More About Grass Fed Beef

A couple of days ago, I wrote about grass fed beef. I compared it favorably to the corn fed beef found in most supermarkets. The responses I got were mostly supportive of what I said, with one notable exception. Laura’s family raises corn fed beef, and she took exception with how I described the process.

My position is admittedly academic, in that it’s almost entirely based on what I’ve read. Laura’s response — actually her husband’s — comes from first-hand experience actually raising cattle. I thought it only fair give his response the same visibility as my original post.

Before I do, let me say this is not a setup to disagree with everything they had to say and restate my point. I actually agree with lots of what they had to say. Some of it is clarifying points that I oversimplified. All of it is an honest description of one family’s perspective.

(And no, there won’t be any recipes today.)

Other opinions

Before I get to Laura’s comment, there were two others I should mention. Mojo Yugen said:

I think most of the comparisons of environmental impact of grass-fed vs. corn-fed beef are based on a small, grass-fed pasture farm verses a massive feed lot corn-fed operation. Not exactly apples and oranges. A better comparison would be a small, family grass-fed operation versus a small, family corn-fed operation. In that comparison the environmental impact would be much closer.

I think the antibiotic abuse also applies (by and large) to the same feed-lot operations. If you have 1,000s of cows crammed together standing around in their own crap they certainly need more antibiotics per animal than a family farm.

This is a great point. When I was contrasting grass fed with “supermarket beef”, I was assuming that the supermarket carries beef that came from a CAFO. That’s probably a safe bet most of the time. But it’s true that there are smaller operations that do feed grain, but don’t use CAFOs. The environmental and health issues I was talking about are products of the huge scale industrial operations.

Then Kristin said:

Actually, 100% grass-fed or 100% grain-fed aren’t the only options. Another option, used fairly widely, in fact (including by the uncle we get our beef from), is pastured cows that are fed rations of corn right before slaughter. It’s kind of a happy medium for people who don’t want their beef to be too far from what they’re used to (grain-fed), but still want it better (grass-fed).

For me the key phrase in there is “happy medium”. I recognize that a mostly grass diet is still better than the alternative, and that’s what I’m starting to research for myself and my family.

The main event

Now for Laura’s letter, from her husband. [My comments will be in brackets.]

Cost

I know grass-fed is all the craze now, but lets take a step back. You have to consider this for what it really is.

For small family farms (which there are fewer and fewer of everyday), space, equipment, and facilities are limited, so profits are a function of how fast you can turn investment into profit. Feeding cattle high-protein foods (such as corn) increases the rate-of-gain, letting the farmer sell them sooner. Feeding lower-protein foods (such as hay or grasses) means the farmer must hold his investment longer. Even if the price they can demand in the end is higher, having large amounts of money tied up for long periods of time for alot of small farmers isn’t possible.

[This explains why grain fed beef makes better economic sense for farmers, but doesn’t really address whether it’s better for the consumer. However, I admitted that I still buy grain fed beef because my only sources of grass fed are too expensive. It would be hypocritical of me to say farmers should choose the more expensive option if I’m not willing to do the same.]

Health

Next… about the antibiotics. The fact is that without proper antibiotics, a greater percentage of cattle will get sick, which a farmer cannot afford. I know it seems logical that a cow running round on a nice field of grass would be very healthy — but that is not always the case. My father, a cattle farmer all of his life, lost 10 cows in 3 days due to blackleg while the cattle were in the pasture for the summer. Since then, all of our cattle are vaccinated for this, and he hasn’t lost one since. This is not to say feed-lot cattle are free from disease either — antibiotics are important wherever a cow is or what it eats. In cattle, just as in humans, a good diet and good living conditions does not always guarantee perfect health.

[If you really mean “vaccinated” then you’re not talking about antibiotics. Also, while I didn’t specify this in my first post, the greater concern is non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. I understand why it’s easier to just include it in the feed rather than wait for an animal to get sick and try to cure it. But MSRA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has made the jump to livestock. And Ceftriaxone-Resistant Salmonella has been a recognized problem at least since 2000.

For anyone wondering what MSRA and salmonella have to do with non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, the FDA has a great article: The Rise of Antibiotic-Resistant Infections. Overuse of antibiotics is a legitimate threat to life as we know it. Any farming practices that lead to that overuse, even as an unintended consequence, should be avoided.]

Also, so called ‘corn-fed’ cattle are not fed just corn. This is not healthy for them. They are fed a mix of corn and some sort of roughage, whether it be hay or grass, etc.

[Agreed. Like Kristin said, 100% corn and 100% grass aren’t the only alternatives.]

