If, as the adage says, we are what we eat, why don’t we pay more attention to what slaughter animals are fed? According to some pig farmers, we should. NPR recently reported on the growing trend of growing crops, on site, specifically to feed animals that will be slaughtered, on site.
Seem a little extreme? Not to Missouri pig farmer Russ Kremer, who feeds his hogs his own (or local) grains and legumes, rather than commercial feed. Mass-produced animal feeds, which sustain most hogs in the United States, often encourage unnatural growth rates, and can include ingredients such as animal waste and genetically modified corn and soybeans.
Kremer chooses barley and oats over corn and soybean to avoid GMOs. Similarly, Kelley and Mark Escobedo, from South Texas Heritage Pork, feed their hogs peanuts, peanut hay, and oats, to keep their animals antibiotic-free and healthy.
The knowledge that animals’ diets influence consumers’ diets is nothing new. In 2007, Environmental Health Perspectives published a review of animal feed ingredients, noting that “the ingredients used in animal feed are fundamentally important in terms of both the quality of the resulting food products and the potential human health impacts with the animal-based food-production chain.”
But now not only are farmers increasingly promoting this mantra, but customers are appreciating it. The meat produced from animals that are raised on locally-, rather than commercially, produced feed are not only better for your body, but taste better, too.
Says Escobedo, with respect to the higher prices of his pork, “I’ve never had anyone come back and say it’s not worth it.”
Raw diets for dogs and cats: a review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards
There is a recent trend to feed pet dogs and cats in Britain and other developed countries on raw meat and animal by-products using either commercial preparations or home recipes. This shift from heat-treated processed food has been driven by perceived health benefits to pets and a suspicion of industrially produced pet food. The diets of wild-living related species have been used as a rationale for raw feeding, but differences in biology and lifestyle impose limitations on such comparisons. Formal evidence does exist for claims by raw-feeding proponents of an altered intestinal microbiome and (subjectively) improved stool quality. However, there is currently neither robust evidence nor identified plausible mechanisms for many of the wide range of other claimed benefits. There are documented risks associated with raw feeding, principally malnutrition (inexpert formulation and testing of diets) and infection affecting pets and/or household members. Surveys in Europe and North America have consistently found Salmonella species in a proportion of samples, typically of fresh-frozen commercial diets. Another emerging issue concerns the risk of introducing antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. Raw pet food commonly exceeds hygiene thresholds for counts of Enterobacteriaceae. These bacteria often encode resistance to critically important antibiotics such as extended-spectrum cephalosporins, and raw-fed pets create an elevated risk of shedding such resistant bacteria. Other infectious organisms that may be of concern include Listeria, shiga toxigenic E scherichia coli , parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii and exotic agents such as the zoonotic livestock pathogen Brucella suis, recently identified in European Union and UK raw pet meat imported from Argentina.
© 2019 Crown Copyright. Journal of Small Animal Practice published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Small Animal Veterinary Association.
Pasture-Based Farming Enhances Animal Welfare
Many of the news clippings below explain how farm animals benefit when they are kept out of the feedlots and allowed to mature on pasture at a normal rate of growth and production. Other items show how factory farming compromises their health and well-being. As you will see, there is a dramatic difference between the two systems of production. Choosing meat, eggs, and dairy products from grass-based farms is a highly effective way to enhance animal welfare.
New term you need to know: &ldquoby-product feedstuffs&rdquo
Fresh pasture and dried grasses are the natural diet of all ruminant animals. In factory farms, animals are switched to an unnatural diet based on corn and soy. But corn and soy are not the only ingredients in their &ldquobalanced rations.&rdquo Many large-scale dairy farmers and feedlot operators save money by feeding the cows &ldquoby-product feedstuffs&rdquo as well. In general, this means waste products from the manufacture of human food. In particular, it can mean sterilized city garbage, candy, bubble gum, floor sweepings from plants that manufacture animal food, bakery, potato wastes or a scientific blend of pasta and candy.
Here are some of the &ldquoby-product feedstuffs commonly used in dairy cattle diets in the Upper Midwest.&rdquo*
- Candy. Candy products are available through a number of distributors and sometimes directly from smaller plants&hellip They are sometimes fed in their wrappers&hellip. Candies, such as cull gummy bears, lemon drops or gum drops are high in sugar content.
- Bakery Wastes. Stale bread and other pastry products from stores or bakeries can be fed to dairy cattle in limited amounts. These products are sometimes fed as received without drying or even removal of the wrappers.
- Potato Waste is available in potato processing areas, and includes cull potatoes, French fries and potato chips. Cull fresh potatoes that are not frozen, rotten, or sprouted can be fed to cows either whole or chopped. Potato waste straight from a processing plant may contain varying amounts of inedible or rotten potatoes. French fries and chips contain fats or oils from frying operations.
- Starch. Unheated starch is available from some candy manufacturers and sometimes may contain pieces of candy.
- Pasta is available from pasta plants and some ingredient distributors as straight pasta or in blends with other ingredients, such as candy.
*This list is excerpted from &ldquoBy-Product Feedstuffs in Dairy Cattle Diets in the Upper Midwest,&rdquo published in 2008 by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Healthy Eggs: What We Knew in 1932
In the 1930s, animal scientists were trying to determine the best diet for cows, pigs, and chickens that were raised in confinement. It was a time of trial and error.
In a 1993 experiment conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, breeding hens were taken off pasture and fed a wide variety of feed ingredients. When the birds were fed a diet that was exclusively soy or corn or wheat or cottonseed meal, the chickens didn&rsquot lay eggs or the chicks that developed from the eggs had a high rate of mortality and disease.
But when birds were fed these same inadequate diets and put back on pasture, their eggs were perfectly normal. The pasture grasses and the bugs made up for whatever was missing in each of the highly restrictive diets.
&ldquoThe effect of diet on egg composition.&rdquo Journal of Nutrition 6(3) 225-242. 1933.
Could This be the Tipping Point?
On January 30th, the Humane Society released a video of extreme animal cruelty taken by an undercover reporter working at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in Chino, California. The video shows pictures of sick and injured cattle being prodded by forklifts and shocked with electric probes in an effort to get them to stand up. &ldquoDowner&rdquo cattle&mdashthose that are too sick or lame to walk&mdashcannot be slaughtered according to federal law. The workers were attempting to get around this ruling by forcing the animals to stand up. Click here to see the video. We want to forewarn you that it shows graphic pictures of extreme abuse.
To make matters even worse, meat from this slaughter facility goes to the school lunch program in dozens of states around the country.
Refusing to buy feedlot meat is one way to protest this horrific behavior. Writing to your government representatives is another.
Ranchers who raise their cattle on grass from birth to market do not send their animals to large slaughter houses such as the Hallmark Meat Packing Company where extreme cases of abuse were recently documented. (See post directly above.) Instead, they slaughter the animals on the farm or take them to small, independent slaughter facilities.
