The U-B recently printed a column by John Stossell weighing in on the debate about meat. Does grass-fed beef have any environmental or health benefit as compared to conventionally produced beef?
He writes that conventionally raised cattle have a comparable quality of life, and are as healthy as pasture-raised cattle. Further, he claims there are no nutritional differences in the meat produced from the two methods.
Our local experts on grass-fed meats at Thundering Hooves could offer all the science to dispute that claim, and a trip to their fields gives one perspective on how well cattle on pasture live. There you will find green grass, a living soil that consumes the waste of the animals and plenty of clean ground on which to conduct their business.
Cattle in feed lots live on bare soil if they're lucky, or concrete if they're not, and are fed a high-protein blend of corn, grain and "animal protein" (i.e. processed flesh or organs from poultry, pork, sheep, etc). To live on this type of feed, these cattle require antibiotics to prevent infection that would occur in such a stressed out digestive system. I don't dispute the writer's claim that animals in these systems grow faster -- much faster than grass fed cattle. I disagree with the author's explanations of health, efficiency and environmental impact in the raising of livestock.
Pastures absorb animal waste and are improved by it. Feedlot waste must be processed and shipped off site because in such high concentrations it becomes a serious pollutant. Cattle evolved to digest grass, and do so happily with no medical interventions. The production and processing of corn-based feed requires a complex system of industry and transport, all of which are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. The grass that feeds pastured animals grows where they live -- now that's efficiency!
Pastured poultry, beef, and other animal products are more expensive than those conventionally grown. That's a fact. I am certain, however, that the price difference between the two types of products would disappear if federal subsidies for industrial agriculture systems also disappeared. Cheaper food isn't really cheap. The sticker price gives that illusion, and our tax dollars pay the difference.
When you come across reports or studies proving that conventionally grown animal products are the same or superior to grass fed or organic products, recognize which industries funds those studies, which industries can afford lobbyists to protect their interests, and which businessmen have the most to lose by consumers caring about the health and quality of their food.