I was enjoying a meat-centric meal at a local restaurant a few days ago with some friends when someone brought up the film Food, Inc. So we ended up discussing the dark side of meat production while...
I was enjoying a meat-centric meal at a local restaurant a few days ago with some friends when someone brought up the film Food, Inc. So we ended up discussing the dark side of meat production while enjoying our nicely prepared pastured beef short ribs. If you also saw this film, then what follows will not be new. And yet, it never hurts to remind ourselves of some of the issues and concerns.
As the aforementioned movie revealed for many previously unaware folks, the idyllic vision we have of cows grazing on open fields under blue skies is not a very realistic picture of cattle production today. While many cattle in the United States do begin their lives on relatively small, family-owned ranches with ample amounts of pasture or rangeland, the vast majority of cattle end their lives in large, overcrowded feedlots. In many feedlots, their diet switches to grains and other products such as flesh, bones, hooves, and feathers of other animals, chicken or cattle manure, stale pastry, ground cardboard, and even plastic hay.
Cattle are a ruminant (or cud-chewing) species, as are goats, sheep, and bison. Their specialized digestive system has evolved over millennia to digest the biodiversity of grasses found on pastureland. When ruminant animals such as cattle are fed a grain-based diet, it can cause them a range of health problems, so they are often administered antibiotics to fend off the diseases they might contract under these conditions. The cattle are also often given growth hormones to make them grow bigger faster.
Not all grain-fed cattle are subject to the worst feedlot conditions. Some feedlots are less crowded and are managed without the use of antibiotics or hormones. Some facilities feed their cattle only grain and other foodstuffs (a typical diet might include barley, corn, wheat, soy meal, sugar beet pulp, cane molasses and hay) without all the fillers and questionable by-products. Feedlots producing certified organic dairy products or beef must follow guidelines that include feeding the animals certified organic grain, avoiding antibiotics and hormones, and providing some access to pasture.
In addition to the effects on animal health, the feedlot system also has some serious environmental impacts. Overcrowding of animals produces excessive amounts of manure that cannot be recycled on site. Runoff from this manure creates an excess of nitrogen in watersheds. Methane gas produced by cattle contributes to global warming. The large-scale industrial production of grain to feed the animals includes high usage of pesticides and herbicides and the widespread use of genetically engineered seed.
The feedlot system also has social consequences. As commodity prices for beef and dairy products are driven down, small family-owned ranches are often driven out of business. Those that do manage to stay afloat generally work on contract with a few large corporations, greatly limiting their autonomy, financial security, and opportunities for growth. Feedlots themselves can be toxic environments for the workers who operate them and smelly eyesores for the communities that house them. Slaughterhouses can be dangerous for workers when speed and production are considered more important than safety.
Keeping cattle on open rangeland or pasture from birth until death is an alternative to the feedlot system. Because cattle eat the diet that is biologically appropriate for them and their digestive systems, the health problems outlined above are eliminated. The negative environmental and social consequences are lessened too. Research is also showing that there are also significant health advantages to eating dairy products or beef from pasture-raised animals.
I don't eat animal protein every day, but when I do, I buy ingredients or seek out menu items that feature pastured animals whenever possible. It's my way of supporting a production system that I believe is better for me, the animals, and the planet. That fact that these products also taste better and have a more interesting texture to me is an added bonus!
This blogger from San Francisco learned everything about modern livestock production from watching the movie Food Inc. and is eager to share it. Line by line you can go through this article and see how this mockery of a film has misinformed consumers. For example, according to this guy every feedlot is overcrowded. On more than one occassion he refers to overcrowded feedlots. He also mentions that most family farmers and ranchers that raise beef are doing it for a large corporation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The next time you don't feel like sharing your story consider the idea that this guy is eager to share your story for you and it's apparent that he's not concerned about the truth.