Ranchers who drive their grass-fed cattle to an abattoir go to great lengths to keep the animals calm. Some bring along cattle that are not earmarked for slaughter to give the animals the comfort of being with their herd mates. Many ranchers watch the entire slaughter process to ensure that their animals are being treated humanely every step of the way.
Some ranchers practice &ldquofield slaughter.&rdquo In this case, they approach the animal out on the pasture, making sure not to trigger alarm. Then they kill it with a bullet to the head. The animal dies instantly and has no opportunity to experience pain. Other ranchers contract with a specially designed mobile slaughter facility that comes to the farm and manages the entire process from killing the animals to preparing the carcass for the aging process.
Typically, a grass-based ranch has fewer than 150 animals, and the owners can identify each animal by sight. Their goal is to make sure all the animals are well fed and cared for and do not experience unnecessary stress at any time of their lives.
To find a pasture-based rancher in your area, click here. Ask the farmers about their slaughtering protocol.
Feedlot diets are a recipe for animal discomfort and disease
Consumers are beginning to realize that taking ruminants off their natural diet of pasture and fattening them on grain or other feedstuff diminishes the nutritional value of the meat and milk. But what does a feedlot diet do to the health and well-being of the animals?
1) The first negative consequence of a feedlot diet is a condition called "acidosis." During the normal digestive process, bacteria in the rumen of cattle, bison, or sheep produce a variety of acids. When animals are kept on pasture, they produce copious amounts of saliva that neutralize the acidity. A feedlot diet is low in roughage, so the animals do not ruminate as long nor produce as much saliva. The net result is "acid indigestion."
2) Over time, acidosis can lead to a condition called "rumenitis," which is an inflammation of the wall of the rumen. The inflammation is caused by too much acid and too little roughage. Eventually, the wall of the rumen becomes ulcerated and no longer absorbs nutrients as efficiently.
3) Liver abscesses are a direct consequence of rumenitis. As the rumen wall becomes ulcerated, bacteria are able to pass through the walls and enter the bloodstream. Ultimately, the bacteria are transported to the liver where they cause abscesses. From 15 to 30 percent of feedlot cattle have liver abscesses.
4) Bloat is a fourth consequence of a feedlot diet. All ruminants produce gas as a by-product of digestion. When they are on pasture, they belch up the gas without any difficulty. When they are switched to an artificial diet of grain, the gasses can become trapped by a dense mat of foam. In serious cases of bloat, the rumen becomes so distended with gas that the animal is unable to breathe and dies from asphyxiation.
5) Feedlot polio is yet another direct consequence of switching animals from pasture to grain. When the rumen becomes too acidic, an enzyme called "thiaminase" is produced which destroys thiamin or vitamin B-1. The lack of vitamin B-1 starves the brain of energy and creates paralysis. Cattle that are suffering from feedlot polio are referred to as "brainers."
Typically, feedlot managers try to manage these grain-caused problems with a medicine chest of drugs, including ionophores (to buffer acidity) and antibiotics (to reduce liver abscesses). A more sensible and humane approach is to feed animals their natural diet of pasture, to which they are superbly adapted.
Feedlot cattle succumb to dust pneumonia
Stripped of all living matter, feedlots can become a mud bath in wet weather and a dust bowl in dry weather. When it's dusty, the cattle are at risk for "dust pneumonia," according to USDA-ARS researcher Julie Morrow-Tesch, PhD from Texas Tech University who studies the behavior and physiology of feedlot cattle. She reports that "The level of dust on feedlots can be high, which springs the cattle's immune system into action and keeps it running on a constant basis." She has found that many of the respiratory deaths in feedlot cattle can be attributed to dust pneumonia.
Animals that are kept on pasture do not have "dust pneumonia" because they are in a natural environment where the dirt is carpeted with a dense mat of nutritious grass and legumes.
How much ammonia can chickens tolerate?
Typically, large amounts of ammonia accumulate in confinement poultry operations, peaking when the animals reach market size. The levels can reach as high as 50 parts per million. To see how chickens react to ammonia fumes, scientists exposed them to concentrations of 0, 25, and 45 parts per million. Not surprisingly, the researchers reported that the chickens "foraged, preened, and rested significantly more in the fresh air than in the ammonia-polluted environments." The scientists noted that the hens were equally distraught when the ammonia levels were 25 or 45 ppm, leading them to conclude that "ammonia may be aversive to hens" even at very low concentrations.
The preening pastured hens in the above picture have the good fortune of breathing unpolluted air all of the time. (Click on photo to enlarge.)
("The preferences of laying hens for different concentrations of atmospheric ammonia." Applied Animal Behavior and Science , 2000. 68:307-318.)
In the feedlot, it's considered "natural" for cattle to be sick
Feedlot Magazine, a monthly periodical for the cattle industry, offers a candid portrayal of animal welfare as seen from the point of view of the feedlot manager. "Subacute acidosis" is a condition that comes from feeding ruminants an excessive amount of grain, i.e., the amount given to most cattle being raised in feedlots. Animals with this condition are plagued with diarrhea, go off their feed, pant, salivate excessively, kick at their bellies, and eat dirt. But according to the industry, this is a normal and expected situation. "Every animal in the feedlot will experience subacute acidosis at least once during the feeding period," the article notes. It then goes on to reassure readers that this is "an important natural function in adapting to high-grain finishing rations. "
We beg to differ. There is nothing "natural" about subacute acidosis. It's a chronic belly ache brought about by switching animals from their natural diet of pasture to an artificial, high-grain concentrate.
Two years and Bossy is hamburger
The typical dairy cow raised in a confinement dairy is injected with hormones to increase her milk production. Then after only two year's on the job, she's slaughtered and turned into hamburger because she's either sick, lame, fails to breed, or is a less than stellar producer. The average cull rate in the dairy industry is 30 percent. That means that each year, almost a third of our dairy cows are slaughtered and replaced with new heifers.
A cow that's treated well, spared the hormones, and raised on pasture can be expected to produce milk for ten years or more. The cull rate in a grass-based dairy can be as low as 7 percent. The money that a farmer saves by not having to replace a third of the herd every year helps offset the fact that a cow free of artificial hormones produces less milk. Bossy gets the respect that she deserves and consumers get hormone-free, nutrient-rich milk.
The low-tech solution to preventing shipping fever? Don't ship them!
Around six months of age, virtually all the calves being raised for the meat market are rounded up and shipped to distant feedlots. About a week after arrival, a high percentage of them come down with "shipping fever," a viral infection that is the biggest killer of beef cattle. The disease costs U.S. and Canadian producers more than $1 billion a year. The cause of the disease is simple. The shipping ordeal stresses the animals, which compromises their immune systems. Then they are thrown in with calves from other ranches, exposing them to a host of new viruses.
