The New York Times recently published an article linking red meat to cancer and heart disease. Fast Company posted an infograph depicting the same. Pink slime has caused a national outcry. Yet it’s not all red meat that we should fight, but meat from poorly raised animals.
It used to be that cows could roam freely, feeding on grass and taking their time and space to grow. When the animals matured, farmers would walk them to the local butcher shop where we would pick up our daily protein needs. Then came refrigerated transportation, meatpacking factorization (think The Jungle), corn subsidies, and antibiotics that made the entire process cheaper, faster, bigger, and less about the quality of the food we eat. It brought cheap meats to Americans, but at what cost? Beef transformed from a locally-sourced seasonal food to something we make from mixing foodcoloring and mush (and no matter how happy it looks, it’s not right). Here are 10 reasons why we should go back to sustainably raised, grassfed beef.
1) Grassfed beef may lower your cholesterol. It is low in the bad cholesterol called LDL, the culprit of clogged arteries, and high in the good cholesterol called HDL, which helps keep LDL levels low. Some studies have shown that eating grassfed beef can lower one’s overall LDL levels. And it’s a leaner protein.
2) Grassfed beef is a good source of nutrients. It is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin E, antioxidants, and conjugated linoleic acid (which has anticarcinogenic and weight control properties).
3) Sustainably raised animals are not pumped full of growth hormones (rBGH). There have not been conclusive findings on whether rBGH poses human health risks, but do you really want to be the guinea pig? The FDA passed the hormone use in 1993 even as scientists questioned its link to breast cancer. In Canada, the hormone was rejected based on the harm it causes animals. Used in dairy cows, it causes overproduction of milk that leads to stress, malnutrition, calcium deficiency, weight loss and exhaustion. rBGH is also banned in the European Union, Japan, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand.
4) Sustainably raised animals don’t need copious amounts of antibiotics. 80% of the antibiotics purchased in the United States are used on livestock, which has led to the widespread development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Grassfed cows are raised on the pasture with more space and better waste management, leading to healthier animals and less antibiotic use.
5) Sustainably raised meat is less likely to carry foodborne disease. Many foodborne diseases are spread through the poor processing and waste management that typify commercial feedlots. Sustainably raised and ethically processed livestock are less likely to pose this risk.
6) Sustainably raised cows will not spread mad cow disease. Mad cow is from a family of viruses found in animals that practice cannibalism (including human). Public outbreaks have stopped the once-common practice of feeding cows (which are herbivores) bits of other cows. But on commercial feedlots, cows are still fed animals that had been fed cows in their lives, and while no studies have confirmed that this indirect cannibalistic loop could spread the disease, it’s not a risk we should take. Another danger of this practice is accidental mixing of feed for animals, which happened in a Texas feedlot where bovine bonemeal meant for chickens and pigs were fed to cows instead. There have not been a great amount of outbreaks, but note that the virus has an incubation period of up to four decades in humans.
7) Sustainable grassfed livestock operations don’t produce toxic waste. When raised on grasslands, animal waste becomes fertilizer for the grass, completing the circle of life. When cows are fed corn, the high concentration of artificial fertilizer in the grain passes through to the animal waste, which becomes toxic to the environment. In large feedlots, this waste is poorly managed, often left untreated and dumped into a “lagoon." The Natural Resource Defense Council found remnants of this toxic manure as far as 300 miles away from feedlots, and it accounts for over half of the pollutants found in freshwater systems. It can vastly change the ecosystem, creating algae blooms and killing off natural lakes. Also, nitrates that leach into water supplies can cause nervous system impairments, cancer, or methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome).
8) Sustainable grassfed livestock operations won’t drain our fresh water supply. Almost half of the fresh water consumed in the United States is used for growing corn and other grains for livestock (which represents 70% of the total grain produced). Fresh water supplies are being drained at an alarming rate. In San Joaquin Valley in California, 400 billion gallons are being removed annually, so much so that some areas have sunk 29 feet.
9) Sustainable grassfed livestock operations won’t destroy biodiversity. Deforestization and over-cultivation for growing this enormous amount of grain as feed has led to topsoil erosion and desertification, limiting the biodiversity of the ecosystems.
10) Sustainable grassfed livestock operations can adequately feed America. According to study done by Cornell University, Americans would still get more than the recommended daily allowance of meat and dairy protein using only grassfed livestock.
Currently in America, we eat an unhealthy quantity of unhealthy meats, and are hurting the environment as we do so. If the pink slime debacle has shown us anything, it is that we as consumers can use our collective voice to create positive change in our nation’s food supply.