As Americans start to realize that factory-farming is cruel to animals and unsustainable, news about possible solutions are coming out. Articles like Carbon footprint menu: Let them eat grass keep popping up in small town papers across the country, suggesting that feeding cows grass is a good alternative to factory-farming. So what’s the deal? Is grass-fed beef better for animals, the planet and our health?
Like many defenses of grass-fed beef, the Carbon Footprint Menu article is full of pseudo-science and unsupported claims that cattle who feed on grass make for better meat. It is about time we busted some of the common myths about grass-fed beef.
Five Myths About Grass-Fed Beef
Myth #1: Grass-fed beef is good for the environment.
False. Raising animals for food, especially cattle, is one of the leading causes of global climate change. In 2006, the UN release a study called Livestock’s Long Shadow which made the point that raising animals for food is the largest contributor to global climate change. The biggest environmental problem with raising animals for food is the greenhouse gases that they produce–methane and carbon dioxide. Feeding cattle grass instead of corn or soy is somewhat of a reduction of resources, but does not address the issue of greenhouse gases. It does not matter whether the cattle are located on a giant mega-factory-farm or on a small farm in Central Massachusetts, each cow still produce a huge amount of greenhouse gases.
Myth #2: Animals on grass-fed farms are happy.
False. There is certainly a gradient in the ways in which animals are treated in the meat and dairy industry, but even small operations are far from kind to animals. Cows are forcibly impregnated–a grotesque and cruel procedure. Many calves are taken from their mothers shortly after birth, to be sold to a veal farm or used as dairy cows. Did you know that many small farms send their animals to the exact same slaughterhouses as factory farms? In the slaughterhouse, animals are shocked with electric prods, hung upside-down and are slowly bleed to death.
Myth #3: Grass-fed beef is safer.
False. If you eat meat, you are increasing your risk of developing E. Coli. There is no evidence to suggest that grass-fed beef has a lower risk of contamination than factory-farmed meat. E. Coli is transmitted through contact with fecal matter and all meat has fecal matter contamination. Some prominent supporters of grass-fed beef have said that the stomachs of cows who eat grass are more resistant to E. Coli, which is a claim that has never been backed up by facts. This myth seems to have started with Nina Plank and became commonly known because of Michael Pollan’s writing. Slate recently published a piece, Beware the Myth of Grass-Fed Beef, which explodes the myth that grass-fed beef is safer.
Myth #4: Grass-fed beef is good for your health.
False. Grass-fed beef is still full of saturated-fat, cholesterol and growth hormones. It may be true that beef from cattle who are fed grass is somewhat better for your health than meat from animals who live their entire lives confined on feed-lots. However, eating a plant-based diet is even better for your health. We’ve known for years that beef consumption is linked to the major killers: cancer and heart-attack. Furthermore, it’s a myth that beef from grass-fed cattle does not contain hormones. It is common knowledge that all animal products contain hormones, but you might be surprised to hear that grass-fed beef can also contain added artificial hormones. A short time before being slaughtered, grass-fed cattle are often fatten-up with by being fed corn, soy, and given unnatural growth hormones. If you eat meat, those hormones go right into your body.
Myth #5: If everyone ate grass-fed beef factory-farming would end.
False. Eating grass-fed beef does not challenge factory-farming, because it is not a viable alternative. It is expensive and there is not nearly enough grassland in America to raise that many cattle. Every year in the United States, over 10 billion land animals are raised and killed for human consumption. There is a reason why factory-farming persists: Americans continue to eat meat. There simply is not enough grassland to raise that many animals on pastures. Plus, ordinary people cannot afford the high price-tag of grass-fed beef. A small operation based in Hardwick, MA sells grass-fed ground beef for $9 per pound and $23 for rib-eye. Working people cannot afford that.
So what can we do?
Eating Vegan Helps Animals, the Planet, and is Healthy
True. Eating vegetarian foods is inexpensive and accessible. Eating vegan dramatically reduces your carbon-footprint. It’s the best thing you can do to help animals, and it is great for your health! Plus it’s easy. Every grocery store in America now offers a selection of vegan foods–including vegetarian analogs like mock meats and soy milks. So don’t buy the myth. Avoid expensive grass-fed meats and opt for tasty vegan fare.