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Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc.
38 East Market Street, Rhinebeck, New York 12572 USA -  845-876-2626
Vegetarian - Vegan - Animal Rights - Health - Nutrition - Environment

The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.

Articles - Letters - and More

Cookin' with grass: livestock need it to be healthy
by Bill Pfleging
Response by Jim Van Alstine below

Whether you want to be one or not, chances are if you're reading this you're a Homo sapiens. Consequently, your body needs the complex proteins that meat provides, and if you aren't getting it through animal products, you have to be extremely careful to combine proteins and take appropriate supplements. Some of us have made a conscious choice not to eat meat, for moral, spiritual, or health reasons, and while that's admirable, it's not how we evolved as a species. If you're a Vegan (by diet, not by galactic origin), then you probably don't need to read this column. Pass it to your carnivorous and ovo-lacto vegetarian friends. But if you do eat animal products, then you need to know some facts about your next dinner.

All meats are not the same and do not provide the same nutrition. Meat production in the United States has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Many of today's farms are actually industrial facilities, not the peaceful, idyllic family farms the term conjures for most Americans. In this country, the vast majority of our ruminant livestock - cattle, sheep, goats, and bison - are raised on pasture for only the first few months of their lives (pigs don't even get that little bit of fresh air). They are then transported to feedlots, also called factory farms, where they spend the rest of their days in confinement, eating a grain-based diet.

Don't assume the moral high ground if you're an ovo-lacto vegetarian, or egg and dairy consumer. The existence of the dairy industry is what keeps the veal industry well supplied with stock. Something many people forget is that dairy cows must be kept pregnant to give milk. Once the mother gives birth she is forced back into dairy production, while the calf is immediately dragged off, immobilized in a tiny stall, and fed an iron and mineral depleted diet for a few months before it's killed to provide your favorite piccata. Enormous egg-laying facilities are as bad, sorting among the new hatchlings for the non-egg-laying male chicks that are thrown, by the thousands, into dumpsters while still alive.

Many animals destined for the table never see direct sunlight and their feet never touch the earth. Chickens are crammed tightly into small cages as little as six-tenths of a square foot, stacked on top of each other, unable to spread their wings or peck the ground. Pigs cannot root or nest, living their entire lives packed together on slatted or concrete floors. Cows are confined to stalls indoors or crammed into dirt- and manure-covered feedlots. Some of the most common practices in these facilities include mutilation of animals such as de-beaking poultry, clipping pigs' tails and teeth, and docking cows' tails, all without any attempt to anesthetize the animal. Sick animals are shoved aside to die a slow, painful death.

The feed usually includes ingredients such as chicken manure, potato chips and stale candy, to save on costs. (Getting hungry yet?) To speed their growth and minimize the health problems that come from these living conditions, the animals are treated with hormones, feed additives and low-level antibiotics. The meat that comes from these animals is loaded with measurable amounts of the chemicals used, which you ultimately eat.

An estimated 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to pigs, poultry and cattle to compensate for the confined and unsanitary conditions on factory farms. This fosters the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can spread to other animals and, via consumption, to humans. The meat industry, instead of acknowledging that factory farm methods are promoting illness-causing pathogens, is increasingly turning to food irradiation to make it "safe." The meat is exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation (think nuclear), which depletes vitamins and creates new and potentially hazardous chemicals.

But you don't have to worry; you buy "natural" meat, from livestock fed only organic grains with no added antibiotics or chemicals - right? Wrong. These animals were still predominantly grain-fed and contained. This means they were not allowed to graze on green grasses in open fields and most likely never spent any time in the sun or fresh air. The treatment these animals receive in the factory farm setting results in constant fear and anxiety. They often experience significant pain and terror before they are killed by machines that tend to be operated by underpaid workers. The stress hormones released into the muscle tissue and other phenomena (such as blood splash that results in a bruised appearance) significantly affect the quality of the meat. The handling of the meat immediately after slaughter also affects quality.

Animals raised on grass, however, have dramatically different lives and this can be directly translated in the quality of their meat.