To combat shipping fever, the USDA's Agricultural Resource Service (ARS) developed a genetically engineered vaccine, which the ARS then licensed to pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough. Soon, there will be yet one more drug in the feedlot arsenal and yet more revenue for Schering-Plough.
A better way to fight the disease, say producers of pastured products, is to keep the calves home on the range. Calves that stay on pasture live such low-stress lives and are exposed to so few viruses that they rarely get sick.
Grassfarmers experiment with low-stress weaning
Weaning is a stressful time for calves, especially if they are weaned just before being shipped to distant feedlots. Calves that are raised and finished on pasture are not subjected to the stress of shipping because they remain on the farm from birth to market. But the calves still have to be separated from their moms, so a number of grassfarmers are experimenting with ways to ease this transition. One technique is called "across the fence" weaning. In this case, the calves are removed from their mothers but are kept separated from them by only a minimal fence. Because the cows and calves can still see, smell, and hear each other, weaning tends to be less stressful.
Another stress-reduction technique is called "delayed weaning." In this variation, the calf remains with its mother for a few months longer than customary. Ranchers report that the older calves accept separation more easily. There may be advantages for the producers as well. Jim Girt of the River Run Farm in Clatskanie, OR has found that his late-weaned calves were healthier and weighed 90 pounds more at slaughter than closely related calves that had been weaned at the normal time.
Pastured cattle can follow a natural eating schedule, resulting in less stress and injury
When allowed to range freely, cattle enjoy a twilight grazing session. They like to graze in the early evening because the temperature is more moderate, the flies are less persistent, and the grass tastes sweeter.
Most feedlot cattle, on the other hand, are fed in the morning. This means they have nothing to eat in the evening when their instincts are telling them to graze. This could be why they are more aggressive in the early evening, says animal behaviorist Julie Morrow-Tesch. She believes that the nightly pushing and shoving matches that she has witnessed on Texas feedlots "are a substitute for cattle's instinctive twilight grazing." She estimates that these evening melees cost feedlot operators an average of $70 per head. The cost would be even higher if environmental factors were taken into account, she says, because the disruptive behavior "can raise dust levels above allowable limits."
One possible solution is to feed the cattle in the evening. Morrow-Tesche tested this theory and found that evening feeding halved the number of aggressive incidents. But a more far-reaching solution would be to raise the animals on pasture. Grassfed animals are not only "better behaved," their meat is more beneficial for consumers.
And now—pot scrubbers!
In the "what will they think of next" category, feedlot nutritionists have been experimenting with substituting kitchen pot scrubbers for hay. Feedlot cattle need some roughage in their diet in addition to the grain concentrate or they will become sick and gain weight more slowly. But why bring in all that bulky hay, reasoned investigators, when pot scrubbers might do the trick? To test this novel idea, the scientists fed a group of steers a high-grain diet and then inserted either zero, four, or eight plastic scrubbers into each animal's rumen (stomach). The experiment appeared to work. "From day 113 to 152, steers provided with pot scrubbers had 16% greater average daily gain than those fed the 100% concentrate diet without pot scrubbers."
Wouldn't it be gratifying if the money spent on this questionable study had been spent on exploring the health benefits of raising animals on pasture?
(Loerch, S. C. (1991). "Efficacy of plastic pot scrubbers as a replacement for roughage in high- concentrate cattle diets." J Anim Sci 69(6): 2321-8.)
Sickness rampant in feedlots
In a 1999 study, Oklahoma State University researchers scrutinized the health of 222 calves that were raised in South Dakota and then shipped to Kansas to be fattened in a typical feedlot. The main focus of the study was a common feedlot disease called bovine respiratory disease or BRD. During the 150-day stay at the feedlot, half of the cattle were treated for BRD, some of them more than once. Even more troubling, examination of the animals at slaughter revealed that 37 percent of the animals that had not been treated for BRD had lung lesions characteristic of the disease. In total, 87 percent of the cattle had been either treated for BRD or had suffered from the disease and escaped diagnosis.
(Gardner, B.A., et al, "Health of Finishing Steers: Effects on Performance, Carcass Traits, and Meat Tenderness." J. Animal Science , 1999. 77:3168-75.)
A novel way to recycle your phone books
Animal researchers have discovered an efficient way to recycle paper: feed it to cows! In a dubious feeding experiment, scientists ground up telephone books, glossy magazines, computer cards, computer printout sheets, newspapers, cardboard boxes, feed sacks, brown bags, and coasters. Then they soaked the paper in whey to make a sort of paper mache. "Based on in vitro digestibilities," they reported in the Journal of Dairy Science, "we conclude that it is possible to recycle selected paper/whey combinations through ruminants."
Possible, yes. But desirable??
(Becker, B. A., J. R. Campbell, et al. "Paper and whey as a feedstuff for ruminants." J Dairy Sci 58(11): 1677-81.)
Ascites—a common condition in factory-raised broilers—causes severe distress
Forcing meat chickens to grow quickly, which is standard industry practice, can result in heart failure or "ascites." The underlying problem is that the chickens develop so rapidly that their heart muscles cannot keep pace. Ascites kills millions of birds worldwide and costs the industry an estimated $500 billion per year.
The toll is not just financial. Canadian researchers investigating the course of the disease determined that during the final stages of ascites, birds are severely distressed. "In advanced stages, the birds are unable to reach the drinkers and become dehydrated. Death is usually preceded by prolonged agony, and is likely a result of dehydration, starvation, respiratory failure, and heart failure. Given the severity of symptoms and chronic nature of this condition, the ascites syndrome must be addressed as an animal welfare problem."
("Ascites in Broiler Chickens from a Welfare Point of View" A. A. Olkowski and H. L. Classen. Department of Animal & Poultry Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, S7N 5B5, Canada)
Compared with factory farms, Tweedy's Egg Farm is a "Chikin" Sanctuary
DreamWork's delightful summer 2000 movie "Chicken Run" failed to convey the abusive conditions found in our modern poultry facilities. In the movie, the cartoon hens are trying to escape from Tweedy's Egg Farm to an idyllic island where they can free range. Although Tweedy's Egg Farm is far from ideal, it is decidedly better than American confinement operations. At Tweedy's, the chickens are treated to individual bunks, roomy coops, and have plenty of room to roam outside. Compared with confinement operations, Tweedy's Egg Farm is what heroes Ginger and Rocky would consider a "Chikin Sanctuary." Our factory birds would be trying to escape to Tweedy's---not away from it!
Fattening animals in feedlots increases their risk of heat stress and death
July and August are high-risk months for cattle in Midwest feedlots. The heat, humidity, and long hours of daylight can result in a four percent mortality rate. Inadequate shelter is a primary cause of the heat stress. Another is the fact that the animals are standing on concrete, dirt, and manure which trap the heat, making the ground at least eight degrees hotter than a natural, pasture environment.
