat it. You must not have horses.

                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                          What do you mean by your comment, pika? I agree that just because a certain animal eats x, it's then automatically fit for human consumption. I'm just not sure what, exactly, your comment refers to - I can't seem to find vafarmwife's comment that you're referring to.

                                          I'm also curious what you mean by the horse sentence. I understand that eating horse in the US is seriously frowned upon, to the extent that it's equated with kicking cute puppy dogs, but to be honest, I don't see the difference between eating cow and horse. I've had horse, and as far as I can recall, it's tastes similar to beef. I don't see an ethical difference between the two.

                                          1. re: foreverhungry

                                            I was trying to reply to her statement that since cattle like to eat corn, it's not harmful. Horses like to eat corn, too. In fact, they like it so much that they will eat and eat and eat until it literally kills them. Animals are not the best judges of what they should eat in a landscape that has been altered so radically by humans.

                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              Agreed with your comments completely. My dog likes to eat dead, half rotted fish. Enough said.

                                              Besides, the argument that cows eat many grains and corn is a grain so feeding massive quantities of corn to cattle is fine, is a faulty argument on several levels, yet is one often heard.

                                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                                Lots of people load up on sugar and other junk, too. Doesn't mean it's not making them fat and sick.

                                                1. re: mcf

                                                  I think dogs are better suited to eating half rotted fish than humans are to some junk food we eat.

                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                    Yep. Hard to say which grosses me out more, though.

                                    2. re: vafarmwife

                                      I really appreciate the detailed information on your farming practices. Thank you. And I respect your comments regarding the challenges small producers face. I do wish, though, that you had read my post more carefully. I would never object to farmers making a profit. I was objecting to Pioneer Woman making a profit off of pretty pictures of cows which seems a bit disingenuous given the clear problems people are talking about in the beef industry, one that her family seems to have a big market share in. But that's beside the point of this thread.

                                      Please don't insult the research I've done. It's the way any concerned consumer becomes as informed as possible and like it or not it's the way at least some of your potential customers are making choices about what they buy. It might interest you to take a look at the films and books mentioned-- you would be well qualified to assess where they're off or on the mark. And no, I don't think any large system is perfect. My family is in public education-- talk about a profession that takes some flack. But we are probably far more critical of the system than many outsiders because we have strong opinions of how it should be done right. Just because you're in the system doesn't mean you can't be critical of it or work to better it. In fact, per my point with PW, people inside the system are the best poised to improve it and it's a shame when they don't.

                                      Oh, and I totally agree on the chickens. Gross stuff. So let's call a truce--- I really am glad to have heard the details of your farm. I apologize for lumping small producers in with giant ranches. But I'm still pretty skeptical about the environmental and health implications of the CAFO system. Seems like that's more of a finishing/processing issue and less a farming one. But it also has to do with American's diets and expectations, which probably need to be modified. Anyway, thanks again.

                                      1. re: Procrastibaker

                                        As said in an earlier post, everyone must decide for themselves. As for me, I am totally fine with what I do and how I do it. I just wish I could get the cows to have two calves a year instead of one. Maybe that way I could quit my day job, :)

                                        1. re: vafarmwife

                                          Maybe we'll eventually have GMO cows to go along with the GMO feed... :P

                                        2. re: Procrastibaker

                                          "I was objecting to Pioneer Woman making a profit off of pretty pictures of cows"

                                          And don't forget the profit she makes using other people's recipes and claiming them as her own. That's a different story though.

                                        3. re: vafarmwife

                                          Your claim that cattle can digest just about anything is just untrue. They are designed to be grass eaters. When you add lots of grain to their diet, things go south quickly. I spent lots of time around cattle when I was young, and ate lots of tasty beef. All of it was pastured, and extremely tasty. (No cow I ever knew would have eaten electric fencing or house siding -- that's simply nuts.)

                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                            Cows are curious. Their way of finding things out is by smelling and eating. I don't mean that it's their diet staple, but they will eat strange things. I have seen cows and calves chew on electric fencing and they have chewed on the barn siding. I was trying to interject some humor with that statement, but it is true. I have seen it. Usually when they are bored, they take to snooping and exploring.