Environmental impact

Environmentally, raising cattle has impact regardless of what they are fed. Cattle fed just grass require large amounts of land. With farm land prices rising to ridiculous levels, farmers will make cattle grazing areas out of the least-farmable land they have. Along with this, cattle need a source of water — so grazing areas are typically waterways, wetlands, etc. [which are essential to our environment]

[This is where it becomes more a political issue than health or even simple economics. Corn is heavily subsidized in the U.S.: “Buying livestock fattened on cheap subsidized grain saved chicken processors $11.3 billion, pork processors $8.5 billion, and beef packers $4.5 billion in the 1997-2005 time frame.”

Without the subsidies making corn so cheap in comparison, much more grazing land would be economically viable. Furthermore, if the existing corn subsidies were not just cut, but instead shifted to supporting more environmentally sustainable practices — this is exactly what they do in Switzerland — it’s possible feeding grain to cattle wouldn’t make economic sense at all.]

“Taking sides”

Cattle farming is a tough business, just ask the the kid who’s Christmas depends on how dad’s cattle did that year. That is why I have more of a fiscal point of view to this. We need to get past the buzzwords and misconceptions and take things for what they are. So before we proclaim something as the best thing since sliced bread, make sure you see both sides. Cattle are raised and fed different ways, and I hope people chose based on the facts and not just hype. I am on the farmer’s side of this, no matter what they feed their cattle.

[When you take the “farmer’s side”, who do you think is on the other side? If you think it’s me, as the buyer, I disagree. The “other side” of the issue is the politics that generates long-term solutions to short-term problems, with a host of unintended — though entirely predictable — consequences.

This article explains how the previous farm policy of supporting crop prices while controlling overproduction through loans, was replaced with a system designed to depress prices and encourage overproduction through direct subsidies. This fix for a single bad harvest in an election year has reshaped agriculture for nearly four decades.]

Angus?

Oh – one other thing. I see “Angus” get thrown out alot. How many people really know what that is? Angus is a breed of cattle. A pure-bred or full-blood Angus needs to have certifications and documents to prove it, much like a dog would. Most beef cattle are a mix of many different breeds. I can assure you that next time you eat that “Angus” steak you are not eating a full-blood Angus. It has become a term thrown around to make things sound better to people who don’t really understand what it is. The reality is Angus meat is no better or worse than any other beef breed, or cross. Age, fat content, diet, overall size… etc, contribute way more to the taste.

[I couldn’t agree more with this. The trade group for Angus beef lists the primary criteria for calling beef “Angus” as: “Live cattle must be Angus-influenced, have a predominately (51%) solid black hair coat … to be eligible for CAB (Certified Angus Beef) evaluation.” In other words, it has to have at least some Angus genetics, and it has to be mostly black. That’s about it. Yes, there are other criteria for certification, but they all depend on health, size and appearance, not “breed” per se.]

Good people, bad alternatives

Farmers do things the way they do for good reasons. I don’t think anyone is getting up in the morning saying to himself, “I can’t wait to go out and destroy the environment today … and reduce the quality of my product while I’m at it.”

Farmers do what they do because they don’t get to deal with the world the way they think it should be. They have to deal with the world as it is. And that means cheap (subsidized) corn feed is the surest way to have a profitable herd.

When I say that grass fed beef is healthier to eat, I’m not saying farmers should absorb the extra cost to produce it. When I say that farm subsidies as they are currently structured cause farmers to produce the wrong foods in the wrong way, I’m not saying we should stop supporting farmers.

What I am saying is that the current regulations have lead to a less-healthy food supply. And until people start talking about that fact, there is no pressure for anyone to change those regulations — against massive pressure from the current beneficiaries to maintain the status quo.

So I’m thrilled that there are people 100% focused on the issue of environmentally sustainable food practices. I’m ecstatic that there are others 100% focused on the health concerns of the current food supply. Thanks to these activists the concerns are starting to filter through into mainstream public awareness.

Activists view everything through the prism of their cause. It’s not just unavoidable, it’s necessary so they can make any headway. I am not an activist. I try to view people’s position through the prism of their experience, not mine, so I can understand them better. Sure, I’ve got opinions — sometimes strong ones — but just because I express an opinion doesn’t mean I’m taking sides against you. I’m not. Unless you’re an executive or lobbyist for ADM or Monsanto, then yes … yes I am taking sides against you.

Comments

  1. Just a quick comment about corn finishing (the second comment). You just want to be careful about eating corn finished beef because that is when e. coli can be found in the meat. If the cattle are finished on grass, the stomach ph doesn’t support e. coli whereas corn finished does. The beneficial fats and vitamin E also start to go down on corn, such that if they are fed corn long enough, there is a significant reduction of health benefits. If you MUST eat a compromised food like corn fed beef, it is better to go the other way and finish them for a few weeks back on grass to get their stomach acid back to the correct ph and maybe get a little of the omega 3s and vitamin E back in the beef.

