Cookin' with grass: livestock need it to be healthy
by Bill Pfleging
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
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
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
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
Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society