Researchers are turning bison into feedlot cattle
Bison are superbly adapted to year-round range feeding. They are extremely hardy, tolerating cold weather better than cattle. In addition, they cope with the limited forage available in the winter months by an automatic slow down of their metabolic rate. Even when confined to a feedlot and fed a constant ration, bison will eat less and put on less weight in the winter months, clinging to a physiology that allowed them to survive on the open plains.
Efforts are underway to sabotage these survival traits. For example, researchers theorize that raising bison under artificial lighting conditions will "trick" them into thinking winter is over, speeding up their metabolism. The animals will then eat more of the artificial feedlot diet and increase their rate of gain. Not mentioned is the fact that they will also pack on more saturated fat and lose more of the rich store of omega-3 fatty acids and selenium they gleaned while on pasture.
Let them eat grass!
Although most feedlot diets supply enough nutrients to satisfy minimum vitamin requirements, mistakes do get made. In an incident reported in a veterinary journal, cattle being fattened in a feedlot were fed a diet deficient in vitamin A. (The vitamin had been added to the rations, but had been destroyed by heat and humidity.) Deprived of this key vitamin, the cattle suffered blindness and convulsions. Interestingly, heifers fed this same vitamin-A-deficient diet were free of symptoms, and, when tested, were found to have adequate levels of vitamin A in their blood. The researchers were puzzled until they discovered that the heifers had been able to forage on sparse grasses and weeds found along their fence row. Apparently, the grass was so rich in vitamin A that even these meager gleanings were enough to compensate for the vitamin-deficient feedlot diet.
("Divers TJ, et al, "Blindness and convulsions associated with vitamin A deficiency in feedlot steers." J Am Vet Med Assoc 1986 Dec 15189(12):1579-82.")
Raising chicken and cattle on the same pasture benefits both
In sharp contrast to the previous story, chickens and cattle can be of great benefit to each other when raised together on pasture. Ideally, the cows graze the pasture first, followed by the chickens a few days later. The chickens eat the fly larvae that are just emerging from the fresh cattle manure, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fly control. In addition, the chicken manure increases the protein content of the pasture. Glen Fukomoto from the Cooperative Extension Service on the Big Island of Hawaii found that four weeks after being grazed by chickens, the grasses were 37 percent higher in protein. (20 percent versus 14 percent.) The cows were treated to this extra helping of protein the next time they grazed the pasture. And since the chickens were raised drug-free, their manure was free of toxins. The cattle got no hidden surprises.
(For a detailed account of life on a multi-species, holistic farm, read the article on Joel Salatin's Polyface farm featured in the July, 2000 edition of the Smithsonian magazine.)
(Fukomoto, G., "Pastured Poultry Production, An Evaluation of its Sustainability in Hawaii." Livestock Management , April 1999, LM-1.)
Can bubblegum replace fresh pasture??
In 1999, the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois designed a study to determine the desirability of feeding stale chewing gum and its wrappers to cows. The researchers found that feeding the novel mixture was "safe" and practical. In fact, they concluded that the innovative feed improved the overall diet. "Results of both experiments suggest that chewing gum/packaging material can replace up to 30% of corn-alfalfa diets for growing steers with advantages for improving dry matter intake and digestibility."
Needless to say, the scientists did not bother to determine how the bubble gum and aluminum foil wrappers influenced the nutrient content of the meat.
(Wolf BW et al, "Effects of a return chewing gum/packaging material mixture on in situ disappearance and on feed intake, nutrient digestibility, and ruminal characteristics of growing steers." J Animal Science 1999. 77:3392-7.)
Cheap chicken. You get what you pay for.
To bring us cheap chicken, commercial producers have been dramatically speeding the growth rate of broilers. In 1950, chickens took 12 weeks to reach four pounds. Today, through a combination of selective breeding, growth promoters, and high-energy feed, broilers reach four pounds in just six weeks. This speedy growth saves us money at the check-out stand.
It also kills a growing number of birds. Commercial chickens grow so quickly that their hearts and lungs can barely sustain them. As the demand for oxygen increases, their hearts beat more rapidly. If the demand continues, their right ventricles become enlarged and eventually fail. Called "ascites," this condition kills millions of birds worldwide and costs the industry an estimated $500 billion per year. (Learn more about ascites. )
More and more consumers are rejecting this false economy.. They are choosing to pay more for healthy birds that are raised outdoors without the use of growth promoters or feed antibiotics. Their families get a richer supply of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in the bargain.
Switching cattle from grass to grain can be lethal
Few people realize that a diet with a preponderance of grain is an unnatural diet for ruminants such as cattle and bison. Even when a high-grain diet is introduced slowly over a period of weeks, which is the standard practice in feedlots, numerous health problems can arise, including "Sudden Death Syndrome," a lethal disease.
The following experiment is a striking example of the foreign nature of a grain-based feedlot diet. In an effort to better understand Sudden Death Syndrome, researchers fed a starchy, grain-based meal to an Angus steer and a Jersey cow that had been maintained on alfalfa hay. Within hours, the contents of the rumen of the animals became much more acid, plummeting from a normal pH of 7.1 to 3.8. "Both animals exhibited anorexia [an unwillingness to eat] and depression. " The cow developed laminitis (a painful inflammation) and dehydration. After two days of testing, the animals were switched back to hay. It proved too late for the Jersey cow, however. She died despite "fluid, corticosteroid, and antihistamine therapy."
To an animal unaccustomed to eating large amounts of grain, one grain-based meal can be fatal. Grassfed cattle, bison, and sheep remain on their original diet of pasture and hay their entire lives and never have to undergo the stress of adapting to an artificial diet.
(J.R. Wilson et al, "Analyses of rumen fluid from sudden death lactic acidotic and healthy cattle fed a high concentrate ration." J. of Animal Science , 41:1249-1254, 1975.)
Cattle gain faster on afternoon hay
Cattle that put on weight quickly get to market sooner — increasing profits for the producer. Commercial feedlot operations speed gain by feeding animals grain, treating them with synthetic hormones, and doctoring their food with antibiotics. Grassfarmers have found a better solution: feed the animals the type of food they like. When the animals' preferences are taken into account, they eat more and put on weight more quickly.
A surprisingly simple way to increase weight gain in the winter months is to feed animals hay that was harvested in the afternoon. A USDA study shows that cattle, sheep, and goats will eat 50 percent more of this afternoon hay. Why? Grass has a higher percentage of carbohydrates at this time of day, and the researchers speculate that the animals like this high-energy, sweeter, more digestible grass.
(Data below comes from Shewmaker, G.E., et al, 1999. "Diurnal Variation in Alfalfa Quality and Implications for Testing, Western Alfalfa Improvement Conference Proceedings, June 1999.)