                                            1. re: vafarmwife

                                              And let me also add that on our high dollar registered cows, we have the vet put a magnet device into their first stomach so if they injest metal fence wire, nails, or anything else, it stays in their first stomach and attracts the stray bitsof metal. It stops the metal from working its way into the intestines, heart, or lungs which can and will kill them. I've had it happen.

                                              1. re: vafarmwife

                                                I had horses who *I've* always believed were a teensy bit smarter than cows :) Not much but maybe a little? My Appaloosa gelding ate so many wood paddock rails that one Christmas our gift to each other was metal fence panels. I still have the wheelbarrow that they would chew on. Our last house had a barn though we didn't keep horses any longer. The tops and sides of the stall doors were chewed. I agree it's boredom...and that they're stupid. I say that in the most loving way :)

                                            2. re: vafarmwife

                                              Thanks for taking the time to post that well-written and informative essay. It takes some guts to argue with the current grass-fed frenzy. I think a lot of people don't understand that the cows are pastured most of their lives, and are FINISHED on grain.

                                              Like you, I've watched my cows drool copiously at the sight of grain.

                                              Personnally, I eat antibiotic free, hormome free, organic, GRAIN FINISHED beef. (Not much of it, or I couldn't afford it, true) I prefer the taste to grass fed.

                                              What's wierd to me: for most food preferences people have a very laissez faire attitude. If I say I prefer raw oysters to steamed, or dark chocolate to milk, people are fine with that. But express a preference for grain-fed beef....people go nuts. It's like you've insulted their religion.

                                              1. re: danna

                                                Danna, steamed vs. half shell oyster is a debate in taste, period. There is so argument for sustainability encompassed in eating steamed vs. raw oysters -- and to compare this to the argument over grass vs. CAFO cattle is, IMO, disingenuous to the topic at hand.

                                                1. re: mateo21

                                                  and what did I say? I specifically said I prefer the TASTE of grain finished beef.

                                                  1. re: danna

                                                    Yes, danna, and from what I gather, mateo21 acknowledges that. However. mateo was speaking to this statement, 'express a preference for grain-fed beef....people go nuts.'. S/he was trying to explain why people do respond in this matter, and why despite any claim that this is only a matter of taste, why people will not respond that way. There are other things at stake in your steak, and many don't think that taste and the broader industry that caters to your taste are readily disarticulated.

                                              2. re: vafarmwife

                                                And how will you continue using pesticides and anhydrous ammonia once we run out of oil? How about when you run out of topsoil? And the point isn't that the corn is cheap to produce, anyways. The point it that it is cheap to buy, thanks to governmental corn subsidies. $5/ bushel simply does not reflect the true cost, especially when environmental damage is thrown in.

                                                As far as this "how are we supposed to feed the world" crap agribusiness likes to keep throwing around, most farmers I talk to can raise two cattle /acre of pastureland, sometimes more. The amount of land required to grow enough corn to finish a steer? About 1/2 an acre with conventional yields. And that's without fossil fuel inputs, chemicals, acid resistant e-coli, soil erosion, giant cesspools of cow waste that is so nutrient rich it's toxic or without producing meat that more closely resembles fat tissue than it does meat. All this while being able to raise a few chickens and sheep on the same pastureland. Industrial animal production is completely indefensible.

                                                That being said, I realize that many farmers are forced to comprimise, for whatever reason; lack of proper distribution networks, subsidies makining raising animals properly dificult, misinformation, whatever. I'm not necessarily equating your operation with all industrial agriculture, knowing only what you posted about it. But my statements still stand in regards to industial ag. in general.
                                                I share your concern about farmland leaving production. Under the current paradigm, farmers simply can't make a decent living, and using land for agricultural use is rarely profitable. One more reason to raise animals on pasture, not in a feedlot. Less inputs, more product, more profit. Now we just have to get corn subsidies and waste exemptions out of the way and it'll be competitive in pricing too (get people to pay the full cost of their food).

                                                Edit: wow this conversation sure moved on.... guess I should keep reading before posting...

                                                1. re: vafarmwife

                                                  Cattle will eat most anything including leaves, acorns, treebark, tomatoes, turnips, electric fencing, house siding, house shingles, and they just love the flowers in my yard.

                                                  Too funny - and too true! VAFarmWife - You know the walk!

