The Truth about Grass vs. Grain Fed Beef

First a disclaimer: A lot of people say grass or grain fed beef, but that does not mean that the cow was fed grain its entire life. Most cattle live off grass for the majority of their life and then switch to grain once in the feed lot. We’ll get to the specifics of how that happens later.

As consumers, we are all worried about what we eat and the health benefits/risks associated with that. One of these worries is surrounding grass-fed vs grain-fed cattle, whether it be health concerns or animal welfare concerns.

The Grain-Finished Life Cycle

All cattle start out living similar lives; they are born, drink milk from their mothers and then eat grass after being weaned. This continues for about 6-12 months, after that, grain-finished cattle are moved to feedlots.

Feedlot penFeedlots are depicted as horrible, disgusting and cramped places (but that’s a topic for another blog post).
There is actually more room in feedlot pens than most people think. At feedlots the cattle are rapidly fattened up with grain, usually made with corn or soy. When the cattle are first brought to the feed lot they are given feed with high forage/silage content and low grain content to help their bodies adjust to the new diet. The grain portion of the diet steadily increases until the cattle are primarily eating grain. This process occurs over a 3-6 month period. If you are curious about finding out more about feedlots before my next post visit this site.

The Grass-Finished Lifecycle

Just like grain-finished cattle grass-finished cattle spend the first ~12 months of their lives in the same way. The only difference is that instead of being sent off to a feedlot they are “finished” or “grown out” in a grass pasture. This means that they eat grass for the remainder of their life, until slaughter. This entire process can take upwards of a year and a lot of land.

Nutritional Differences

Texas A&M University did a study on the nutritional differences on ground beef grass-fed grain-fed beef cattlegrass-fed grain-fed beef cattlefrom grass-fed and grain-fed cattle. As you can see from the table, grain-fed cattle have a higher omega-3 fatty acid concentration and a higher total saturated and trans-fat content, while grass-fed cattle have a higher oleic acid concentration and lower saturated and trans-fat content. The study continued on to say that the effect of the ground beef on cholesterol was minimal, and Grass vs Grain Finished Beefneither type increased risk for CVD or type II diabetes. “So, at this point, there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that ground beef from grass-fed cattle is a healthier alternative to ground beef from conventional raised, grain-fed cattle” said Stephen Smith, Regents Professor at the TAMU Department of Animal Science.

So as of the research we have right now, there is no health benefits to choosing grass-fed beef. It is solely a choice of preference. If you prefer the taste of grass-fed beef, then by all means eat it. But do not feel like you have to because of health benefits or animal welfare.

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The Truth About #RealPigFarming

Inhospitable. Dangerous. Inhumane. Abysmal. Uncomfortable. All of these are words used by the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States to describe a modern swine farm. I’m here to tell you that none of these words describe the truth.

Housing 

“At just two to tpighree weeks old, piglets are removed from their mothers and placed in large, windowless sheds without fresh air, sunlight or outdoor access. Their pens are too small and crowded for adequate movement and exercise. Ammonia fumes rise to dangerous, uncomfortable levels due to the pigs’ waste.” This excerpt is from an ASPCA article.

The above depiction is not the case of most pig farms in the United States. A lot of them have some sort of natural light, either through curtains or windows. Air flow from the outside is also required to make sure that ammonia fumes or anything else does not build up. In colder climates this is done by pulling air from attics. In warmer climates the air is pulled through cool cells (like radiators) to cool it down.  This is a necessity to help keep the pigs comfortable.

Raising pigs indoors allows feed and water to be monitored and protects them from disease and predators. Pens are cleaned usually every day to keep the pigs clean and further prevent disease. As for the pens being overly crowded pigs are naturally social, so they enjoy being in a large group.

Most swine farms are extremely biosecure to further protect the pigs. Visitors have to shower in and out and any tools must be cleaned before entering the facility. Farmers truly care about their animals or they would not go to such extreme lengths to keep them safe and healthy.

Picture contributed by a swine unit worker.

Picture contributed by a swine unit worker.

Treatment

ASPCA also goes on to say that pigs are castrated and have their tails docked with no painkillers. That is the truth, but the part they are leaving out is that both of these things are done within 10 days of birth, so the nerve endings have not fully developed.The tails are docked because when left alone, pigs will bite, chew and gnaw on each others tails causing pain and infections.

Here is a video that features an Ohio pig farm and shows you exactly what pigs at their farm go through every day. You may think they changed their behaviors and cleaned their facility for the video, but that is not the case. Stalls on most farms are cleaned every day and pigs are interacted with every single day.

