I just had to post this time. I found myself nodding and amening Cecil’s comments on the benefits of grass fed beef…until the end. Grass fed beef has so many benefits that it just is improbable to list them all. Some experts even believe that the genetic altering of corn, the primary grain fed to finish beef, has helped contribute to the obesity epidemic and cancer increase in America (King Corn Documentary). Here is where Cecil is not COMPLETELY spot on. Grass fed beef vs grain in the cost department. Perhaps in big cities (where I admit most Ameicans now live) grass beef may cost more, but, not so in smaller communities where a meat processor is available. Purchasing your beef fresh off the floor can save you upwards of $3/lb. At your local meat processor, you have cut out ye old middle man. In the great state of Missouri, my family typically pays .90/lb live weight and after processing fees, ends up with roughly 700lbs of beef for a cost of $1.89/lb. That is for steaks, roasts, and burger. Now, at our local store, cheap burger is over $2/lb, and that is for grained beef. So, Cecil…GRAIN STINKS GRASS RULES!!! No, I am not a rancher, just a lover of good meat!
HappyIn0z, tradition around here has it that you link to the column in question.
And now you’ve both made me hungry.
Something that Cecil didn’t touch on: the claim that grain is unhealthy for the cattle, and therefore grain-finished beef increases the use of antibiotics and other drugs in cattle raising.
So you’re comparing grass fed beef bought straight from the farmer with grain fed beef at the store? How are those numbers interesting?
I think it has more to do with the packed conditions at feed lots than the healthiness of the grain itself. Traditional grass fed means walking around in a spacious pasture. That means less chance for injury and infection, therefore less need of antibiotics.
IMO, grass-fed is better because they were eating what God intended them to eat.
Whether or not a deity intended it or not, it is their natural food. OTOH, all the cereal grains are grasses as well, so doesn’t it amount to the same thing? It’s not as if we’re talking about feeding them papayas and mangoes.
While I don’t even believe in any gods, there is a point there. The corn feed that cows eat has to be supplemented with amino acids not found in corn or the cows do very poorly.
I have noticed since moving to Montana that all of the beef I’ve had around here tastes significantly better than any of the beef I had back East, and I had assumed that the difference was that beef around here is grass-fed. Of course, maybe it’s just that Montanans in general know how to prepare beef properly.
Besides the amino acids and anti-biotics, the grain causes digestive problems for the cattle, making them generally less heathy. I don’t know how much that affects the taste of the meat, but it sounds like methods used to keep prices down for the packers who will wet pack the meat with as much blood and water they can to maximize the yield per steer, and produce the bland, mushy, stuff that’s available at the Stop & Shop. I’ll go with grass-fed any day. And well marbled, dry packed, and aged, when I can get it.
How about a little wine to go with that grass??? I know it works for me…
Worse than that, we’re talking about feeding them gum wrappers. Seriously, up to 30% of their diet can be from stale chewing gum, still in the aluminum wrappers*. Feedlot finishing is absolutely not their natural food, by any stretch of the imagination.
*Wolf, B. W., L. L. Berger, et al. (1996). “Effects of feeding a return chewing gum/packaging material mixture on performance and carcass characteristics of feedlot cattle.” J Anim Sci 74(11): 2559-65.
I can’t believe he hasn’t been mentioned yet in this thread, but Michael Pollan’s work on the topic (see The Omnivore’s Dilemma) provides a much more interesting take than Cecil’s. If you read Cecil, but haven’t read this book, what’s wrong with you? No, just being snarky . . . but seriously, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is actually a great read. There’s some non-fiction stuff on interesting topics written by really boring writers, but Pollan is a journalist and a journalism professor, so expect something more like a novel than a boring exigesis.
I know someone who raises cattle and claims that. She also does not use antibiotics, but rather culls her herd. And she winds up making a higher that normal profit while selling for cheaper. (Her bigger problem is supply. She’s pretty old, and does most of the work by herself. She’s not feeble, but she is running out of energy.)
Heh. Some Mennonite friends of the family have a small family-owned dairy farm. The father of the family once remarked that his cows really seemed to like the damp grain from the bottom of the silo a lot better than the dry stuff, and he wasn’t sure why.
The thing with corn and cows is, it’s not just unhealthy, a corn only diet will kill the cows. Pollan talks about it, that if the feedlot cows aren’t slaughtered at the age slated for them, they would be dead about 6 months later from the corn. Their bodies just don’t know what to do with the corn, while making extra body fat, the rest of their systems will shut down. Not to mention the e.coli problem that is solely a product of corn feeding. The cow gut was never meant to digest anything but grass.
Finding all this out has made me stop eating factory farmed meat. I’m mostly vegetarian now and eat meat at home very selectively. Just the thought of eating meat from an animal that is chronically, mortally ill makes me feel sick now.
Actually, the use of antibiotics in grain fed beef is directly due to the corn diet. A cow’s stomachs are not designed to digest the high quantity of super starch feed corn they are fed and it causes nasty little cycsts and ulcers to erupt everywhere. The antibiotic diet helps keep these to a minimum, as do the hormones they’re pumped with. The hormones help the cattle grow faster and therefore mean less time on grain ergo less time on antibiotics. REALLY must reccommend the documentary called “King Corn”. It was certainly an eyeopener for us. Made us eyeball our Mcburgers in a whole new (and even more unflattering) light.
The whole purpose of sending a cow or steer to the feedlot is to finish them fast for mass market production. A processor, buys his/her cattle at small local cattle barns and then either finishes them off in their own field, or buys them finished to butcher right away. The processor usually also has long standing contracts with area ranchers to provide beef to customers with beef orders in. Packing houses, however, buy cattle from the sales barn at around 3 months of age, put them on grain to finish them and then slaughter and send them out to the stores. I DO know that most beef available from small processers in Nebraska and Iowa is grain fed…and the cost of grass vs grain is still very comparable. Within a few cents a lb usually. Most ranchers don’t raise both grain and grass fed beef though, so the small difference in price is due to differing providers. So, do those numbers work out better for you?
My take on King Corn is that the farm subsidy program needs to go. Multiple industries are taking advantage of the “cheap” price of corn to gain an advantage in the market place. IMO, the pracitice had continued far beyond what is necessary and the U.S. ends up writing a big check to ADM, again. See the column on ethanol… http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2481/whats-the-true-story-on-ethanol
Beyond all that, focusing on the beef industry, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (the book, not the film) contains an eye-opening view of the beef processing industry that harkens back to Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”
In the movie “Food Inc” they claim that corn-feeding cows also makes them much more likely to harbor the deadly H7:O157 strain of E. coli. I believe they say that feeding a cow that had been fed corn grass for 8 days causes them to carry 80% less E. coli. I’m not sure what the original source for that statistic is, but they do reference “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” several times in the film.