Feeding afternoon hay to dairy cattle increases milk production just as much as synthetic hormones
Sugary afternoon hay appeals to dairy cows as well. Amazingly, a team of USDA researchers found that feeding hay harvested in the late afternoon rather than early morning increased milk production by as much as 10%—results "equivalent to those obtained by using the hormone bST." What's more, the cows fed afternoon hay gained weight, while the cows fed morning hay lost weight. The researchers estimated that harvesting hay in the afternoon increases the value of the crop by $15 a ton.
With so many concerns about hormone-laced dairy products, one wonders why these observations have not received more media attention. (To learn more, read Late Afternoon Cut Hay Makes More Milk.)
Dairy Cows Raised on Pasture are Healthier
I n a website devoted to grass-based and seasonal dairying, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) reports that grass-fed dairy cows are healthier than cows raised in confinement: "By getting cows out of the barn, cow comfort is improved. Grassy pastures tend to be drier and cleaner than confinement facilities, and fresh, well-managed forage is more nutritious. Farmers report that they don't have the pneumonia, scours and mastitis they did when their cows were raised in a high-input, confinement setting." To read more about grass-based dairies, go to the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) website.
Pastured pigs are healthier, too!
Pigs raised on pasture are healthier than pigs produced in confinement. Specifically, they have fewer problems with respiratory diseases, rhinitis, as well as foot and leg problems. A survey of Missouri hog producers demonstrated that hogs raised on pastures had the lowest health costs.
(Kliebenstein, J.B. et al. 1983. A survey of swine production health problems and health maintenance expenditures. Preventive Veterinary Medicine . Vol. 1. p. 357-369.)
Raising chickens indoors under constant light depresses their immune systems
Most of our commercial broilers are raised indoors in crowded sheds with the lights left on 23 hours a day. The constant lighting speeds their growth, getting them to market a few days earlier. But the unnatural light also depresses their immune system by suppressing their production of the immune-boosting hormone, melatonin. A new study reveals that birds with low levels of melatonin are more vulnerable to disease. The response of the poultry industry is to dose the beleaguered birds with more vaccines and antibiotics.
(Kliger et al, 2000. "Effects of photoperiod and melatonin on lymphocyte activities in male broiler chickens." Poultry Science 79:18-25.)
Feedlot diets subject cattle to varying degrees of gastric distress
In their natural habitat, cattle eat grass, along with relatively small amounts of grain when the grass is going to seed. In the feedlot, they are fed large quantities of grain. Unaccustomed to this starchy diet, the animals can develop a condition called acidosis. According to Todd Milton, Ph.D., Extension Feedlot Specialist at the University of Nebraska, ". we cannot prevent some degree of acidosis during the feeding period, rather we must manage to prevent cattle from the more severe acidosis challenges."
(Milton, T., "Managing nutritional disorders with high-grain rations in beef cattle." Proceedings of the 2000 Intermountain Nutrition Conference, January 25-26. Publication 164 of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station.)
Wild turkeys thrive on grass, bugs, berries, seeds, and nuts
Turkeys raised on pasture have a diet that resembles their original diet. Zoologists studying wild turkeys found that "the youngsters instinctively peck at moving things - which are usually protein-rich bugs or larvae." While adult turkeys "prefer grass and other plant leaves, along with berries and bugs." Click here for more information.
Grass-fed animal products get a bonus supply of vitamin E
The chart below shows the relative amounts of vitamin E in corn and grass. As you can see, when animals are raised on fresh pasture, they get considerably more of this important vitamin. When consumers choose grassfed products, they, too get an extra helping of this immune-boosting, age-defying antioxidant. Learn more
Feedlot diets low in vitamin A can cause blindness and convulsions
When cows graze on high quality, fresh pasture—their natural diet—they have ample amounts of vitamin A. When they are switched to an artificial grain diet, vitamin A deficiency is common. Very low levels of vitamin A result in "hypovitaminosis A, which is characterized by poor weight gain, ataxia, convulsions, night blindness, and total blindness. When we eat meat from feedlot animals, we, too, have less than optimal amounts of vitamin A. What is best for the cattle is best for the consumer.
(Booth, A., M. Reid, et al. (1987). "Hypovitaminosis A in feedlot cattle." Am Vet Med Assoc 190(10): 1305-8.)
Many cows that begin their lives feeding on grass are introduced to grain feeding during the final year before slaughter. This is meant to “beef up” the cattle and help them gain weight faster. For many farmers, this reduces the amount of time required for a cow to fully grow, and therefore speeds up production.
In terms of flavor profiles, corn is the most popular grain used by beef farmers. Grain fed cattle tends to be more fatty and this is what produces marbling and that beefy flavor. Unfortunately, many farmers who grain feed may also inject hormones to boost growth and this can be harmful to health. Some even inject artificial marbling directly into their cuts if they haven’t given the proper amount of time for their cattle to grow sufficiently. This is why it’s important to know exactly where your beef is coming from.
At Chicago Steak Company, we raise our cattle throughout the mid-west. This ranges from eastern Nebraska to western Wisconsin, as well as central Minnesota to northern Missouri. Our carefully selected locations have the best Corn Belt in the entire country. Feeding from the sweetest corn and fresh grass, our cattle are raised in a setting where they can eat freely and get fat naturally. This provides an incredible source of nutrients and protein while bringing a naturally fine marbled steak. That’s why our beef is always bursting with flavor.
Truly, beef flavor comes down to the quality of the beef you are purchasing. Though some argue that grass fed is healthier and grain fed is tastier, it’s still important to investigate where your meat is coming from and how it is being produced. What cattle are fed will determine the marbling and flavor of the beef, so avoiding beef that is farmed artificially is the first step to finding a flavorful steak. Instead, look to a company that uses sustainable, natural production processes that produce the unforgettable flavor you crave. Look to Chicago Steak Company.
Is grass fed cattle considered organic? Read the article to learn what makes beef organic, it may surprise you.
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Our American Wagyu beef, also known as American Kobe Style Beef is a carefully selected hybrid of purebred Wagyu and Black Angus cattle breeds. The word “Wagyu” translates to “Japanese cow”, a breed which is genetically predisposed for their intense fat marbling. Our crossbreed yields meat that has a higher percentage of omega-3 compared to cattle more commonly found in the US. It’s a perfect marriage resulting in the best flavor and tenderness characteristics of both genetics.
Global hunger: The more meat we eat, the fewer people we can feed
There is more than enough food in the world to feed the entire human population. So why are more than 840 million people still going hungry?