  2. Reluctant Gourmet says:

    Great post both the first part and the second but as a home cook I must admit I’m a little more confused than before I read the comments but this is a good thing. This kind of dialog helps me see there is a lot more involved when we grill up a nice juicy steak.

    My question to anyone who might know is when did the practice of grain feeding cattle start? Is this something recent or has this practice gone on for decades?

    Also, I would like to thank Jenni for bringing this post to my attention. RG

  3. I first wanted to thank you for posting this. I’m glad I can provide your viewers with an alternative point of view. Overall better job on the references too. My husband is really busy at work today, but hopefully later today/this evening he can comment further. Also, I liked what you said about big corporate farms, there is definitely some bad stuff going on there. If I didn’t get my beef from my husband’s parents I’d find a small local farm to get my beef from. Stacy: what you said about e-coli seems to be true…keep in mind though that “corn-fed” beef are fed more than *just* corn. Also, there are a lot more reasons than e-coli as to why you should cook your meat to a proper temperature. I took parasitology, I’d be happy to point out some of those parasites to you (some of those parasites can only be found on grass by the way). RG, I’ll have my husband answer your question later.

  4. or more of us could adopt the “hunter-gatherer” form of getting our food. grow a garden each year. go hunting for your food. pretty simple.

  5. I found your blog a few days ago, and I love it! The grass fed, corn fed stuff is interesting. I have family who own a small dairy farm.

    When a cow goes to slaughter and we get some of the beef I can automatically tell the difference between that and what we get at a store. The cows get fed corn and hay, but in summer they get fed less of that and graze more. Overall it is just much better quality beef.

  6. RG, I agree that it’s not simple. That’s why I’m working with someone to come up with a little help in figuring it all out. Stay tuned.

    Stacy and Laura, your comments point out the hard balancing act. More grain causes an environment where pathogens that affect humans can thrive. But more grass can lead to pathogens that sicken the cattle. I understand why ranchers would want to protect the cattle. But as the person eating it I’d prefer the risk of losing some livestock, than to have the livestock survive to pass on something that will make me sick.

    Chris, I’m working on the garden. The hunting is a bit of a problem around here, unless I like the taste of squirrel.

  7. Tori, since their diet changes during the summer, do you notice a seasonal difference in the taste or texture of the beef? Which do you prefer?

  8. Hi! I grew up on feedlot meat. I’ve worked on a farm that produces pastured beef, turkey, and lamb on a MASSIVE scale. Allow me to weigh in.

    The bacteria strains that grain-fed animals breed in their guts are quite scary. Remember the contaminated bagged spinach from a few years ago? Traced to a feedlot. The best treatment for animals sick with that strain? Feed them grass. Their system recovers and the bacterium’s levels drop to benign. Just one example of how grainfeeding is damaging to animals AND humans.

    And as for it not being successful for the farmer… well, you could have fooled me. From what I saw, they’re making quite a killing out there. If grass-fed meats is such a bad bargain for the farmer, why are there so many more grass-fed meat farmers today?

    About environmental impact — sustainably raised grass-fed animals poop, which is broken down in a natural composting process, which fertilizes the grass, which is eaten. It’s been this way for millions of years. I cannot believe that this is WORSE for the environment than sterilizing the earth with salty manure muck until the ground is black and every plant dies, until the groundwater is toxic and even fields miles away are infected with deadly bacterium. Dude — the people downwind from pig feedlots get sick six times as often with respiratory diseases! Tell me how that’s ecologically friendly, again?

    Fiscally — I’m willing to pay for good meat raised well. So grass-fed sustainable VS grain-fed feedlots is, of course, a choice between quality and quantity. Consumers will choose one way or another. Farmers have the choice to raise one way or another. And both consumers AND farmers deserve to have all the information available before they choose.

    Laura’s whitewashing of the facts (some possibly deadly, certainly sickening, whitewashing) makes me angry. Do some research (there’s plenty of information, all over.) Please try to know where you get your food from — all your food, mooing, clucking, and broccoli-ish — and know the face of the people you buy your food from. That’s the safest and most ethical way to eat. Yeay for Farmer’s Markets!

    Am I a fanatic? Well, considering I had an autoimmune disease until I went to an entirely organic, pastured, sustainably farmed diet… I’m sticking to my own anecdotal evidence. But after being healthy for 6 years happily eating meat and veggies that I petted both before and after slaughter/harvesting… it’s pretty compelling.

  9. thpt, since you’ve added your own account, I’ll share my belief on health issues. I strongly suspect that people are different from each other. Radical idea, I know. But the implication is that we don’t all thrive on the same diet. I never see reports that “some people shouldn’t eat much red meat, because their metabolism doesn’t handle it well,” or “some people are especially sensitive to mercury in tuna.” These statements are always made as through they’re true for everybody.