 

 

real pig farming swine humaneIf you google pig/swine farming, some disturbing things come up and reading/watching the horrible things online about pig farming is upsetting to a lot of people. But realize that those depictions are not #RealPigFarming. #RealPigFarming is a social group that unites pig farmers, academics, youth, veterinarians and allied industry members to discuss how modern pork production really works. Check them out on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Remember if you ever have questions about how animals are raised or how crops are grown, be sure to ask a farmer!

The Truth About Beef Byproducts

What exactly is a byproduct? A byproduct is an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacturing or synthesis of something else.
So what does that mean for the beef industry? It means that once we have the meat (which is the main reason we raise cattle) the “leftover parts” can be made into other products.

If you have a beef animal that weighs 1,000 pounds, 640 pounds of the animal will be used for meat products, such as steaks, roasts and hamburgers. This means 64% of the animal is used for meat. However, 99% of the cow is utilized for meat and other products. This makes the beef industry more sustainable because it uses as much of each cow as possible.

There are three categories of animal by-products: edible, inedible, and medicinal.

EDIBLE

beef, byproducts, cattle

Photo via Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

Gelatin, what makes Jello, is also a beef byproduct. It is made from the connective tissue of the animal. Other products that contain gelatin might also include gum, fruit snacks, and even marshmallows! Fat from the animal create oleo stock and oleo oil for margarine and shortening.

INEDIBLE

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Photo via Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

You probably use at least one item containing inedible beef by-products every day. Leather is a good example of an inedible beef byproduct. It is made from the cow hide and is used to make other byproducts. A lot can be made from 1 cow hide, 12 basketballs or 144 baseballs
or 20 footballs or 18 volleyballs or 18 soccer balls or 12 baseball gloves. Industrial oils and lubricants, soaps, lipsticks, deodorant, and many other items are produced from the inedible fats from beef.

MEDICINAL

More than 100 individual drugs include beef byproducts. The medicines can help make childbirth safer, can settle an upset stomach, can prevent blood clots, control anemia, and help relieve asthma symptoms. Antirejection drugs, which are used when a person has a transplant to help the body accept the new organ, come from animal byproducts. Insulin, which is used 1.25 million people daily in the United States, can come from livestock or be synthetically produced. It takes the pancreases from 26 cattle to provide enough insulin to keep one diabetic person alive for a year.

So “Where’s the Beef?”

So when people ask you where’s the beef, you will know the truth, it is in more places than just your fridge or on your plate. It is in hospitals, drug stores, helping your car run better, sporting goods, art supply shops, soap, and many other things.

The Truth About EPA’s Water of the United States Rule

In 1972 the EPA created the Clean Water Act to protect Americans and their water supply. In 60 days, if Congress doesn’t intervene, an update will take effect that will hinder the farmers that grow our food, fiber, and fuel.

Why will the new Water of the United States Rule (WOTUS) hinder farmers? Because under the new expansion any standing water in a field, pasture, or ditch is considered “navigable waters” and a permit is required to conduct business near them.

Corn, rain, WOTUSWith the amount of rain that has hit parts of this nation, it is not uncommon to drive down the road and see fields and pastures with large puddles in them. Because of the ambiquity of the new Clean Water Act expansion, the federal government could argue that this water belongs to the United States and a permit will be required to work around it. The EPA says that exemptions exist for agriculture, but industry leaders are nervous that that might not be the case once the rule is enacted.

“This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable,” said President Barack Obama. This comment from President Obama seems hopeful, except the rule offers no clarity, only more confusion.

“Let’s be clear – everyone wants clean water,” said Steve Foglesong, past president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Farmers and ranchers rely on clean water to be successful in business. But, expanding the federal regulatory reach of the EPA and Army Corp does not equal clean water. After reading the proposed rule, I can say that only one thing is clear, the proposed rule and its definitions are ambiguous.”

Farmer, Rain, EPA, WOTUSA farmer recently tweeted this picture of a field in his area that will have to be replanted after all of the rain. If Congress does not stop the new rule the farmer would likely have to apply for a permit to be able to replant his own land, because the water would belong to the United States government.

Opponents of the rule question if there will be any measurable environemental gains to show for the work done by farmers and landowners to jump through the new regulatory hoops. During the drafting of the rule, the EPA collected over one million comments in the comment period, which ended six months ago. Those opposed to the rule do not believe this was enough time to process all of the comments and adequately address the concerns in them.

Farmers are not angry that the EPA wants to help provide Americans with clean water, they are nervous about how the new rule, which can be read here, will affect production because of its ambiquity. Farm groups are nervous because the terminology used in the rule opens up possibilites for the EPA to regulate anywhere water occurs, or has occured in the past. The truth is this new rule could greatly affect all Americans, whether it be through water on their land or place of business, or by an increase in food prices.