                                                  1. re: JerryMe

                                                    I'm sorry, but cows do not "eat" house siding, shingles, or electric fencing. They might, lick, mouth, or chew on these things, but they do NOT eat them. I've know a lot of cows in my time, and if they're on excellent pasture, they'll never look at anything other than grass.

                                                  2. re: vafarmwife

                                                    "My point is cattle stomachs can digest just about anything."

                                                    My stomach can digest 10 bags of doritos per day. That doesn't mean it's what humans were meant to eat. I've heard that "cows are ruminants can can digest anything" argument over and over, and it makes no sense. Until about 500 years ago, cattle ate no corn, because cattle are European and corn is from North America. Until a recently, cattle ate corn along with a bunch of other stuff. And until very recently, cattle weren't eating GMO feed corn, which looks and tastes like mush.

                                                    There's those that prefer the taste of corn-fed beef (meaning finished), and those that prefer the taste of grass-fed beef. Fine. To each their own. But to argue that feed corn is a natural diet for cattle is like arguing that Doritos is a natural diet for humans.

                                          2. I'm sure that plain oldsupermarket meat is good enough from a health standpoint, assuming it has been handled properly (not always a valid assumption). But the fact is that I purchase the best quality meat I can get from the standpoint of flavor and tenderness, but have a strong preference for getting meat that was frozen by the meat packer soon after slaughter/processing, and I have a strong preference for getting large pieces of meat (such as large roasts) which I can then cut myself into the final form used for cooking. The reason is that I wish to avoid bacterial contamination to the greatest extent possible. The longer the meat is kept refrigerated rather than frozen, the greater the chance for contamination. The smaller the piece, the great the chance that contamination from the outside surfaces could be transferred to the clean-cut new surfaces. As one who has studied food borne infections and intoxications, I know that the chances of harm from such things is far, far greater than any harm generated or promoted by feeding or pasturing protocols.

                                            Small farms can often lead to a cleaner, healthier environment for cattle. This doesn't necessarily translate into healthier meat. The handling of the food supply from farm to table contributes far more to the healthfulness of the food to the consumer. I feel far safer with factory farmed meat handled with care.

                                            30 Replies
                                            1. re: ganeden

                                              Plain old supermarket meat is not nearly as healthy as grass fed. It has more pro inflammatory arachidonic acid, omega 6/omega three imbalance and less CLA.

                                              Then there's the issue of resistant pathogens of which e.coli is the most notable due to the antibiotics grain fed feedlot cattle so often need to overcome infections, and the other agricultural chemicals stored in its higher fat content.

                                              1. re: mcf

                                                First of all, I was not disputing the healthfulness of grass fed beef. I don't agree with your pseudoscience as far as that goes, but it was immaterial to my argument. Specifically, I was arguing that in real life situations, the handling of the meat after slaughter is far more an indicator of health risks than anything that happens on the farm. Time and temperature in transportation, storage and handling are critical in maintaining a healthful food supply, and mistakes are made far more frequently than anyone would care to admit. "Food poisoning" is far more common than is typically reported, and it is clear that many of the instances of "stomach flu", "24 hourshort-lived flu" and other ailments are really instances of food borne infections and intoxications. Rather than dispute the relative value of something which potentially decreases heart disease but increases cancer risk, or vice versa, or things the benefits of which look good on paper, but have never been proven in humans in fact, it is more useful to concentrate on correcting the things which have been found to be harmful in fact, and taking steps to avoid them.

                                                1. re: ganeden

                                                  Amen Ganeden. Also if the intestines are nicked in slaughter of cattle, it can result in tainting meat with E.Coli.

                                                  1. re: ganeden

                                                    I agree with you about time and temperature. I just don't see how you can conclude that the factory farm is safer then a small local farm where you can observe all aspects of the operation down to picking the cow you are to eat, if you so choose. How many cows contributed to that last burger you ate. Wouldn't it seem logically safer if it was just one, rather than multiplying the risk of poor handling by the number of cows in your burger. In my situation, the farmer delivers a live cow to a regulated slaughterhouse where the beef is then cut, vacuum packed and frozen to my specifications. I do not know why one would think that factory meat has less room for time and temperature error.

                                                    1. re: jfish

                                                      in addition, the automated lines in many large sloughterhouses lead to errors and missteps that can become messy (unsanitary). smaller regulated slaughterhouses have time for the little details. like making sure the cattle are dead before starting to cut them up, for example.