    I believe it’s much more likely that the anecdotal reports, like yours, of autoimmune conditions solved by diet probably are legitimate. But also that they don’t suggest that everyone will have the same reaction.

  10. Laura P. says:

    oy vay, I won’t even go near thpt’s comment right now…just want to say that I was referring to small farmers, not big corporate giants which treat their animals horribly and has all sorts of ramifications as a result…anyway…here’s Kevin’s comment:
    “I think Drew and I are on the same page, for the most part. I credit you for knowing your facts.

    Just one point that stuck out that I’d like to elaborate on. I’ve had my own strugglings with this, so I’m glad you brought it up. You’re right, ALOT of agriculture in general is subsidized. Now… normally I would say let the market do what it will – if you can’t market your product at a price point people are willing to buy, its not the responsibility of anybody to subsidize what you’re doing. Now, good in theory, right? But, when it benefits you or your family… then maybe they aren’t so bad, right? Sure, that’s a hypocrisy… but at least I’m aware of it I guess. My point is, subtle changes in how the government handles agriculture subsidies and policy can have a huge impact. I would encourage people who are interested in this to get in contact with the people making these decisions, especially with the new administration starting. Decisions made now will drive this sort of thing we’re talking about.”

    Anyway, thanks for the dialog. I appreciate your point of view. I would encourage people to take a look at the points made here — there’s plenty to help you know the facts. If this is something you like, find a way this can work in your local area. Maybe there’s a group can get together and buy from a farmer… something like that. If there’s money in it for the farmer, and the customer is happy with the product, in the end that is all that really matters.”

  11. I too think this is a good post with lots of interesting, thoughtful information.

    The feeding of corn, or grain/concentrates in general, do not necessarily cause the virulent strains of ecoli we read about. It is the overfeeding of said grain that causes the problem, as in what happens in most large feed lots. Ecoli 0157 has adapted to survive in the over acid droppings of these cows and therefore survive in our acid stomachs where normal ecoli is killed.

    Cows (and ruminants in general) can handle some amount of grain feeding without over acidifying their rumens. The amount, while I’m sure somewhat debatable, is around 3 pounds of grain at a given feeding, separated by a certain period of time (hours, not days). More than that amount tends to cause the development of too many grain digesting bacteria to the detriment of fiber (grass/hay) digesting bacteria.

    To answer the Reluctant Gourmet, feeding of grain to ruminants has been around for centuries, likely millenia. If nothing else, it is a good training tool. But the feed lot practices were developed in the 1950s when there was a glut of corn on the market. Carla Emery covers the details in her Encyclopedia of Country Living.

    My personal preference, at least when it comes to lamb, is to finish on grass. I’ve tried it both ways. I find the lamb more flavorful with no marbling (I personally don’t care for fat in my lamb chops, just around the edges) when finished on grass. Studies have shown that finishing on grain mellows the flavor. Some people like flavorful meat (grass finished), some like it mild (grain finished). And it doesn’t take a lot of grain to mellow the flavor.

    And as for parasites, good pasture management including intensive rotational grazing, pasture rest, and multi species grazing all reduce if not completely eliminate parasite problems. However, I am not aware of any parasites in ruminant meat that would harm or colonize humans. They don’t get trichinae like pigs. Bottom line: grass, if it is cared for properly, will not in any way sicken a ruminant even if it is all they have to eat. Of course, most pastures, at least where we are, are over grazed.

    Black Leg, however, is a nasty one and not a parasite. It is a bacteria that can reside in the soil for many years. Cattle typically die suddenly from it after a the bacteria enter even a slight wound. If it has been on your land, it will always be there. But it doesn’t effect people. And any cow on pasture might be at risk for this, regardless of grain feeding. It isn’t a matter of more or less grass.

  12. “I believe it’s much more likely that the anecdotal reports, like yours, of autoimmune conditions solved by diet probably are legitimate. But also that they don’t suggest that everyone will have the same reaction.”

    This is true, Drew! However please note that the reverse is NOT true: I have never seen that feedlot meat is BETTER for some individuals.

    Call me kooky, but I prefer to feed my family things that I know will not harm them instead of taking chances by cutting corners. We buy 100 chickens, two pigs, one sheep, one lamb, and 3 quarters of a cow every year. We pay to have them butchered into primal cuts and hung, and then finish the butchering ourselves. Total costs (not including our time) for beef is about $6.50/lb (ground beef, bones, or filet mignon), and chickens come out to a little under $3/lb. And you WOULD NOT BELIEVE how good our breakfast sausage is!

    With that little of a price difference, we can’t see that cutting corners makes any sense. Yeay for sustainable living!