They remain on pasture from birth to market. Their diet consists of what the animals were designed to live on: fresh pasture and stored grasses such as hay or grass silage. They live low-stress lives and are healthier than factory raised animals. Meat from grass-fed beef, lamb, and bison is lower in total fat. Omega 3s in beef that feed on grass is 7 percent of the total fat content, compared to 1 percent in grain-only fed beef. A sirloin steak from a grass-fed steer has about one half to one third as much fat as a similar cut from a grain-fed steer. In fact, it has about the same fat content as skinless chicken breast, wild deer or elk.

The meat has a somewhat different flavor - some say it's more "robust" - and is leaner due to the animal getting to walk around. When meat is this lean, it actually lowers your LDL (that's the bad one) cholesterol levels. A point worth considering, as a report released this week by the National Cholesterol Education Program, NCEP, reduced target LDL levels from 100 mg to 70 mg for those at the very highest risk for heart disease.

And here's the kicker for a healthy ticker: Grain-fed livestock, even that labeled "organic," contain fat that is up to 50 percent saturated fats, contributing even more to high levels of LDL cholesterol. On the other hand, the fat in grass-fed meat is less than 10 percent saturated fats. This alone is an excellent reason to look for grass-fed meats. Personally, all of this is enough for me to swear off buying any factory farm products. (See sidebar for local sources of humanely produced meat, dairy and eggs.) It costs a bit more, but it's worth it to support your heart's health - both physically and spiritually. Grass: the groovy food for the Nation of Livestock. Got karma?

Bill Pfleging is a computer consultant and technology writer living and working in Woodstock. You can contact him at bill@billsville.com .

Response by Jim Van Alstine

Bill Pfleging’s promotional article for grass fed beef did a fine job of exposing some of the horrors of factory farming, of which even many folks were likely unaware. Unfortunately, there were virtually no attribution of fact and sources within the article itself, although some of the sidebar resource may support some points. I know that many or all of the assertions made regarding factory farming are echoed in the well-researched information provided by groups like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Farm Sanctuary, and Voice for a Viable Future.

However, the health claims regarding grass fed beef would seem to spring from the promotional literature of this greenwashed wing of the beef industry.

More disturbing are the glaring errors of fact in the first paragraph. Pfleging asserts vegans “have to be extremely careful to combine proteins and take appropriate supplements.” This is just plain wrong. Mistaken notions of protein combining were dismissed decades ago. A well-planned vegan diet is healthful and complete (American Dietetic Association). Many vegans, just like meat-eating humans, chose to supplement some key nutrients like B-12 (vegan-sourced) and omega 3, (found abundantly in flax).

A vegan diet is more healthful than a meat-based one. Vegans take in more than enough protein and calcium while enjoying the benefits of a zero cholesterol diet. People on a plant-based diet typically consume 25 percent less fat than meat eating Americans. Look up the work of George Eismann, RD, or Drs. Michael Greger, John McDougall, Dean Ornish or Joel Fuhrman as sources.

Pfleging also errs in his archeological assessment of meat eating. Humans were gatherers (vegan in today’s language) through most of evolutionary history and only took to consuming the flesh of other species relatively late. Our biology, from our closed, short mouths to our long, intricate intestines, reveals we are among the planets herbivores, not its carnivores. Read Dr. Milton Mills of PCRM on this point.

By way of errors of omission, Pfleging overlooks the fact that in the greatest horrors of meat production grass fed animals and factory-farmed stock are sadly equal. The cramped, treacherous trip to slaughter, without food or water, in livestock trucks exposed to winter blizzards and blistering summer heat are inflicted on all the animals. The terrors of the slaughter house, from unreliable captive bolt stunning, to being hoisted by a single leg as tendons tear and bones snap, to the garish slash of the throat yielding a gush of blood and screams of agony, are suffered by all cattle whether grass fed or factory raised. As the cattle disassembly processes speeds up animals often “die piece by piece.” (See farmsanctuary.org). Given such an end, it is simply wrong to describe any slaughtered food animal “humanely produced.”

People interested in considering a vegan diet can find support locally through the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society at www.mhvs.org.


Jim Van Alstine
Communications Coordinator
Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society

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