From a nutritional standpoint, grass fed beef contains fewer calories per serving and is therefore a leaner cut of beef. Interestingly, the average American would shed six pounds the first year they ate grass fed beef instead of feedlot beef, and would thus save over 16,000 calories. Furthermore, conventionally raised cows lack substantial omega-threes because of the harsh and wretched conditions of their man-made habitats, unlike their grass fed counterparts. These omega-three fatty acids play a major role in reducing a person’s risk of high blood pressure, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, and are more prevalent and substantial in grass fed beef. In conclusion, if more American citizens chose grass fed beef, the inherent results would include weight loss and disease prevention, thereby lessening the nation’s hospital visits (Johnson).
I should begin the portion of this blog on environmental impacts of beef cattle agriculture by saying that both grass fed beef cattle and conventionally raised beef cattle pose a threat to the environment. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide” (Matthews). In fact, cows produce methane, and this is a formidable greenhouse gas (Matthews).
Nevertheless, feedlot agricultural practices in particular take a critical toll on the environment, unlike its grass-fed counterpart. In addition, feedlot agricultural practices in the American Midwest even cause ecosystems far removed from the Midwest to suffer. The most prominent example of the widespread environmental impacts of conventionally raised beef cattle agricultural practices is the cultural eutrophication of the Gulf of Mexico. This ever increasing 8,000 square mile dead zone demonstrates the widespread effects of these conventional farming techniques (Notaras).
Cultural eutrophication is a result of the runoff, contaminated wastewater, and phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers entering waterways such as the Gulf of Mexico. This phenomenon doesn’t occur to such a dangerous degree in grass fed beef agricultural practices, because the cows are not crammed by the tens of thousands into small pens, and the build up of manure and fertilizer isn’t as vast as it is in feedlots. Therefore, the waste waters from beef cattle feedlots in the American Midwest travel down the Mississippi River, emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Once these substances pollute the Gulf of Mexico, the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen increase in the body of water, thereby prompting a rapid algae bloom. With this algal bloom, most of the oxygen available in the water is consumed dominantly by microbes who feed upon remains of the dead algae, which creates hypoxic, or oxygen depleted conditions in major waterways . Unfortunately, aquatic organisms suffocate from the lack of available oxygen, causing large fish die-offs and self-perpetuating dead-zones (Couard-Hauri).
Additionally, soil erosion is one of the major consequences of feedlot agricultural beef practices. In order for cattle to be crammed into such constricting areas, topsoil and vegetation is more often than not removed from the fields. Furthermore, the pesticides and synthetics that are incorporated into feedlot beef cattle feed pollutes the soil, and contributes to soil degradation. On the other hand, grass fed beef cattle don’t contribute as heavily to soil erosion. Due to the symbiotic relationship grass fed beef cattle have with grass, these two species work in harmony with each other to maintain the cultivation of agricultural fields. Only when grass fed beef cattle are allowed to overgraze do they contribute to soil degradation, and this does not happen frequently, as it puts local farmers at an economic and financial disadvantage (Couard-Hauri).
Has anyone ever seen pictures of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico? What are your thoughts on the environmental consequences of feedlot beef cattle agriculture? Let me know, and stay tuned for next week as we discuss why grass fed beef is sustainable!
Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,
Courard -Haurari, Friedland Andrew, Relyea, Rick. Environmental Science for AP. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company. 2012. Print.
Johnson, Jo. American Grassfed Beef. n.p. n.f. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://www.americangrassfedbeef.com/grass-fed-natural-beef.asp>
Matthews, Christopher. “Livestock a major threat to environment.” FAO. 29 Nov. 2006.Web. Media Relations, FAO. 10 June 2014. <http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/News/2006/1000448/index.html>
Notaras, Mark. Our World United Nations University. UNU Office of Communications. 24 Nov. 2010. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-shame-of-concentrated-animal-feedlots>