The day that someone put the grass in grass-fed was the first of never. 🙂 It’s a common misconception that the grass-fed process of agriculture is a relatively new discovery, one that harped off of a late and great health craze or agricultural fad. It’s not, as raising grass-fed cattle wasn’t an ingenuity of the human race. It was an ingenuity of Nature.
Last week, we discussed the cycle that is antibiotic resistance, and we also talked about how this cycle occurs in feedlots, where cattle are at the whim of their man-made environments. Conversely, grass fed cattle are not injected with or forced to consume antibiotics, as they have a symbiotic relationship with grass and grass only. Interestingly, this symbiotic relationship is known as mutualism, because both species benefit from one another’s existence. For instance, in their pastures, the grass fed cows are able to sow grass seeds with their hooves and enrich the grass with their manure. At the same time, the grass provides beef cattle with a highly productive form of energy. In fact, cows have a second stomach, called a rumen, which functions in breaking down the molecules of grass into proteins and carbohydrates that the cows can properly digest. Unlike the subsidized grain based diet that feedlot beef cattle consume, the natural eating patterns of grass fed cattle aren’t being violated with this ethical form of agriculture (Pollan).
So why feedlots, if it seems that Nature’s plan for cattle and grass has been proven successful for centuries? Well, the history of the American Midwestern feedlot dates back to the years following World War Two, where in an attempt to efficiently utilize a surplus of grains, Congress enacted laws to subsidize these crops (Pimentel). As the government encouraged farmers to grow singleton crops, farmers sold their cattle to feedlots in order to increase surface area for their newly subsidized crop yields (Pimentel). Patrick Boyle, the CEO of the American Meat Institute also cites that following World War Two “the local butcher shop began to expand into grocery stores and regional grocery chains” (PBS). With this expansion, grocery stores were interested in purchasing “their meat from a single source” thus the meat industry was prompted to “buil[d] new facilities out in the heartland” (PBS).
Ultimately, feedlots were constructed to increase efficiency for farmers, grocery stores, and citizens in general. Do you think that there are hidden costs to this newfound efficiency of raising beef cattle in feedlots? Let me know, and join me next Tuesday as we discuss the nutritional and environmental results of feedlot beef cattle versus grass-fed beef cattle agricultural practices.
Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,
PBS. WGBH Educational Foundation. 2014. Web. 3 June 2014. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/boyle.html>
Pimentel, David. HIR Harvard Review. Harvard International Review. 26 Oct. 2009. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://hir.harvard.edu/agriculturecorn-ethanol-as-energy/>
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. Print.