A local foods advocate published an article in the local Rockford Register Star about the health and environmental benefits of pastured meats. Sure enough, a rebuttal of sorts was written as a letter to the editor. Here’s what it said:
The article about pasture-fed meat (“Pasture-fed meat packed with benefits,” Go, June 17, 2009) contained several misconceptions.
Livestock raised on pastures is not less stressed or healthier. According to researchers in Canada, Australia and Germany, the opposite is true.
Livestock raised in pastures — also called “free-ranged” — is more prone to diseases and parasites and is exposed to weather extremes, including cold, rain and wind. Such animals are also more vulnerable to wild predators, such as coyotes, and must constantly forage for food and places to rest. As a result, mortality rates are higher.
Feedlots and other confinement systems enable producers to closely monitor the health of animals under their care.
As to the statement that meat from pasture-fed livestock contains higher levels of omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fat is found in soybeans and fish meal — feed ingredients not available to pasture-fed animals but commonly fed to animals raised in feedlots.
Pasture-feeding is not more environment-friendly. Animals on range often foul streams and waterways. On the other hand, feedlot cattle recycle food that consumers do not want to eat.
Ever wonder what happens to all that stale bread at the grocery store? It is fed to animals in feedlots.
As you can see, the guy’s logic is a little screwy. Anyways, the local foods advocate asked me to write a rebuttal to his rebuttal, as I am a pasture-based farmer. Here’s my letter (hoping the paper doesn’t let this go on and on):
As manager of a grass-finished beef operation, I find Mr. ___________’s rebuttal to your article on pasture-fed meats interesting. He is correct that feedlots recycle many unwanted food items. Stale bread may not alarm anyone, but The Wall Street Journal reported that feedlot cattle also recycle “cookies, licorice, cheese curls, frosted wheat cereal, Tater Tots, Kit Kat bars, uncooked French fries, pretzels and chocolate bars.”
Feedlot operators monitor the health of their herd by assuming they are all sick. After reading that feed list, I don’t blame them. As a result, all feedlot cattle receive daily doses of antibiotics to “preserve health”. In contrast, pastured animals are naturally healthy and receive daily doses of sunshine, fresh grass, and the freedom to move about. Antibiotics are rarely needed for a pastured animal (and never used on organic cattle).
Cows shouldn’t eat fish and can produce Omega 3’s on their own by eating grass. Cow waste should drop onto a grassy field where it fertilizes the soil. And yes, cows can die–either of natural causes or unnatural living conditions. I invite the public to visit both a feedlot and a pasture-based farm. Inform yourself and support whichever farm-model you find acceptable.
I know I left a lot out, but had to keep it to 200 words. Anyways, I tend to be a bit long-winded. We’ve got to think of the poor newspaper-reading public, you know.