Tag Archives: feedlot meat

The Burden of Industrialized Meat

Chart via the Emerging Pathogens Institute

Bill and I have been eating grassfed or pastured meat for about the last four years. We totally believe it’s the right thing to do for our health, for the sake of the animals, and for our planet. But many people think it’s too expensive and find it hard to justify spending that kind of money. One way to counter the cost would be by balancing meat dishes with vegetarian ones. Or, you could justify the cost by thinking proactively: Instead of putting the money into healthcare later on, you’re putting it into your health right now.

Recently, there was an article in the The Washington Post about the cost of pathogens found in this country’s food supply. “Of the food pathogens that cost society the most money — in terms of medical care, lost days of work, long-term chronic health problems or deaths — half are found in poultry, pork, beef and other meat products.” This data comes from research conducted by the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI). Together, the 10 most expensive pathogens associated with specific foods cost the U.S. economy $8.1 billion a year, the study found.

The top-ranked pathogen-food combinations include:

  • Poultry tainted with Campylobacter, which causes more than 600,000 estimated cases of illness annually and puts nearly 7,000 people in the hospital
  • Pork contaminated with Toxoplasma, which sickens more than 35,000 and puts nearly 2,000 Americans in the hospital annually
  • Deli meats tainted with Listeria, which causes nearly 600 hospitalizations and more than 100 deaths each year.

If you subscribe to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recalls, this information wouldn’t be a surprise. Just about every week I read about a tainted meat issue that they’ve announced. “What this [research] shows,” says J. Glenn Morris, the director of the EPI and one of the authors of the study, “is that there are diseases that have significant other manifestations, that result in complications, even death. And as a result, the public health burden is so much greater.”

Can you get these diseases from your local farmer’s products? Sure, it happens, but not to the degree that it does with feedlot meat. If you know your farmer you have a better chance of making a good decision about what you eat. In the end, it could save you–and the rest of us–thousands of dollars in healthcare costs.

The Odds Are One in Four: Gambling with Supermarket Meat is Risky

The results are in: One in four supermarket meat samples is tainted with drug-resistant bacteria.

According to NPR, nearly a quarter of the meat and poultry sold in U.S. supermarkets is infected with bacteria. The news organization cites research from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), which sampled meat around the country and found that “47 percent had evidence of Staphylococcus aureus contamination. More than half of the bacteria they found were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics, according to the study, published today in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.”

Researchers collected and analyzed 136 samples — covering 80 brands — of beef, chicken, pork, and turkey from 26 retail grocery stores in five U.S. cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff, and Washington, D.C.

In a TGen press release, Lance B. Price, senior author of the study and director of the center’s Food Microbiology and Environmental Health, said, “For the first time, we know how much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Staph, and it is substantial.”

If the headline doesn’t scare you, here are some reasons for concern:

  • DNA testing suggests that the food animals themselves were the major source of contamination. (That’s another reason to avoid feedlot meat!)
  • Although Staph should be killed with proper cooking, it may still pose a risk to consumers through improper food handling and cross-contamination in the kitchen.
  • S. aureus can cause a range of illnesses from minor skin infections to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia, endocarditis, and sepsis.
  • The drug-resistant strains found in the meat and poultry samples are especially difficult to treat because they’ve evolved beyond the regular arsenal of drugs that kill them.
  • S. aureus isn’t among the four types of drug-resistant bacteria the U.S. government looks for when it surveys retail meatThe researchers suggest that we need a better inspection program to help track the presence of the bug.

“The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today,” Dr. Price said.

Densely-stocked industrial farms, where food animals are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics, are ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans, the report says.

Antibiotics use among livestock has been generating concern lately, as  80 percent of the antibiotics sold in 2009 were reserved for livestock and poultry, according to the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”

No wonder everyone is sick all the time.

One Step Closer to Animal Humaneness

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced several measures that will better ensure the humane treatment and slaughter of all cattle presented for processing at FSIS-inspected facilities.

According to Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, the USDA has significantly strengthened its ability to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, “but we have more work to do and must continue to look for ways that ensure the safe and humane slaughter of animals.” She said the organization is taking  “concrete steps to address outstanding humane handling issues, ranging from enhanced employee training to clearer guidance on existing rules.”