                                                      1. re: jfish

                                                        Obviously, your scenario would be preferable, because you have the ability to monitor everything yourself, and correct mistakes before they have the potential of becoming problems (assuming you understand the potential problems in the first place). Most people, however, don't have that sensitivity when dealing with their food. They go to a store and pick up a package of factory farm meat, or a package of grass-fed certified organic meat, and they have no idea how the meat has been handled. A large slaughterhouse/packing operation has access to facilities for food handling that a smaller operation may not have. This can result in quicker freezing of meat. In any case, large operations are often monitored to a greater extent than small ones, which can be "under the radar". But often, meat is not even frozen prior to its distribution. Many people consider fresh meat to be preferable. That fresh meat is often preferred aged to a certain extent. That meat is held for prolonged periods at temperatures higher than freezing temperature. That meat then often changes hands several times prior to being purchased by the consumer. At any stage, mistakes can occur in its handling, which could cause either contamination or incubation of contaminants already present. Meat, fish or fowl presents a clear and present danger to public health. Many of us, however, prefer the flavor/texture profiles of meat, fish and fowl to a diet of fresh vegetables. Few of us understand the potential danger, and how often mistakes in handling lead to potential danger. Compared to that, the relative health benefits to humans of grass fed vs. grain-fed beef becomes insignificant.

                                                        1. re: ganeden

                                                          I am formerly a food safety professional but have worked in the area of wastewater discharge (including CAFOs) and water quality for a long time now. All you state is essentially accurate although I do have more confidence in the larger operations than the smaller. Although I know of some small under the radar operations that are truely disgusting, I stick to regulated facilities and take an active role in evaluating the butcher and farmer.

                                                          One area that I think you may want to take note of is the use of antibiotics and steroids. These are finding their way into the enviornment and can be measured in both our groundwater and surface water. We do not know the long-term impat of this but we are experiencing a rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria.

                                                      2. re: ganeden

                                                        Your statement appears to say that "supermarket meat is good enough from a health standpoint."

                                                        I disagree; I think that there's a lot more catastrophic health risk from it over a lifetime than the immediate risk of acute infection after eating.

                                                        I know that food borne illness is rapidly rising and has been for some time, but those exposures are episodic and can be mitigated by food handling and cooking. The unhealthy fat profile and pollution are exposures you get every time you consume supermarket meat and the damage accrues over a lifetime. You can't avoid those by proper handling and cooking.

                                                        1. re: ganeden

                                                          ganeden -- what in his reply could be referred to as "pseudoscience"? Measurable quantities of certain fats (e.g. Omego-3) have demonstrated health benefits, and certain meats are higher in these than others, specifically grass-fed beef. What about this is "pseudoscience"?

                                                          1. re: mateo21

                                                            It wasn't pseudoscience, it's actually very well documented in peer reviewed literature. The OP was just being unnecessarily rude.

                                                            I guess we disagree because one of us is focused narrowly on processing of meat and its risks, and the other (moi) has spent over a decade researching metabolism, endocrinology and the roles of various macronutrient components in disease and health promotion. The difference is that I see the OPs points, too, but have come to different conclusions on balance.

                                                            It's not so much just about quantities of omega 3s being higher as it is about omega 6/3 ratio being in balance. And don't overlook the role of the other pro inflammatory components mentioned.

                                                            In addition, if you get an infection requiring antibiotic treatment from any source, not just meat, the odds of your antibiotic working become slimmer with every year we continue to dump most of our manufactured antibiotics into feed lots and onto produce. This is not some abstract concept, superbugs are with us now, have been for decades. I began reading about them in 1985 or so, when scientists sounded the alarm about the potential of feedlot meat farming to render our antibiotic supplies useless while growing superbugs.

                                                            1. re: mcf

                                                              I'd be pleased to look over your papers or their abstracts on this subject. I didn't realize you had done research on this topic. Please post a link to your papers, if web-published, or please email me your abstracts at craig@ganeden.com . Oh, and if there are duplicate studies by others backing up your findings, I'd be glad to have reference to those, too. Finally, somebody who has actually done research on the subject, rather than just spinning other peoples' data.

