This is the first in a series on U.S. meat production and your family’s health and welfare. I hope that you will join me in spreading the word about the meat industry’s not-so-savory truths to friends, family, and esteemed associates of all stripes. As a loyal and dedicated member of the American Grassfed Association, I am likely privy to more intel on this subject than most folk. And I spend a lot of energy and time on any project I undertake, so you can be sure I’ve done my research. On that note, off we go to poisonous, potentially leaking and health-hazardous manure lagoons.
Let’s say you and the family are out to Sunday dinner at your favorite local steakhouse. You especially like this particular steakhouse because of its widely advertised Prime beef selections. Unfortunately for you and the family, the USDA Prime designation has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with the fat content of your cut of meat. If your 32-ounce cowboy steak is graded Good, you may need a chainsaw to grind your way through the health-compromised beast. If instead your singed slab of beef rates USDA Prime, you are likely confronting a particularly well-marbled piece, literally riddled with saturated fat.
Almost without exception, your Prime, Choice, or Good steak will have been butchered from cattle finished at a massive industrial feedlot or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). CAFOs are truly ugly places and certainly nothing you want associated with your family’s food source. CAFOs crowd thousands of animals closely together in a confined space.
These cattle are fed a diet of grain, usually corn, that in recent years has been hybridized and genetically engineered to build fat. Next time you’re out in the country, pull over when you notice any of those ubiquitous seed signs from Monsanto. Check out how close together the stalks of corn are. You will be shocked. It’s not like when you were growing up, is it? Unlike the widely spaced rows of corn you remember, these rows are so cram-packed together you can hardly walk through them. A corn diet is one culprit in the deteriorating quality of our meat. Under normal conditions, the amount of corn that CAFO cattle eat would kill the cattle.
To fend off early demise, CAFO cattle receive antibiotics. Antibiotic overuse, as the Union of Concerned Scientists (UOCS) has warned, creates drug-resistant bacteria and raises health-care costs. Did you know that 70% of all antibiotics and related drugs used in the U.S. are given to food animals to promote faster growth and stave off diseases? This massive overuse of antibiotics in animals that are not sick contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as salmonella, campylobacter, and staphylococcus.
UOCS reports that CAFOs produce some 300 million tons of untreated manure each year (about twice as much as is generated by the entire human population of the U.S.). Manure is most often stored in liquid manure storage lagoons. Ammonia in manure contributes to air pollution that causes respiratory disease and acid rain. And leakage under liquid manure storage lagoons pollutes groundwater with harmful nitrogen and pathogens. Anything appealing to you so far?
I’ll have part two of my meat and health series for you next week. In the interim, you and your family can enjoy the many health benefits of meat by sticking exclusively with grass-fed-to-finish meat, ideally raised and finished locally. A word of caution: read your meat packaging label with care. Many widely promoted grass-fed labels are dangerously misleading. A careful reading brings to light the fact that the cattle involved, while grass-fed for much or most of their lives, are finished on corn. Corn is a deal-breaker, period. Do not let anyone sell you a bill of goods when it comes to corn. I ask a lot of questions, as you might imagine, and I can’t even begin to relate to you all the BS I’ve been fed on the grass/corn subject. From the get-go, keep in mind that if it ain’t grass-fed-to-finish, it ain’t a deal. Good luck.