The Agency is pursuing the following new measures:

  1. Issuing procedures to inspection personnel to clarify that all non-ambulatory mature cattle must be condemned and promptly euthanized to ensure they are humanely handled, regardless of the reason for the animal’s non-ambulatory status.
  2. Responding to and soliciting comments on petitions from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Farm Sanctuary.
  3. Appointing an Ombudsman in the Office of Food Safety, designated specifically for humane handling issues. The ombudsman will provide FSIS employees a channel of communication to voice their concerns when the standard reporting mechanisms do not adequately address outstanding issues.
  4. Requesting the USDA Office of Inspector General audit industry appeals of noncompliance records and other humane handling enforcement actions by FSIS inspection program personnel.
  5. Delivering enhanced humane handling training to give inspection personnel more practical, situation-based training.

“When Congress passed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, they provided FSIS with the authority to prevent needless suffering, and we take our responsibility very seriously,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. “Consumers need to be confident our inspectors have the direction they need to ensure that humane slaughter is carried out properly.”

During the last two years, FSIS has implemented a number of measures to strengthen humane handling enforcement. For example, on March 14, 2009, the USDA announced a final rule to amend Federal meat inspection regulations to require a complete ban on the slaughter of non-ambulatory cattle for use in human food. FSIS also created 24 new humane handling enforcement positions, including 23 in-plant personnel and a headquarters-based Humane Handling Enforcement Coordinator. Most recently, on October 14, 2010, FSIS issued draft guidelines to assist meat and poultry establishments that want to improve operations by using in-plant video monitoring.

So far, it seems like a step in the right direction. If you don’t know about the inhumane treatment of animals in this country’s factory farm system, just take a peek at this video, “Meet Your Meat.”

And the Chef Panel Says: Go Organic


The current issue of Time magazine focuses on the organic food debate. One segment includes the results from a blue-ribbon panel of nine New York chefs who reveal their preferences in a taste test: Farm vs. Supermarket.

Although the subtitle of the article leads you to believe that “organic and small-farm products aren’t always better,” the results indicate a definite lean toward preferring organic. In four out of seven of the tests, organic was the winner and in two of the tests it was a draw between organic and nonorganic. Even the preference for beef (grass-fed vs. grass-and-grain-fed prime steak) points toward an inclusion of grass in the cow’s diet, as opposed to a totally grain-fed piece of meat.

The two taste tests that each ended in a draw were for carrots and goat cheese. Both the Organic Bunny Love carrots and the Dole non-organic carrots were “almost exactly the same,” according to Chef Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy.

Anne Saxelby, owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers, tasted the organic and nonorganic Farmstead goat cheeses. Her conclusion? “Cheese needs milk–and milk, like wine, needs terroir. The pasture, the cheesemaker’s prowess and the technique–that’s where you get your flavor. These two cheeses are equally delicious; there really is no difference.”

The other tests, in which organic was the winner over nonorganic, focused on white nectarines, tomatoes, pork, chicken, and eggs. (With all the violations among Iowa egg producers right now, who wouldn’t choose organic? And local!)

I was glad to see these results from the New York panel, which, by the way, also included the following chefs:

Marco Canora of Hearth

Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson of Minetta Tavern

Floyd Cardoz of Tabla

Joey Campanaro of The Little Owl

April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig

George Weld of Egg

Lynn Henning: Fighting Against CAFOs

A family farmer from rural Michigan, Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.

Her actions have not gone unnoticed, however, by the opposition, who have threatened and intimidated Lynn and her family in a number of ways. (Watch the video to find out.)

Because of her brave efforts, she received the 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest award honoring grassroots environmentalists.

Virtual Water Consumption: How Much Does Your Food Require?

Have you checked out this month’s National Geographic magazine yet? It’s a special issue on water and they’ve enclosed a beautiful map showing the river systems of the world. On the other side of the map is a display called “Hidden Water” that depicts the “virtual water”–the amount of water used to create a product–for meat, animal products, fruit and vegetables, and common goods. (If you don’t get the magazine, they have a fun interactive version on their website.)

For example, the virtual water used to raise animals for food consists of the water they drink and the water used to grow their food and clean their waste.

Here are the number of gallons needed for cows:

For pigs:

For chickens:

What they don’t tell you on the interactive site is that the statistics for the meat–at least the beef–come from industrial food production, which is revealed in the sidebar at the bottom of the graphic called “Why Meat Takes More”.