The truth: The more meat we eat, the fewer people we can feed. If everyone on Earth received 25 percent of his or her calories from animal products, only 3.2 billion people would have food to eat. Dropping that figure to 15 percent would mean that 4.2 billion people could be fed. If the whole world became vegan, there would be plenty food to feed all of us"”more than 6.3 billion people. The World Watch Institute sums this up rightly, saying, “Meat consumption is an inefficient use of grain"”the grain is used more efficiently when consumed by humans. Continued growth in meat output is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat-eaters and the world’s poor.”
It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh. According to the USDA and the United Nations, using an acre of land to raise cattle for slaughter yields 20 pounds of usable protein. That same acre would yield 356 pounds of protein if soybeans were grown instead"”more than 17 times as much!
Producing the grain that is used to feed farmed animals requires vast amounts of water. It takes about 300 gallons of water per day to produce food for a vegan, and more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce food for a meat-eater. You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for an entire year.
It should be no surprise, then, that food for a vegan can be produced on only 1/6 of an acre of land, while it takes 3 1/4 acres of land to produce food for a meat-eater. If we added up all the arable land on the planet and divided it equally, every human would get 2/3 of an acre"”more than enough to sustain a vegetarian diet, but not nearly enough to sustain a meat-eater.
On top of this the industrial world is exporting grain to developing countries and importing the meat that is produced with it, and thus farmers who are trying to feed themselves are being driven off their land. Their efficient, plant-based agricultural model is being replaced with intensive livestock rearing, which also pollutes the air and water and renders the once-fertile land dead and barren.
If this trend continues, the developing world will never be able to produce enough food to feed itself, and global hunger will continue to plague hundreds of millions of people around the globe. There is only one solution to world hunger – A vegan diet is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue.
So the less meat you eat – the more people we can feed! Think about it.
34 thoughts on &ldquoGlobal hunger: The more meat we eat, the fewer people we can feed&rdquo
I am nearly getting convinced but what are the costs involved in becoming vegetarian. Besides I think its really kool, makes you stand out. How do I slowly settle into becoming a vegan? And an article on whats kool about being vegan could help me.
Great post! You provide some really helpful information about the larger values behind a vegan diet. Our personal choices are one part of the overall solution to world hunger. Canceling the debts of poor nations, promoting fairer trade policies and urging our nation’s leaders to do more in the fight against hunger are also key steps in solving hunger. Our personal choices can only have so much of an impact on an issue as large as hunger. We must also use our voice as citizen’s to advocate for policies that address the root causes of hunger.
I was vegetarian for a while – nearly 10 years as I was doing some triathlons and things for a while. Being veggie just makes it all run through the burner (body) quicker and more efficiently. Eating meat is horribly inefficient for the body to process – so thick. The only thing I had to watch was my iron intake – but I was wolfing down supplements daily after I went low on iron once. What a great life… Hard to do that in Thailand maybe. Everything has pork. The vitamins are expensive… Good post! Vern
Thank you all for the great comments.
To your question about the cost of becoming a vegetarian Masimba, I think it is correct to say that being a vegetarian is (much) cheaper than being a meat eater. Perhaps with a very few exceptions in the world, meat is a luxury and always much more expensive than vegetables and beans.
In terms of getting the right proteins ect. I suggest that you order the vegetarian starter kit from PETA. It’s totally free of charge and they even send it for free (to most destinations in the world). You can also download it. The weblink is: http://www.goveg.com/order.asp
Where can we find more statistics on the impacts of meat production on world hunger? Amount of grain, water, waste-water, and the population levels that can be sustained based on different types of diets?
I’m with Keith – I love animals however, I eat meat. I tried to go vegan many years ago and the soy almost ruined my thyroid. I’m hypothyroid and within 2 months became much worse. I recently ordered a phamplet for vegan eating, hoping there was other choices for protein and generally almost every meal contained soy.
I have always had very high cholesteral and upon consulting a holistic dietician was advised that grains and many carbos should be avoided in my diet, not fat as most people think. Following this diet, my cholesteral dropped 100 points in 2 months and I lost 20 lbs. Many animals eat meat that does not make them evil.
I support this argument. But I have one question. People raise farm animals, even if not for consumption. Are you suggesting that the farm animal populous should decrease?
sorry, I had a few typo’s in last entry.
Ann, there is no need or reason to eat soy. I have a friend with a similar problem. There are a so many healthful recipes that don’t include soy. Beans nuts legumes. Make ‘gravy’ simply by boiling lentils until soft, add a few spices (such as turmeric & cumin) and mash. There’s our protein. Iron There is a lot less iron in meat than we’ve been led to believe. Research shows that through the cooling, freezing and then cooking process, more than 50% of the iron content is lost. In other words, there is more iron in spinach. O
Oh yes, we need far less protein than the food industry has programed us to believe. In fact, excess protein is harmful. And the country’s with the highest dairy intake have the highest rates of oesteoporosis. Did you know what the US spends on health care in 10 days is equal to what was spent in one year in the 1950’s (inflation etc were factored in) About 70% of the health problems are avoidable through good nutrition. Did you know that the number of people who die from the problems related to overeating has equalled the number of deaths from starvation.
Would you mind citing your sources? I posted this on my FB Wall and received feedback that you raised good points but without feedback, but that it’s watered down without sources. I would appreciate it, and it would certainly strengthen your argument, and then I can repost it! Thanks!
The article is full of seemingly fact-based statements but cite no references. Could this be made available as well to satisfy the “curiosity” of people who fancy themselves “technical”? Thank you!
Thanks for all the great comments.
If you google some of the numbers in the article you will find lots of posts on the internet that says the same thing:
Peta’s article: “Would you ever open your refrigerator, pull out 16 plates of pasta, toss 15 in the trash, and then eat just one plate of food? How about leveling 55 square feet of rain forest for a single meal or dumping 2,400 gallons of water down the drain? Of course you wouldn’t. But if you’re eating chickens, fish, turkeys, pigs, cows, milk, or eggs, that’s what you’re doing—wasting resources and destroying our environment.
A recent United Nations report concluded that a global shift toward a vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change. And the U.N. is not alone in its analysis. Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that switching from a standard American diet to a vegan diet is more effective in the fight against climate change than switching from a standard American car to a hybrid. And a German study conducted in 2008 concluded that a meat-eater’s diet is responsible for more than seven times as much greenhouse-gas emissions as a vegan’s diet is. The verdict is in: If you care about the environment, one of the single most effective things that you can do to save it is to adopt a vegan diet.
According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.
Many leading environmental organizations, including the National Audubon Society, the Worldwatch Institute, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and even Al Gore’s Live Earth—have recognized that raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do. Whether it’s the overuse of resources, global warming, massive water or air pollution, or soil erosion, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth.
The most important step you can take to save the planet is to go vegetarian. Order PETA’s free vegetarian/vegan starter kit for tips and recipes to get you started on an Earth-friendly vegan diet today.”
