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America's Feedlots - Another Reason To Support Grass-Feeding Ranchers

Posted Sep 07 2008 2:22am
For years the beef from grocery and discount stores has cost much less than pasture-fed beef -- the reasons for the price difference are not pretty.

I just read Pasture Perfect by Jo Robinson . Jo is a leading expert on the benefits of grass feeding and says nearly all of the beef and other meats sold in America's grocery stores comes from animals raised in feedlots or large facilities called CAFOs or "Confined Animal Feeding Operations."

It's expensive to raise cattle so the beef industry does whatever it can to make the animals grow faster. Instead of the three years it takes grass-fed cattle to reach maturity, factory-farmed cattle reach slaughter weight in just one or two years. The process reduces the meat's nutritional value, stresses the animals, increases the risk of bacterial contamination, pollutes the environment, and exposes consumers to a long list of unwanted chemicals. Factory-farmed beef contains traces of hormones and antibiotics, and it's freshness when packaged is often chemically enhanced.

I watched the show "Dirty Jobs" a few days ago and saw how cows live inside a CAFO. It was so disgusting to see every cow with gunk coming from their nose, standing in their own waste, and sleeping on sand beds. The workers in the CAFO stated it was normal for all the cows to have runny noses so they were given antibiotics regularly.

Most cows don't breed anymore because they are treated with synthetic hormones that regulate the timing of conception so that all the calves can be born within a few days of each other. Herd bulls have been replaced by artificial insemination, and now the FDA has granted approval for cloning, declaring that cloned meat is indistinguishable form normal meat and safe for us to eat. Industry insiders predict that in within the next five to ten years, mass-produced calves will be carbon copies of each other.

Yes all cows start out grazing grass. When they reach 500 to 700 pounds in weight they are loaded onto trucks and shipped to distant feedlots. The calves are fed tetracycline, an antibiotic. Then they are implanted with pellets than contain growth-promoting steroid hormones, a procedure that is repeated as needed in order to add over a hundred pounds of lean meat per calf. "Every dollar invested in implants returns $5 to $10 in added gain for each animal in the 6 to 12 months they spend in the feedlot," says Jo Robinson.

The European Union has banned the use of implants and importation of U.S. beef from hormone-raised cattle. These growth-promoting implants can promote tumor growth - the FDA insists that beef from implanted cattle poses no threat to human health.

The standard food the cows eat in a feedlot is a high-grain diet, usually corn, which causes calves to reach maturity months ahead of grass-fed calves. "But unnatural high-grain diets have a major drawback." says Robinson. "They make cattle sick. To prevent or reduce the symptoms caused by grain-feeding, they are given a steady dose of antibiotics in their feed, adding yet another drug to the mix."

To lower production costs cattle are often fed "byproduct feedstuffs," which can be anything from beet pulp and carrot tops to far less nutritious ingredients such as stale bread, candy, garbage collected from landfills, chicken feathers, chicken manure, plastic, salvaged pet food, and "spent hen meal," or ground-up laying hens. A 1996 study published in the Journal of Animal Science concluded that stale chewing gum, still in its aluminum wrappers, "can safely replace at least 30 percent of growing or finishing diets without impairing feedlot performance or carcass quality."

"Mad cow disease helped pull in the reins of an industry that was getting out of control," says Robinson. FDA regulations passed in 1997 and 2004 reduced the risk of mad cow disease by prohibiting the feeding of mammalian blood and cattle parts to cattle, but America's feed lots remain a breeding ground for harmful bacteria like the O157:H7 strain of E. coli.

Feeding grain to ruminants, whose digestive tracts are designed for grass and otehr foliage, causes excess stomach acid. Cattle with acute acidosis can develop growths and abscesses on their livers, stop eating, sicken and even die.

"Even when they're fed antibiotics," says Robinson, "many calves develop 'subacute acidosis,' an aggressive form of acid indigestion. A calf with subacute acidosis will hang its head, drool, kick at its belly and eat dirt. Alarmingly this is regarded as "natural" in feedlots. According to an article in the trade magazine Feedlot, 'Every animal in the feedlot will experience subacute acidosis at least once during the feeding period... This is an important natural function in adapting to high-grain finishing rations.' When calves are finsihed on high-grain diets, a certain amount of suffering is taken for granted."

In contrast, humane treatment from birth to death matters to ranchers and farmers who know their animals as individuals.

I'll continue to support my local rancher who cares more about his animals being treated well than the money.

Your thoughts about supporting local ranchers or feedlots?

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