                                                              1. re: ganeden

                                                                You first; citations for your assertions above. This is a chow group, I have no intention turning it into a flame fest or battle of the abstracts. I recognize a pattern here, and nothing I cite will meet with your approval and it will all bore everyone else to tears. I'm a grownup, I don't play the flame game.

                                                                By all means, though, post links, not abstracts, to all the citations you consulted prior to making your assertions above.

                                                                I don't reveal my email addy to those I don't know well and have reason to trust.

                                                                1. re: mcf

                                                                  I have performed no research in this particular field. The research I did was in pharmacology and in diagnostic radiology. My field of final training was enology, and most of my adult life was spent as a professional winemaker. In the course of my Davis studies, I took many of the undergrad and graduate level courses in the Food Science department. As I say, I'm not claiming to have expertise in this field, I simply look at what's easily available on the web and come to my own conclusions. It is you who claims to have done research in fields associated with this question. I was not asking for citations to back your viewpoint, rather I was asking to see any research papers you may have published on the subject, and the data you generated, because I am interested, and for no other reason. Having not performed any research on the subject, and having generated no data, I must formulate my understanding by evaluating other peoples' data and/or other peoples' conclusions.

                                                                  1. re: ganeden

                                                                    I understand and accept your explanation. If you truly want the info, your vast academic background and free access to PubMed should make it a breeze to find it.

                                                                    In an attempt to keep us on topic, I'll sum this up by saying that what' s occurred here was differing perspectives on what risks/benefits are most important to us and most likely to affect most of us over a lifetime.

                                                                    Your focus was 100% on meat processing and potential acute illnesses, not the production of a healthful product to that point, and you equated the health effects of supermarket meat with grass fed and finished meat.

                                                                    Some of us believe that focus is short sighted and narrow, though no one argues with your right to implement your personal beliefs on your own chow time.

                                                                    I think it's really positive and helpful to remember where we're posting, what the common interests are and not to subject virtual bystanders to a pissing match when civil discussion and sticking to the topic at hand that interests everyone will serve the larger group's interests best.

                                                              2. re: mcf

                                                                And don't forget the exponentially higher amount of micro-nutrients in grass-fed beef.

                                                                1. re: Blakery

                                                                  There is an almost religious fervor expressed by many about this topic. Sometimes it helps to look at things dispassionately and objectively. On the recommendation of MCF, I've spent several days looking at the literature, much of which is in the form of abstracts available on PubMed. I must say that from a dietary standpoint, I have still not found anything to indicate that a meat-based diet based upon grass fed beef is any more healthy, to a statistically significant extent, than a meat based diet based on grain-fed beef. I've run across evidence in the literature that everything that MCF said about the individual fatty acids may be correct, at least as far as ratios of total dietary fatty acids may be concerned, and the concern about pro-inflamatory prostaglandins. Still, because meat contributes high quantities of saturated and unhealthy trans fats to the diet, as well as unhealthy cyclic amines and other unhealthy families of compounds, the best correlation with healthfulness seems to be whether or not one eats red meat (bad news for me, as a heavily meat-based restaurant owner). Even without eating meat, the typical diet lands the consumer squarely in the unhealthy range of omega 6/ omega 3 ratio, just from the vegetable fats typically consumed. Since the absolute concentrations of most fatty acid classes in the meat remain remarkably constant, the major difference being the increase in omega 3 concentration by a factor of 3-5 times more, and since the vast majority of both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in the total diet are contributed by things other than meat, it seems debatable whether the increase in Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the grass fed meat will change the overall balance typical of the total diet to a significant extent, much less enough to see real improvement either in length of life or quality of life of the typical consumer. By the way, I did not uncover any previously published studies specifically to document real-life significance of health benefits of grass fed over grain fed beef. In any case, it seems we should become primarily vegetarians and cold water fish eaters, and pay close attention to which vegetables and vegetable fats we eat, choosing those with low omega 6/omega 3 ratios in order to bring our total dietary rations to between 1:1 and 4:1, instead of the 15:1 to 30:1 found in most diets.

                                                                  When I was growing up in the '60s, grass fed beef was always cheaper than grain fed, because pasture was abundant. Now, it is way more expensive because pasture land is scarce. Even lamb is expensive. Farmers who don't optimize the use of the land from a financial perspective run the risk of insolvency and losing their land, and in such circumstances, much of the land is typically developed and not retained as farmland. It seems to me that farmers deserve our support no matter how they run their farms, whether they use so-called sustainable techniques or not, whether they produce feedlot cattle or organic grain fed. Even under the worst circumstances, they are trying to preserve their farms for the future, which is better than building subdivisions.