Vegans: It has to be understood that many of the world´s cultures raise livestock for the fact that animals like sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and other livestock are efficient at converting unusable plant products – for humans – into proteins, fats and – in the case of sheep – other useful animal products.
Not to mention that horses were an essential form of transportation – along with donkeys and mules – for all of history up until World War 2.
The other issue is that a considerable number of the world´s population was nomadic or semi-nomadic and weren´t always in the same place to cultivate and harvest land that required extensive irrigation and other agricultural processes for growing.
Animals provided a mobile form of calories that could be moved around if the group needed to: War, frosts, droughts, ect. This is opposed to plant based products which are not mobile and are heavily dependent on weather conditions and labor intensive human labor. On that last note, animals were also much more effective in plowing than humans and there waste could further be used for fertilizer.
To be honest, I´m sympathetic to the vegans, and yes, diets high in plant products, low in animal products often make healthier, longer-living people.
Good luck, hopefully we can all figure out how to deal with our increasing population and increasing changes.
Tina, awesome job. Everyone please voice your opinion @ http://www.facebook.com/The.Vegans
Watch this awesome lecture about Veganism and Animal rights. It will change your life forever – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es6U00LMmC4
Hi Tina! Thanks so much for this informative article. I’ve been looking for statistics that show current resource use (land, water, air pollution stats, etc.) we currently use in the US for meat production. Your stats give helpful numbers and I wonder whether you could give us the source information on how these were calculated so that I can include them in a paper I’d like to write.
Basically, I want to document how many people in the US can be fed on various types of diets (I’d really like to be able to show the number who can be fed on a factory-farmed diet, on a grass-fed organic meat-centered diet, on an organic vegetarian diet, and on an organic vegan diet).
I want to show people with verifiable numbers how we can eliminate hunger and reduce disease while restoring the earth and returning more of our land to nature.
I also notice that someone commented above that they didn’t know how to eat a plant-based diet without centering protein around soy. Some people are sensitive to soy, just as some people are sensitive to wheat, corn, peanuts, etc.
The other common complaint I hear from organic locavores is that vegan diet centers around processed foods. This isn’t any more true than the statement that omnivorous diet centers around factory-farmed meat and processed foods. The idea that the plant-based diet must include highly processed soy products simply isn’t true a truly healthy diet always and only includes fresh whole foods. Plants provide everything the human body needs for optimum health.
B12 comes from plant sources first it’s not true that red meat is the source of it. Cows get their B12 from the yeasts attached to the plants they eat. Kale contains more bioavailable iron than red meat. Calcium is more plentifully available (again, better bioavailability) in beans and dark green leafy vegetables than in animal milk.
It’s a simple matter to learn how to eat a healthy plant-based diet of whole organically grown foods. Google “Vegan Nutrition Basics” and you’ll draw 3 1/2 million web pages on the topic.
The Physician’s Committee on Responsible Medicine offers a lovely free 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program with daily menu plans, step-by-step nutritional information, cooking videos, and a host of other resources. You can find it at http://www.pcrm.org/kickstartHome/. They’ve also got a Facebook page where you can meet others who are switching to a plant-based diet.
Thanks again for providing this information. I will eagerly await hearing about the sources of your calculations so that I can work on my article.
Go Vegan- for compassion, for nonviolence, for the people, for the planet, for the animals!
I absolutely agree with you, Tina. Vegan way is the only way forward. Look around us. What is happening to the planet? Why all the tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos erupting, etc etc….Livestock industry is the main contributor. It is time for people to wake up and heed the warnings. Change your lifestyle you will feel 100% healthy, you spare animals’ lives, you help eradicate world hunger and you help save the planet.
So many EXCUSES swirling around to keep eating animals- COME ON. It just logically makes sense if we let the animals graze (Animal populations will dramatically decrease when we stop mass-producing them), and WE eat the billions of pounds of corn, wheat, grains, and soybeans that nobody will go hungry, at least not until the human population is above like 20 billion.
Great article. It makes a lot more sense to go vegan. I have to admit to being one of those people who’ve been on the fence. Tettering from vegan-ish to vegetarian and occasionally giving up and eating meat just to be vegetarian again. I never saw it as a global issue that affects more than just you and the animal that you’re not eating.
Animal agriculture is destroying the planet and killing the world’s hungry and ecology too. switching to a plant based diet is the ONLY viable solution to world hunger and environmental crisis. Every HOUR, over 8 million animals are murdered, 114 thousand tons of grain are wasted and around 684 people starve to death, and over 4 million tons of greenhouse gases are dumped into the atmosphere by livestock. Every HOUR.
Over population is not as much an issue as what the population consumes is. animal-sourced food production generates more than 50% of human-caused greenhouse gases, more than all the transport(only 13%) in the world and any other human caused contributing factor combined. Methane and Nitrous oxide are as significant,if not more, as carbon that can be addressed immediately due to their short half-life, a significant impact could be made to slowing or reversing climate change by reducing these greenhouse gases caused by livestock. Eating local and driving a hybrid reduces your carbon footprint by only 5%. Eating plant based foods or a vegan diet reduces your carbon footprint by an astonishing 95%! Go Vegan and make a huge impact for the better. Eating a plant based diet also drastically reduces your chances of diseases by 95%. Eating a plant based diet saves wildlife and habitats for wildlife, rain forests, huge amounts of water and energy resources.
Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Beef?
“Sustainability” means different things to different people. Some bike and take public transit rather than driving a car others have given up flying, while still others have made smaller changes to their habits, like bringing a canvas bag to the supermarket. One broad area of agreement that’s emerged over the last decade is that perhaps the biggest change a person can make is to put down their burgers and steak knives, with scientists and the media stressing that forgoing meat generally—and beef particularly—could be the “single biggest way” for individuals to reduce their carbon footprints.
That's for good reason: Livestock production contributes about 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and the bulk of that comes from cattle. Between beef and milk, cattle are responsible for a staggering 61 percent of the entire production of livestock emissions. (Pigs and poultry/eggs contribute, respectively, 9 percent and 8 percent.) No wonder it’s become a go-to refrain: Cut the beef, cut back on dairy, and there you go—an easy equation for sustainable eating.
But what about beef that bills itself as sustainable—grass-fed cattle from small ranchers, like the kind you might see at the farmers market? The numbers above are derived mainly from massive factory-farming operations—the same ones that create horrific conditions for not only the cattle living in containment, but also for the meat-processing workers who are packed together, underpaid, and vulnerable to repetitive motion injuries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, with meat processing deemed “critical infrastructure,” these inhumane workplaces have become hotbeds of the virus.
Meredith Leigh, a North Carolina-based farmer and butcher, and the author of The Ethical Meat Handbook, doesn’t endorse that kind of system, but she also doesn’t endorse what she calls the “binary conversation” around meat eating and sustainability: “It's either eat a Big Mac or you're vegan,” Leigh says. “What we're missing is this massive middle ground.” Small-scale, grass-based farming, she says, “is representative of this other story in between the Big Mac and the vegan.”