  13. Laura P. says:

    I posted this on your last blog by accident…
    Kristin: what about ticks and fleas that need grass to get to their host? They carry parasites that can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme’s Disease for instance. Irregardless of which kind of beef has more parasites, I believe it’s important to cook your beef to a proper internal temperature to kill potential pathogens.
    Drew:
    you’ll go back to your delicious recipes, right? I think the whole grass vs corn thing is a huge
    political issue and everyone is going to have their opinion on it. So, I think it’s time for delicious recipes instead. : ) Also, you mentioned you garden? As an amateur gardener, I would love some tips. : ) Thanks!

  14. Kevin: “My point is, subtle changes in how the government handles agriculture subsidies and policy can have a huge impact.” I couldn’t agree more. And the way Earl Butz changed farm subsidy policy under Nixon was a huge change. That’s why the impact on our food supply has been so profound. I know we can’t change things overnight without hurting a lot of people in the process. But we can’t change things at all if we don’t first acknowledge something needs to change.

    thpt: “Call me kooky, but I prefer to feed my family things that I know will not harm them instead of taking chances by cutting corners.” If you cut out everything that may be harmful for some people you end up not eating. Do you eat peanuts? Gluten (wheat)? Strawberries? Tomatoes? I know at least one person who can’t eat each of those things. I don’t think it’s reasonable to try to cut out everything that anyone could potentially be susceptible to, “just in case”.

    Laura, yes, I’m back to recipes today. I hope you like large livestock.

  15. Drew said: “thpt: “Call me kooky, but I prefer to feed my family things that I know will not harm them instead of taking chances by cutting corners.” If you cut out everything that may be harmful for some people you end up not eating. Do you eat peanuts? Gluten (wheat)? Strawberries? Tomatoes? I know at least one person who can’t eat each of those things. I don’t think it’s reasonable to try to cut out everything that anyone could potentially be susceptible to, “just in case”.”

    This is a straw man argument. My comparison was between two versions of the same thing, grassfed and feedlot beef, eaten by omnivores. You are comparing it to no-restriction diets depending on allergic reaction. A better comparison would be conventional VS organic milk, or regular VS filtered city water.

    Drew, that strawman argument was beneath you. I’m honestly disappointed. Typically these sorts of hyperbolic arguments are used by those who cannot yet argue rationally, do not have a valid riposte, or are personally offended. You’re intelligent and educated… did I strike a nerve? What happened?

  16. thpt, you’re right, that argument wasn’t a fair response to what you said. Let me say this not to excuse what I said, but to explain.

    The more time I spend reading food blogs and forums, the more I come across people making almost the exact same argument as you: “I used to suffer from x. Then I cut y out of my diet and my x went away. If you care about your family at all you won’t feed them y.”

    Many of these people are strident, seeming to believe they’ve found “the Truth” about diet, bringing it up at every opportunity, even suggesting it as a solution to completely unrelated problems.

    I’ve heard this exact same argument from so many people, about so many different foods, that I decided they couldn’t all be right. But they couldn’t all be entirely wrong, either.

    Since I don’t have any auto-immune conditions, or asthma, or any of the host of problems people say are cured by their diet plan, I’m left with balancing choices about what is probably better for me.

    Grass finished beef is probably better for me than grain-finished beef. But can cost up to twice as much. (I know, I need to buy a half cow. I’m working on it.) If I can’t find that money somewhere else, that means I can’t eat as much beef. Which means more … what? Beans? The kids won’t eat them. Chicken? Some people say that’s worse than beef. Nuts? I don’t think we could deal with that much in our diets. Tofu? No, I’m not eating that much soy. It’s as bad as the corn.

    So it’s not a simple choice between grass-finished vs. corn-finished. It’s corn-finished vs. half as much grass-finished plus a whole lot of something else to make up the difference. That, really, was my point. It’s almost never a simple choice for everyone, no matter how clear the choice is for people with specific needs.

    I try to stay away from making categorical statements about people’s choices. The few exceptions include margarine and Cool Whip. Real butter and real whipped cream are so much better tasting, better nutritionally, and not even that much more expensive, that there’s no reason to eat the fake food.

    To make a long story short (Too late!) I wasn’t really arguing against your point, but against the very similar point that I see all the time from much less reasonable people.

  17. Thanks, Drew, that's much clearer.

    If you're looking for how much nutrients one needs in a day, please keep in mind that vegans do just fine without meat. So that "something else" could be..

    wait for it…

    fresh vegetables. I KNOW IT'S CRAZY BUT IT JUST MAY WORK! For instance, there's more calcium in greens than there is in milk.

    But you probably know all this. So I'll hush up about it now. But please note that my argument from personal experience isn't the only argument I made. Have you visited a feedlot? Those poor things stand ankle-deep in poo. How healthy can that be to eat? Have you seen the Wegman's egg expose? Those farms are bad for the environment (which is ultimately bad for us) and anything that comes out of them can't be good for us, either. Check out the evidence on that (the nutrients in both eggs and veggies that are organically & sustainably raised are higher and more varied).