Here’s the explanation: “A human diet that regularly includes meat requires 60 percent more water than a diet that’s predominantly vegetarian…this graphic illustrates the water needed to raise a cow or steer in an industrial production system, using the global average of three years from birth to market.”

As in my January blog post (“A Cow’s Carbon Footprint: Why Grassfed Beef is Carbon-Negative“), I am always looking for statistics showing that grassfed beef positively impacts the environment. For sure, it does less damage than feedlot beef. But is there a solid argument confirming that raising grassfed beef actually helps Mother Earth?

I scoured the Web and I like what EatWild.com says about grass farming the best. Still, I couldn’t find the stats I was looking for.

My conclusion, I suppose, is “everything in moderation,” as revealed in my decision to stay a flexitarian. If we all ate less meat, we’d reduce water consumption. If we ate grassfed meat instead of feedlot meat, we’d reduce it even more–not to mention avoiding the other negative impacts of eating feedlot meat: pollution, increased usage of fossil fuels, antibiotics and hormones added to the meat, higher risk of disease, poor working conditions for humans, and animal abuse.

The Antibiotic Debate

From the Huffington Post comes an article that documents research done around antibiotics used on animals raised for food.

According to the article, “experts estimate that up to 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are given to healthy food animals on industrial farms to grow the animals faster and compensate for often crowded, unsanitary conditions.”

And, “three decades of scientific research has demonstrated that feeding low doses of antibiotics to food animals over a long period of time promotes the development of dangerous strains of drug-resistant bacteria that can spread to humans.”

While the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the European Union “independently conclude that routine use of antibiotics in food animal production should be curtailed in order to protect human health,” and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration echo their conclusions, some agribusinesses are still resisting.

It all gets back to big business. As long as we let them control our food system, we will eat what they want us to eat.

Are you going to let them be in charge of your health?

How to Grill a Grassfed Beef Burger

It’s grilling season in the North!

I thought I’d share Bill‘s special burger grilling process for anyone who’s making a transition–or considering a switch–to grassfed beef. (Why might you want to eat meat from grassfed animals? Check out this primer on grassfed beef. And, if you’re not in the mood for burgers, try this recipe for Grilled Grassfed Ribeye Steaks.)

When you switch from fatty feedlot meat to leaner grassfed meat, it’s important to watch your cooking time and temperature.

Of course, you could cook your burgers in a pan, but they are really good on the grill. We just got a new Weber Q last year.

Here’s the way Bill grills our grassfed beef burgers:
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Incremental Steps Toward Eating Responsibly

Time magazine interviewed Michael Pollan recently about his new book Food Rules.

Watch the video, in which Pollan answers readers’ questions.

Then, vote with your fork!

A Cow’s Carbon Footprint: Why Grassfed Beef Is Carbon-Negative

Recently, I was talking with a friend about grassfed beef and the conversation moved toward carbon footprints. I found that I didn’t have a secure argument for grassfed beef being good for the environment. I thought it probably was, based on what I’ve read in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. After all, if you feed ruminants (such as cows) grass and they fertilize the grass with their manure and you move them around, just like bison used to do on the Great Plains in our country, everyone would benefit: the cows, the grass, and the air. In essence, it makes sense.

But why do most environmentalists cut back on eating meat? I suspect it’s because they’re focused on feedlot meat, which I haven’t knowingly touched since I saw the movie Food, Inc. last summer. (If you don’t have a chance to see it but want to get a crash course in feedlot meat, watch “Meet Your Meat” or read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. They all have the same effect.)

Thanks to an article in the January 12 issue of Time magazine, I feel justified in my continuing carnivorous behavior (although it’s been somewhat modified toward vegetarian for a number of reasons).

According to Time, the enormous carbon footprint argument is based on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2006 report, which attributed 18% of the world’s man-made greenhouse-gas emissions to livestock. However, cattleman Ridge Shinn says conventional cattle raising is like mining: “It’s unsustainable, because you’re just taking without putting anything back. But when you rotate cattle on grass, you change the equation. You put back more than you take.”

I knew there was something sustainable in the grassfed beef cycle. I’m just glad to hear a cattleman claim it since I don’t have the expertise of a farmer.

Michael Pollan supports the claim: “Much of the carbon footprint of beef comes from growing grain to feed the animals, which requires fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, transportation. Grass-fed beef has a much lighter carbon footprint.”

And, grassfed beef is healthier than feedlot beef because it’s got less saturated fat and more omega-3s.

Wanna know more? Read the article.