Paige Stanley, a doctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who focuses on agriculture policy and sustainable animal agriculture, concurs: “Certainly livestock do contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions,” she says. But the extent of their contribution depends heavily on how the beef is produced—and the environmental impact of that burger isn’t as clear-cut as “grass-fed” versus “factory-farmed.” To understand the nuances, you have to understand the ways in which beef production can be harmful to the environment, namely the energy use entailed by cattle farming, which includes the production of animal feed the large amounts of land required to raise cows, which can contribute to deforestation and the methane that’s emitted as flatulence during the cows’ digestive process.
The average person in the U.S. consumes about 55 pounds of beef every year.
When you’re considering only methane emissions, feedlot beef actually comes out ahead. In this model, cows raised on a pasture are moved to feedlots to be fattened up on grain about three months before slaughter in the grass-fed model, cows continue to graze until their death. “You'll hear industry experts say, feedlot beef is better. And there's evidence to support that,” says Stanley. With their high-energy corn diet bringing them more quickly to market weight—i.e., they can be slaughtered sooner—feedlot cattle tax the environment less simply by living shorter lives, thus releasing less methane. “Both of those factors contribute to less total greenhouse gas emissions coming from those animals compared to completely grass-finished animals,” Stanley continues. “Those animals take longer to gain a lot of weight. They're also on high-forage diets, which means that they are producing more intact methane.”
It's on the level of broader greenhouse gas emissions—as well as on the animal welfare level—that grass-fed beef is a better option. “The tides turn quite a bit,” Stanley says. “In a feedlot, you're using a lot of energy, you're using largely a grain-based diet, which requires a lot of fossil fuels, a lot of fertilizer, a lot of irrigation. And so the fossil-fuel-derived greenhouse gas emissions for feedlot beef tend to greatly outweigh that of grass-fed beef.” Moreover, Stanley’s research suggests that with the right farming techniques—where cows are rotated carefully from pasture to pasture, allowing the soil underneath to absorb enough carbon to effectively cancel out their methane emissions—grass-based cattle farming could even be a carbon-neutral enterprise.
How Are Organic Animals Slaughtered?
Animals are still slaughtered after living for only a fraction of their natural lifespan. Farms send cows to slaughter at around 42-months old. But, they can live for up to 22 years.
The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) does not oversee any aspect of the slaughter process. Organically raised or not, most animals are sent to the same slaughterhouse facilities as other animals. A blunt blow to the skull, a gunshot to the head with a firearm or captive bolt stunner, or being gassed to death with carbon dioxide are all approved killing methods.
Restrictions in livestock-producing states make it illegal to sound the alarm on animal abuse that steps outside the bounds of the Humane Slaughter Act. These “ag-gag” laws attempt to silence whistleblowers exposing animal cruelty. States including Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri, have passed these laws. Federal courts have struck down some of these laws.
Avocado-Fed Pork? Why Animal Feed Is Going Gourmet
Russ Kremer with some of his hogs on his farm in Frankenstein, Mo., in 2009. Instead of buying conventional feed, Kremer grazes his hogs in a pasture, and grows grains and legumes for them. Jeff Roberson /AP hide caption
Russ Kremer with some of his hogs on his farm in Frankenstein, Mo., in 2009. Instead of buying conventional feed, Kremer grazes his hogs in a pasture, and grows grains and legumes for them.
Peanuts, flax, sprouts and avocados: It's not the menu at a health food deli, but the menu inside some barns. What's more, many farmers experimenting with these gourmet feeds are growing the ingredients themselves.
Take Russ Kremer, the Missouri pig farmer whose operation served as the inspiration for the 2011 Chipotle ad. Kremer hasn't bought commercial animal feed in 30 years. Instead, he grazes his hogs in a pasture, and grows (or buys from neighbors) grains and legumes to supplement their nutrition.
Kremer and some of the other farmers developing specialty feed say they are willing to shoulder the extra cost and time to produce it because they're turned off by conventional feed mixes. The conventional mixes are what most of the hogs in the U.S. consume, and can include commodity corn and soybeans, blood protein, animal waste and rendered fats, according to Kremer.
Kremer also runs a co-op where farmers can pool resources to mill their own feed. "We opt for grains like barley and oats as often as possible, because most corn and soy is now [genetically modified]," he says.
The scarcity of non-GMO corn and soybeans is what led hog farmers Kelley and Mark Escobedo of South Texas Heritage Pork to experiment with peanuts.
Using their own 1950s-era mill, the farmers combine peanuts, peanut hay, and oats to boost the animals' protein intake and overall health — especially important because they raise their animals without antibiotics. The resulting meat has a delicate, nutty flavor that has helped them attract a loyal customer base willing to pay a higher price for the meat. "I've never had anyone come back and say it's not worth it," says Escobedo.
She and other farmers even take custom feed requests. Case in point: One restaurant shaped a special meal around a single hog that the Escobedos fed avocados (along with the peanut-based feed) for the last 6 weeks of its life.
"The meat was soft and delicious," Escobedo recalls. "It was the most delightful dinner I've ever eaten." (Pot-fed pigs are getting similarly rave reviews in Washington state, as we've reported.)
Farmers are supplementing animal feed with other ingredients found in gourmet kitchens, too. To boost his animals' immunity, Kremer uses oregano oil. To add omega-3 fatty acids, many cattlemen are adding the superfood flax to feed. And Nigel Walker of California's Eatwell Farm not only grows his own wheat to feed his egg=-laying hens, he also sprouts the grains for added nutrition.
Even as farmers learn to market meat from animals raised on special diets, only a small percent of consumers are willing to pay extra for it. A pastured chicken fed with homegrown grains, for instance, can cost as much as $20 to 25, compared with $10 for a conventional chicken in the grocery store.
The cost to farmers, in terms of both dollars and time, also remains significant. Kremer says he can afford homegrown feed because he saves money on veterinary care since he doesn't use antibiotics. His pigs also have a higher survival rate than average (just 1 percent mortality compared to nearly 5 percent industry-wide). But his operation is also much smaller than average, so the risks are different from a large hog operation.
Jack Lazor, author of the forthcoming book The Organic Grain Grower , and owner of Butterworks Farm in Vermont, says homegrown animal feed has fundamentally transformed his farm. Lazor supplements his dairy cows' diets with homegrown grains and feeds his laying hens kelp and soybeans he grows and roasts himself, using a recipe developed by Polyface Farm's Joel Salatin. The birds gain more weight, and the eggs are yellower, but more important to Lazor is the sense of being in complete control of what he calls the "craft of farming."
"When you're feeding an animal you can tweak it one way or the other based on the herd or the season," he says. "Plus, it just adds more meaning to your life."