    I agree that argument from experience is not a decent argument. But arguing from facts is pretty darn good.

  18. “Those poor things stand ankle-deep in poo. How healthy can that be to eat?”

    Don’t some mushrooms grow directly in poo? And don’t pigs just love rooting around in it?

    Okay, you’re right, cows aren’t supposed to live in poo. But “isn’t it obvious” is misleading, surprisingly often.

  19. Mushrooms are a decomposer. Cows are not.

    Pigs, given the chance, are very clean animals. They would choose NOT to root around in poo. But if you force any animal to — chickens, cows, pigs, humans, snakes — it will live in excrement. Probably not for very long and not very healthily. Drew, it seems to me like you might not have spent much time on a farm of any sort, is that correct?

  20. You’re right, I’m a suburban boy, and I’m not trying to assert any kind of expertise. I think the best way to explain my point is that lots of what we “know” about food and health is actually wrong. And that even people who make a living working with food are frequently saddled with assumptions based more in politics than science.

    I don’t think there’s much about food and health that’s “obvious”. So you may be 100% right that eating cows raised standing in poo isn’t healthy for us (or the cows). But I don’t think it’s obvious.

  21. Drew,

    You’ve now argued against me using strawmen twice, and argued against “isn’t it obvious” four times. I never said “isnt’ it obvious” or anything of the sort. Arguments from pleading are not acceptable. Let me point out that I actually made the distinction and disclaimer between my arguments from experience and arguments from facts.

    It seems to me that your responses to me are what you wish you had posted to the arguments you’ve read from “these people”. Apparently these people only give arguments from experience. Of course they’re suspect!

    Arguing against me using spurious logic and automatic dismissal may be satisfying, but it’s not beneficial for anyone.

    If I could give you a few links to hard facts from unbiased sources — research, not anecdotal — would you consider looking at them? Please note that I’ll also give you my search criteria so you can judge the bias of the search itself. If you wish, I’ll just send you the search links so you can find your own facts.

    Please let me know if you want facts to back up my first post’s points, or facts to back up the “standing in poo is not healthy for any mammal” and “grassfed is healthier” arguments.

    By the way, thank you for the sorghum ribs today, it’s a technique I didn’t know! Excellent!

  22. thpt, I think it’s fair to say that we probably agree for the most part on the underlying facts we’re discussing, and that we’re going down the winding path of presentation and rhetoric.

    The reason I care enough to keep having this discussion is that I think we, as a country, have spent decades following ideas that are appealing, intuitively obvious, and wrong.

    No, you didn’t use the word “obvious” anywhere. What you said was, “Those poor things stand ankle-deep in poo. How healthy can that be to eat?” Intuitive, obvious, and probably mostly true. (Again, I’m from the suburbs, so I only know what I read. And what I’ve read about pigs is that the expression “happy as a pig in shit” isn’t just made up out of thin air.)

    This is the same type of arguments as, “If you eat more fat, you will gain more fat. If you eat cholesterol you will have more cholesterol in your bloodstream.” Intuitive, obvious, and wrong.

    I don’t make health claims very often on this blog. But when I do, I try to reference source material that backs it up. I think making an argument that seems obvious, without references to source data, trains people to take such arguments at face value.

  23. That's a strawman argument again. Comparing the disproven pseudo-scientific ideas about fat and cholesterol from the 60's and 70's to a worldwide imperative in almost every organism to avoid its own excrement is… extreme. One is a biologic imperative, the other is a dumb fad. It's like equating the need to mate and bear children to the octo-mom.

    Here are a couple of good links that might help prove to you that standing in your own poo is a bad idea. Search terms were "Health Excrement Exposure": http://www.google.com/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=1G1GGLQ_ENUS327&q=health+excrement+exposure&aq=f&oq=

    All of the results indicate negative results from exposure to feces, but here's the only one that could be considered a little positive:

    http://conservationmatters.blogspot.com/2009/04/dealing-with-our-excrement.html — composting toilets and black/greywater recycling may become 100% necessary soon.

    If you're ok with a little directed searching, here's the proof that cows standing in their own excrement makes them and us sick. Here's an excerpt if you don't feel like checking every link, I know I'm busy and I don't have two little girls: Quoting the New York Times: "Where does this particularly virulent strain come from? It’s not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It’s the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.