                                                                  1. re: ganeden

                                                                    Pasture was "abundant" in the US because ranchers were allowed and are allowed to graze cattle on public lands in the western states - a very shortsighted, publically costaly, and wrong land use decision.

                                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                      Sam, what is the best use of natural grassland and savannnah in your opinion? Grazing in the grass on the hills of California (where I live), while on the one hand providing money to municipal coffers and a cheap pasturing source to those few farmers who have access to that land, also keeps the height of the grass down, thereby serving as a potential fire control measure. With thin, adobe soil in many areas, it is often not conducive to widespread tree growth (although there will be pockets of deeper soil and associated growth of oaks). While I will obviously agree with you that worldwide value (not monetary value, but absolute value) of rain forests as a CO2 sink and oxygen supply (not to mention diverse ecosystem) are greater than the value to cut them down and grow pasture, I wonder at your statements as they relate to California coastal hillsides, natural grasslands.

                                                                      1. re: ganeden

                                                                        I grew up in California, hunting those hillsides. Yes, at low, managed stocking rates those hillsides have been appropriate for grazing. The trampling of streambeds and banks is, however, another story. Damage done to watershed features and to the biodiversity found along the streams and stream corridors is a cost that may not be worth it in the long run. Society has to decide.

                                                                        As to the vast US Forest Service Lands in the western states, I think that even (or especially?) recreational value for future generations will far outweigh the limited and short-sighted gains for a few who fight on under a romanticized Malboro Man image.

                                                                    2. re: ganeden

                                                                      Actually, I've never found any support for the myriad opinions that red meat eating is a cause of greater health risks. Cured meats, yes, grass fed red meat, no, nor red meat in general. Red meat is often just a marker for diets high in white flour and overall glycemic load. Studies, both long and short, of meat and high fat eating in the absence of these find health and longevity benefits consistently for higher fat and meat eating when glycemic load is reduced, and the healthfulness of the diet increases as the carbs are reduced further and fat increased.

                                                                      There's nothing convincing to me finding damage by saturated dietary fats.

                                                                      I think there's a good body of evidence about the Swiss paradox, a high saturated fat diet with food from alpine grass fed cattle and low CVD mortality, for example.

                                                                      It's not the burger, it's the bun, fries and Coke. Personally, as an N of one, my own CVD risk profile has dropped from the highest decile to below average since I switched to a high fat, significantly saturated fat, low carb diet. I've also reversed a lot of diabetic damage to my kidneys and nerves on it without meds. I know many other diabetics online with similar results.

                                                                      Just a single personal anecdote, my dietary decisions were made over a decade as I continued to read all the biomedical literature across disciplines that I could get my hands on.

                                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                                        The Seventh Day Adventist studies, looking at populations which didn't eat meat and populations which did, and specifically comparing cancer and heart disease and mortality in the 2 groups, over a long period of time, both retrospectively and prospectively. A remarkable way to maintain a control situation.

                                                                        1. re: ganeden

                                                                          There's a LOT more research, and a great deal more knowledge to have developed since then, frankly. If you stopped there, you really didn't do due diligence.

                                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                                            I didn't stop there, but that's what I remembered off the top of my head, to address your statement "Actually, I've never found any support for the myriad opinions that red meat eating is a cause of greater health risks." I'm recovering from knee surgery right now, so I pretty well have nothing better to do than sit at my computer and look into this, which is what I've been doing. It's fun, and it passes the time. Thanks, I was really getting bored. Now, you say that as an individual, you've seen therapeutic effects from eating grass fed beef (congrats, by the way). I'm thinking you probably have transformed your diet in other ways as well, since you've had a therapeutic goal due to health issues. The advantage of looking at the Seventh Day adventist groups is that the rest of their diets are pretty similar (similar average glycemic index, omega6/omega3 ratio, etc.) Of course the difficulty with reading abstracts is that they give little information except an outline of experimental method and conclusions. I can't tell you the number of times I have seen published studies which have been flawed to the point of laughability, but one typically can't tell from the abstract.

