Ahhhh summer!  Hopefully, we are all out there gathering produce from our gardens, or farmers’ markets and eating those luscious vegetables.  However, most of us aren’t vegetarians, and I’m increasingly concerned about the handling of cattle, and the potential for related health problems in humans.

Most of us are now familiar with the term “grass-fed beef,” and I’ve been buying it for years, but I wanted to know more.  Why is it better than grain fed?  Wow, did I get an education, almost more than I wanted to know.  To begin, steers are supposed to eat grass.  Well, I knew this, but anatomically, their systems are structured to process grass, not grains.  When we were kids (Baby Boomers) all cattle were grass-fed. On this site:  What About Grass-Fed Beef?  I learned that years ago steers were 4 – 5 years old when they were slaughtered.  Today they are 14 – 16 months old, and this is not possible without enormous quantities of corn, protein supplements, antibiotics, and hormones.  Of course, the reason for this is obvious, and we all aware.  It’s about the bottom line in the industry.

During my research I read about myriad health problems for the animal, associated with this process of rearing steers, as well as many that are passed on to humans.  In summary, the animals become sick on grain.  As noted above, they are supposed to eat grass. Their problems range from bloating, to diarrhea, ulcers, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system. Right now I’m thinking – oh yeah, this is a steak that I want to eat?  The article referenced above notes that the animals would die “…..if it weren’t for the routine and continual feeding of antibiotics….”  There are those who believe that this process is contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Read how resistant bacteria can be transferred from animals to humans:  This article noted that “Seventy percent of all U.S antibiotics and related drugs are used non-therapeutically in animal agriculture.”  And also stated that the low-level exposure in feed over long periods of time is an ideal way to encourage bacteria to develop resistance.

Another problem associated with grain fed cattle is the E. coli issue.  Again, in this article: What About Grass-Fed Beef? the author notes that E. coli recently appeared.  “First isolated in the 1980s, this pathogen is now found in the intestines of most U.S. feedlot cattle. The practice of feeding corn and other grains to cattle has created the perfect conditions for microbes to come into being that can harm and kill us.”

A few more statistics from the article above:
*  “Grass-fed beef not only is lower in overall fat and in saturated fat, but it has the added advantage of providing more omega-3 fats.”
*  “Growing the corn used to feed livestock in this country takes vast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil.”

There are multiple additional issues related to the world’s consumption of beef, i.e. methane gas production, “Methane is actually 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide……..and, the primary reason that concentrations of atmospheric methane are now triple what they were when they began rising a century ago is beef production.”  There are slaughterhouse issues (I’ve had a first-hand description), and the troubling statistics with regard to energy consumption required to raise cattle, “Growing the corn used to feed livestock in this country takes vast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil…….. a typical steer will in effect consume 284 gallons of oil in his lifetime.”

It’s all about education and choices.  As noted in the first paragraph, I’m not a vegetarian, but my consumption of meats in general is very low.  Today there are multiple sources for foods that contain the nutrients found in red meat.  Their names may sound strange to our American ears, i.e. Tempeh, Seitan, Tofu, etc. The following site lists alternatives to red meat, as well as chicken and fish, along with recipes:  Vegetarian Substitutes  I have the opinion that I’ll try anything once (well, almost anything – I haven’t eaten escargot)  Change is always difficult, but times are changing around us.  As I’ve written before on this blog, we can no longer assume that anything on the supermarket shelf is ok, just because it’s there.  It isn’t the 50’s – we’re not in Kansas anymore.  We have to do our own research, keep an open mind about food, and make careful choices.

Find Local Grass-Fed Beef In Your State   (Eatwild’s State-By-State directory of farms).


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