    In 2003, The Journal of Dairy Science noted that up to 80 percent of dairy cattle carry O157. (Fortunately, food safety measures prevent contaminated fecal matter from getting into most of our food most of the time.) Happily, the journal also provided a remedy based on a simple experiment. When cows were switched from a grain diet to hay for only five days, O157 declined 1,000-fold. ")

    Okay. Links:
    http://discovermagazine.com/2007/apr/toxic-salad
    http://www.news-medical.net/?id=20492
    http://www.all-creatures.org/health/spinachecoli.html
    http://fanaticcook.blogspot.com/2006/10/cows-stomachs-harbor-e-coli-o157h7-but.html

    And how feeding them grain, not corn, fixes the problem:
    http://www.chow.com/media/122
    http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_17367.cfm
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/21/opinion/21planck.html

    So, yeah, standing in poo is bad for you. We knew that. And if your upbringing, common sense, and the behaviour given to us by a million years of natural selection didn't prove that to you, there's your facts. If you know of anything else that is ENCOURAGING about constant exposure to fresh, bacteria-laden feces, please cite study and response.

    Feel free to disprove any of these by (either you or a family member or someone you can show in pictures) standing for a few weeks in a pile of their own excrement with a full physical by an M.D. before and after. It doeesn't become such an intellectual exercise when you think about stuff squishing between your toes, does it now?

    …..

    Okay, Drew, are you done saying that it could be OK for something/someone to stand for days in its own feces? Because if that's the basis of your argument for feedlots, then please note that inmates die every year from standing in overflowing feces from blocked toilets:

    http://www.petitiononline.com/FilChild/petition.html
    http://newsblaze.com/story/2009050602030300001.pnw/topstory.html
    http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/763/763.F2d.1381.83-8614.84-8102.html
    http://pulsemedia.org/2009/03/08/pots-of-urine-feces-on-the-walls/

    So your trying to argue that exposure to feces isn't always bad is disproven. Any other way you'd like to argue that feedlots are a not-bad (or even good) idea?

  24. First I’ll respond point by point, then a summary.

    “Comparing the disproven pseudo-scientific ideas about fat and cholesterol from the 60’s and 70’s to a worldwide imperative in almost every organism to avoid its own excrement is… extreme.”

    I said that one argument was (mostly probably) true, and the other was wrong. When I say it’s the same “type” of argument I’m specifically talking about the rhetorical construction of the argument. It sounds right without offering any proof, thus training people to accept arguments from authority at face value.

    I already explained that when I said, “I think it’s fair to say that we probably agree for the most part on the underlying facts we’re discussing, and that we’re going down the winding path of presentation and rhetoric.”

    “Here are a couple of good links that might help prove to you that standing in your own poo is a bad idea.”

    Yes, me standing in my own poo is a bad idea. But I thought we were talking about livestock standing in their own poo. You said, “Pigs, given the chance, are very clean animals. They would choose NOT to root around in poo.”

    Not according to Joel Salatin: “Rather than aerating his cows’ winter manure pack with a tractor and borrowed manure spreader each spring, Joel used pigs’ natural rooting instincts for the aeration work.” There was a lot more about this in In Defense of Food.

    And according to The Pig Site it’s either not a problem, according to two of three responses; or at least something that pigs seem to do on their own.

    “All of the results indicate negative results from exposure to feces …”

    Here’s a link for you then: “Pigs, like the above insects, will eat the feces of herbivores that leave a significant amount of semidigested matter.” And from the same source: “Capybara, rabbits, hamsters and other related species do not have a complex ruminant digestive system. Instead they extract more nutrition from grass by giving their food a second pass through the gut. Soft fecal pellets of partially digested food are excreted and generally consumed immediately.”

    So some animals routinely eat feces. Some eat their own feces. Suddenly, standing in feces sounds like it might not necessarily be so horrible.

    You quote from a New York Times article by Nina Planck:
    “It’s [E. coli] not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms.”

    That’s exactly what I meant several comments back when I said, “More grain causes an environment where pathogens that affect humans can thrive.”

    From your links:
    http://discovermagazine.com/2007/apr/toxic-salad
    “It’s critically important that both human and animal waste be kept off crops. It’s appropriate to have restrictions on the use of raw manure, to have monitoring of composting processes to make sure they’re effective, and to restrict the use of water that may contain treated sewage.”

    Would you agree that manure should be kept off crops? I suspect you would argue that manure from feedlots should be kept off crops. In fact I know that’s your position, since you wrote earlier, “About environmental impact — sustainably raised grass-fed animals poop, which is broken down in a natural composting process, which fertilizes the grass, which is eaten. It’s been this way for millions of years.” That article and its recommendations are based the assumption that we’re talking about feedlot manure. Is that a source you want to quote?

    http://www.news-medical.net/?id=20492
    This just describes the same spinach contamination incident from the prior link. It too suggests that farming practices that allow manure to run into crops are to blame. No mention of risk to the cattle. Nothing to suggest anything wrong with the beef from the feedlot.

    http://www.all-creatures.org/health/spinachecoli.html
    Another description of the spinach contamination. It includes a note at the top suggesting grain feeding as the true culprit, with no evidence in support.

    http://fanaticcook.blogspot.com/2006/10/cows-stomachs-harbor-e-coli-o157h7-but.html
    Quotes the Times article. No original research or data.

    http://www.chow.com/media/122
    Quotes the Times article. No original research or data.