                                                                            1. re: ganeden

                                                                              I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. My health transformation preceded my switch to grass fed meat by several years and it's an evolving work-in-progress. I achieved it with a low carb, high feedlot fat diet, actually. It's only in the past few years I've started buying only grass fed/pastured meats, wild fish and to the extent I can, grass fed dairy.

                                                                              You're quite right about abstracts. When I began reading research in earnest, having learned that all the medical advice I'd received was wrong, I was shocked at how rarely the data and methodologies supported researchers' stated conclusions and how often associations were being represented as causation without deeper investigation.

                                                                              For the past decade, my body has been my science experiment, and my results are even more extraordinary given the fact that I have Cushing's syndrome, and eating this way without meds has controlled my weight, diabetes and lipids ratios. My diet has been the most effective medicine so far in managing typically progressive disease and reversing its effects, so I take it extremely seriously.

                                                                              I hope your surgical recovery is smooth and complete.

                                                                2. re: mateo21

                                                                  It's true that omega-3 fatty acids have been demonstrated to have some specific health benefits over other kinds of fats, under some circumstances and in some animals. Whether they demonstrate significant benefit to people under these circumstances remains to be seen. N- 3 and n-6 fatty acids are both essential nutrients. High n- 6 concentration impedes the conversion of n-3 in vivo, and since neither is produced in vivo, and since n-6 inhibis conversion of n-3, the spectrum of n-3 is best absorbed from food. However, as long as the body has what it needs, that's enough. High CLA levels have been demonstrated to have significant potential negative health consequences as well as positive ones. Those people who share the perception of its value should eat kangaroo meat and eggs often. While lamb (all commercial lamb is grass fed) and grass fed beef is higher in CLA than grain fed, it is debatable whether the demonstrated positive effects (anticancer properties in mice and rats, reduction of body fat in people in some studies) outweighs negative risks (gallstones, heart disease, increased insulin resistance, oxidative stress) in warranting increased intake. It is true that grass-fed beef is considered more benign than food supplements, because levels in vivo are not bumped greatly. Arachidonic Acid is an essential Omega 6 fatty acid (must be absorbed from food), a necessary nutrient found in the brain and muscle tissue. Studies suggest it helps build muscle tissue, but it is also part of the inflammatory response. Thus, it is necessary for proper development of muscle tissue and proper functioning of nerve tissue, good things.

                                                                  The pseudoscience is in the interpretation of the science. The science is interpreted in the way the user wishes to achieve his desired results. Each of these molecules is associated with both potentially positive and potentially negative effects, based upon research. We can choose to ignore what we want or emphasize what we want in order to prove our points and legitimize our claims, especially when dealing with the ignorant. That doesn't make it the truth. When we're in the debate of grass fed vs. grain fed, we're in the realm of philosophy, not science.

                                                                  1. re: ganeden

                                                                    pseudoscience is extrapolating from data about high dosages of supplementation vs. the healthful presence of certain components of food in proper ratios to one another. It's also focusing on only factor in a multivariate risk situation.

                                                                    using long paragraphs to say so little of use is even worse. :-)

                                                                  2. re: mateo21

                                                                    It may not be "pseudoscience", but it's dishonest to claim it makes a speck of difference in one's health. You'd need to eat four pounds of beef EVERY DAY to actually ingest enough of those better Omega3s to beneifit from them. That's not going to happen. If you don't think you're getting enough through your normal diet, take a pill. But to tout grass fed beef as being more "healthy" based on it's Omega3 profile is dishonest IMO.

                                                                    1. re: FEF

                                                                      But it's not about the amount of Omega 3, it's about ratios and other factors; less omega 6, less arachidonic acid, more CLA and Omega 3s. It's free of the damaging increase in inflammatory factors.

                                                                3. re: mcf

                                                                  This is just the type of information I have been looking for! Thanks for posting it.
                                                                  Could you please provide me with links, periodicals, magazines, research etc,.etc. to help me support this...Any little detail would be valuable no matter how small!
                                                                  Thanks in Advance!!

                                                                  1. re: Uncle Bob

                                                                    Queen of Fats is a good book to start with, and contains many very useful citations. As do books such as In Defense of Food or The Omnivore's Dilemma. The citations and references will lead you down a looong rabbit hole. Just keep digging, and keep in mind the limitations of whatever you're reading.

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