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Corn Fed vs. Grass Fed

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Corn Fed vs. Grass Fed

Have you noticed how there’s an increasingly wider selection of types of beef to be purchased? Which option is healthier? Which one is least expensive? There has been an ongoing dispute over which choice of beef we should be consuming. While both may seem to have their own advantage and disadvantage; ranging from being cost-efficient, to more beneficial nutrients. Both contribute to the eco-system, but in completely different ways. While grass-fed beef is the healthier alternative, it can prove to be a bit pricey, nonetheless, grass-fed beef provide us with more nutrients; they’re higher in Omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin E. Corn-fed beef, on the other hand, is relatively more affordable. The million dollar question should be, it’s affordable, but at what cost? What makes corn-fed beef so much cheaper than grass-fed? Corn-fed cattle go through a process, almost like an assembly line. The first step, the cow and calf live in a cow-calf operation. Here, the cow is artificially inseminated for the sole purpose of reproduction. For the first 6 months, the calf stays with their mother, once they’re old enough they’re taken to a pen, where they’re introduced to corn. To make a long story short, the calf is finally moved into a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation). From this point on, they’re all confined to small caged in areas. These facilities house hundreds, even thousands of farm animals. From this point on their diet is strictly corn, protein, vitamins (to speed the growth process) and antibiotics. Below is a quote from a website dedicated to factory farming and their issues.
“Without the drugs, this type of beef production would not be sustainable; the animals would all be dead before they ever made it to market weight.” ( http://www.factoryfarming.com/beef_production.html ) The expense for corn is close to nothing, due to subsidized programs allowing grain farmers the ability to sell their corn at a cheap rate. For the next 14 to 16 months, they remain confined and fed indigestible food, until they weigh enough and sent to the slaughterhouse. The reason grain-fed beef is less expensive for purchase, is that it takes them less time to grow because of the harmful products being fed to them. Due to the fact that grain-fed cattle are fed an improper diet of corn and antibiotics, they also pose a potential health risk for humans. Doug Gurian-Sherman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, states:
Estimates have suggested that considerably greater amounts of antibiotics are used for livestock production than for the treatment of human disease in the United States. The massive use of antibiotics in CAFOs, especially for non-therapeutic purposes such as growth promotion, contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that are more difficult to treat. Many of the bacteria found on livestock (such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Campylobacter) can cause food-borne diseases in humans. Furthermore, recent evidence strongly suggest that some methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and uropathogenic E. coli infections may also be caused by animal sources. These pathogens collectively cause tens of millions of infections and many thousands of hospitalization and deaths every year. The costs associated with Salmonella alone have been estimated at about $2.5 billion per year – about 88 percent of which is related to premature deaths. Because an appreciable degree of antibiotic resistance in animal-associated pathogens is likely due to the overuse of antibiotics in CAFOs.
( http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafos-uncovered.pdf )
In the past, cattle have also been infected with “mad cow disease”. “BSE is a progressive and fatal neurologic disease of cattle believed to be caused by an unconventional transmissible agent, an abnormal prion protein. The primary source of infection is feed contaminated with the infectious prion agent, such as meat-and-bone meal containing protein derived from rendered infected cattle.” ( http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/bse/index.shtml ) Last but not least, CAFO facilities also contribute to air and water pollution. Because these facilities house so many farm animals, it’s basically impossible to maintain and control urine and manure buildup. Majority of CAFOs hold fecal matter either in a storage unit, taken to a landfill, or dumped into a manure lagoon. All of which contribute to pollution. Feces and urine left in the open can causes release of ammonia, and it poisons the air for the surrounding communities. Dumping it into a lagoon risks the possibility of poisoning the surrounding areas water supply as well. There are also other factors involved in pollution, as explained by the Environmental Protection Agency:
“Particulate emissions from AFOs include dried manure, feed, epithelial cells, hair, and feathers. This airborne “organic dust” can include endotoxins (the toxic protoplasm liberated when a microorganism dies and disintegrates), absorbed gases, and possibly steroids. The main impact downwind appears to be respiratory irritation due to the inhalation of organic dusts.” ( http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/impactother.html ) We can help stop, or at least, decrease the use of farming factories by purchasing grass-fed beef. The government should be obligated to offer tax breaks to sustainable farmers, making grass-fed products more affordable; the same way they offer breaks for grain farmers. This would eventually decrease the need to run operations like CAFOs in the future.
Like Michael Pollan says: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” Rule #19 Pollan, Michael. (2009). Food Rules. Penguin Books.

References http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/bse/index.shtml http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/impactother.html http://www.factoryfarming.com/beef_production.html Pollan, Michael. (2009). Food Rules. Penguin Books.
http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafos-uncovered.pdf

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