Almost all the beef found in grocery stores comes from cattle fattened up in large grain feeding operations called feedlots. If you were to visit a ranch and then go to a feedlot, you would immediately notice a couple of striking differences. A cattle feedlot is like an urban city, populated by as many as 100,000 animals. It is crowded, filthy and stinking, with open sewers, unpaved roads and choking air.
Not too long ago, the beef industry began branding "corn fed" beef as superior to all other forms of beef due to it's tenderness and flavor. It is true that a cornfed cow develops well-marbled flesh which is the primary factor used in the U.S.D.A.'s grading system (prime, choice, select, and standard). Yet this meat is demonstrably less healthy to eat since it contains much higher amounts of "bad" fat and less "good" fat.
Imagine being locked in a small, crowded room where you were unable to move and were fed nothing but ice cream. What type of physique do you think you'd have? Now picture what that same approach does to the body composition of your typical "corn fed" cow. Because that is basically what a feedlot operation does...fatten up cattle quickly for slaughter. You are what you eat and the same notion goes for the cattle. Grass Fed beef, on the other hand, is leaner and contains a balanced ratio of "good" fats. The ratio of Omega 6:Omega 3 fatty acids for 100% pasture raised grass fed beef is 2:1, a perfect ratio for optimal health.
Warning, video contains graphic scenes of animal mistreatment, do not watch if you are easilty upset by these images.
The economics of corn are straight forward. It is the cheapest and most convenient food source. US government corn subsidies actually enable farmers to sell corn for 50 cents less per bushel than it costs to grow, farmers do not need an array of tax calculators to figure that one out. More cows can be raised on less land when they are fed corn. And when it comes to industrial farming, cost and efficiency are king. Feedlots are able to cram thousands of cows together in feedlots where they are fattened up quickly on a mixture of corn and a slurry of other ingredients including liquefied fat, animal protein, synthetic estrogen and antibiotics. For ruminants, only non-mammalian sources of protein such as fish & poultry can be included in the feed (source: fda.gov).
The modern day feedlot would not be possible without corn. But, a cow's digestive system is not designed to digest corn and all the corn feeding causes massive health problems for the cow. The average cow will die within 6 mos from consuming a corn based diet (their livers blow out), which is about all the time a factory farm needs to fatten up a cow for slaughter. To keep the feedlot animal "healthy" (healthy enough to survive), industrial farms feed the cows a constant dose of antibiotics. Did you know that most of the antibiotics sold in America end up in animal feed? It is now generally acknowledged that this practice is a direct contributor to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant ''superbugs.''
These animals live in crowded living conditions where they stand in dirt and manure all day. E. coli contamination takes place in the slaughterhouse when manure from an animal comes in contact with meat. The less manure on an animal when it enters the slaughter house, the less likely the meat will become contaminated. With feedlot cattle, it is difficult to remove all the fecal contamination because the cattle stand all day long in dirt and manure for months on end.
Finally, the animals are also injected with synthetic growth hormones such as estrogen. These persistent chemicals end up in the meat you consume and also make their way into our waterways through the massive amounts of feedlot waste flowing into the environment.
Truth be told, the only thing factory farming is good for is producing huge quantities of beef at the lowest possible price. But what most of us don't see are the true hidden costs of industrial farming. Inhumane farming operations create unhealthy animals that are bad for those who eat them and are a massive source of industrial waste.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have traditional pasture farming where cows are raised on their natural diet of grasses in a low stress environment. Feedlots manage thousands of head per day on a limited number of acres; i.e., 10-500 acres. Most ranchers run 1 cow per 5 to 40 acres to ensure that one animal has adequate grass to graze. The result are healthy cows, living in balance with nature with no need for antibiotics or hormone supplements. In turn, their meat is healthier for you. Pasture raised grass fed beef is leaner than grain fed beef, yet higher in omega 3 fatty acids, CLAs, Vitamin E and Beta Carotene.
A growing body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with corn or grain fed beef. Despite the evidence, the U.S.D.A.'s grading system continues to reward highly marbled meat. The highest USDA "grades" of beef are those with the highest amount of inter-muscular fat, the worst type of fat for you to consume. This notion promotes the corn feeding of cows because people are taught to rely on the U.S.D.A.'s grading system when judging beef quality.
One other note concerning Organic Beef. Just because a piece of beef is certified organic does not mean it is healthier. Chances are, that cow was still fed corn which means it still has an unhealthy fat balance. Certified organic beef just means the beef comes from animals that have not been treated with antibiotics or hormones and have been fed certified organic feed. There is nothing prohibiting the feeding of grain or corn to certified organic beef (unless the beef is labeled Certified Organic GRASS FED Beef).
So now that you know the difference, the choice is yours to make. Stay educated and spread the word. Experience the grass fed difference.