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_17367.cfm
    Quotes the Times article. The remainder of the article is about an E. coli vaccine.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/21/opinion/21planck.html?_r=1
    The actual Times article that all the other pages are quoting.

    “So, yeah, standing in poo is bad for you.”

    None of those pages you linked included even the suggestion that “standing in poo is bad for you”. They said either that we should keep manure off of crops, or that we should feed grass to cattle for at least five days before slaughter.

    “Feel free to disprove any of these by (either you or a family member or someone you can show in pictures) standing for a few weeks in a pile of their own excrement with a full physical by an M.D. before and after.”

    I’m not trying to disprove them. All I’ve said is they don’t prove the point I think you’re trying to make. You keep coming back to standing in excrement, but all the links you provided talk about either the benefits of grain feeding, or the necessity to keep feedlot manure off of crops. I haven’t seen any proof that standing in excrement is bad for livestock.

    Please read that last sentence very carefully before you respond to it. I am not claiming that it is good for livestock. Or for the people who eat that livestock. I’m saying you haven’t provided any proof that it’s bad. Just an emotional appeal to my imagination: “think about stuff squishing between your toes”.

    “Okay, Drew, are you done saying that it could be OK for something/someone to stand for days in its own feces?”

    I must not be done, because I never started saying that.

    “Because if that’s the basis of your argument for feedlots …”

    No reasonable person could interpret what I’ve written as an “argument for feedlots”. From the blog post that started all this: “Overuse of antibiotics is a legitimate threat to life as we know it. Any farming practices that lead to that overuse, even as an unintended consequence, should be avoided.” Does that sound like an argument for feedlots? Or: “When I say that grass fed beef is healthier to eat …” Is that an argument for feedlots? Or: “What I am saying is that the current regulations have lead to a less-healthy food supply.” Or: “So I’m thrilled that there are people 100% focused on the issue of environmentally sustainable food practices. I’m ecstatic that there are others 100% focused on the health concerns of the current food supply.” That doesn’t seem very favorable toward feedlots.

    “… then please note that inmates die every year from standing in overflowing feces from blocked toilets”

    Please note that thousands of people die every year from drowning. Should we not eat seafood? Not all animals have the same requirements as humans. Just because it’s bad for humans doesn’t mean it’s bad for animals.

    “So your trying to argue that exposure to feces isn’t always bad is disproven.”

    I never made that argument. I was talking about grass fed vs. grain fed. You raised the “standing in poo” argument, all I did was point out that you were appealing to emotion without any evidence. The links you have shown haven’t changed that.

    “Any other way you’d like to argue that feedlots are a not-bad (or even good) idea?”

    Once again, I have nowhere come close to arguing in favor of feedlots.

    Whew, that was a lot to respond to. And it really sounds like I’m disagreeing with you, doesn’t it? But like I said once already, we fundamentally agree on the facts about feedlots and grain fed beef. I may not express that agreement as emphatically as you would like. I may be willing to respect opposing viewpoints that you find unacceptable. I may even say that your argument isn’t pursuasive. None of those things are the same as saying you’re wrong.

    I didn’t write all this because I think you’ll be pursuaded of … well, anything really. Because we’re talking past each other at this point. You’re trying to convince me that feedlots are bad. Which I said in the original post. I’ll give you the last word if you want it. I’ve agreed with you as emphatically as I’m going to, and everyone else already tuned out.

  25. Actually I’m kind of enjoying the conversation. I hope we’re not done talking to each other. This is neat.

    That last post of mine was over the top. On reflection, it was because you seemed to again use a strawman argument, which just makes me twitch.

    Okay. So. Standing in poo. Gonna go look for links to help us both understand this issue, cuz you were right about my not having posted links to that specifically before:
    http://www.alternet.org/story/15762/
    Standing in poo requires antibiotics, which leads to bacterial resistance

    Additionally, there’s a difference between herbivores and fowl eating their own feces and pigs rooting around in some other herbivore’s season-old feces. Herbivore feces are much less likely to be toxic or harbor toxic bacteria than omnivores or meat eaters. Additionally, the microherd did a lot of work of breaking down any possible toxic pathogens, along with exposure.

    HOLD ON GOTTA GO HOME DANG IT’S LATE WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME??? Sorry, Drew, gotta go get me some dogspit. Yeay happy doggy! If I have time this weekend will post more. I’m not sure anyone wasted good beef by making them stand unprotected in poo, but if they have and it’s been posted, I’ll find it and put it here for us both to examine.

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