Beef...the Healthier Choice?
into a juicy burger or slicing a filet mignon, few people realize
that beef isnt what it used to be. Before World War II,
beef cattle were raised on grass. It could take four years to
fatten a steer. But then the industry switched to corn, a sort
of time machine for a steer. Today calves start out on milk
and grass but then, when six months old, theyre sent to
a feedlot. By the time they are about 14 months old, corn-fed
steers weigh enough to be slaughtered. "Corn-fed"
may sound wholesome, as normal as Kansas in August and blueberry
pie, but in fact corn is not healthy for cattle.
are ruminants. Their digestive systems are designed for grass,
not grain. Fed on corn, they fatten in a hurryits
similar to force-feeding a goose to make its liver fat. A corn
diet makes cattle sick, sometimes fatally. The animals must
have antibiotics to stave off illness and infection until they
weigh enough to be slaughtered, as well as hormones to promote
quick growth. All this saves money for the growers and keeps
the price of beef low.
is a problematic crop, too. Its heavily subsidized by
the government and thus overproduced. It demands vast doses
of pesticides and fertilizers, requiring huge quantities of
natural gas and oil to produce. Toxic runoff from feedlots has
become an environmental hazard, polluting ground water and land.
addition, corn-fed beef is not good for people, particularly
the people who regularly eat fatty steaks and burgers. Corn-fed
beef is tender, with the marbling consumers have come to expectand
thus is high in fat, especially saturated fat. A four-ounce
serving of grass-fed beef typically has 7 to 10 grams of total
fat, compared with 14 to 16 grams in the same cut of corn-fed
beef. Grass-fed beef, besides being lower in saturated fat,
also contains more of the beneficial unsaturated fatty acids
called omega-3s (similar to those in fish), as well as more
vitamin E. Grass-fed beef also supplies more conjugated linoleic
acid (CLA), another type of fat that has potential health benefits.
then theres the matter of the hormones in corn-fed cattle.
By the time the meat gets to your plate, residues are very smallnot
enough to worry about from a health standpoint. What is worrying
is not the effect on consumers, but on the environment. Hormones
from cattle (and other sources) end up polluting water. And
not all scientists are comfortable with the idea of residues
in meat: the European Union has refused to import American beef
raised with hormones.
problem is the antibiotics used in corn-fed animals to prevent
or treat disease. Again, residues in meat are not likely to
hurt people, but use of antibiotics leads to resistant strains
of bacteria in animals and in the environment. (Thus, if you
get sick from Salmonella, for example, the strain may be resistant
to many antibiotics.) Meat from corn-fed cattle is also far
more contaminated with E coli bacteria, partly because corn
interferes with ruminant digestion, and partly because the animals
are crowded together in filthy conditions. E. coli levels are
much lower in grass-fed cattle.
to grass-fed beef?
beef is making a comebackyou may have seen ads for it.
Its certainly more expensive than corn-fed beef, and usually
tougher. But many people find it more flavorful. The famous
beef of Argentina is grass-fed.
you switch? If you eat only a small amount of beef, it hardly
matters if you switch or not, provided you are buying lean cuts
and trimming the meat well. If you eat beef regularly, you might
want to switch to grass-fed, if you can afford it. Youll
probably have to order it on the Internet or via mail-order,
though some specialty markets do carry it now. A typical website
charges about $9.50 per pound for T-bone steaks, and $4.50 for
round, plus shipping. Ground beef can cost as little as $3.75
Grass-fed beef is not necessarily organic (see next article).
If you want your beef to be both, check the labels.
You should still trim any visible fat, even on grass-fed beef.
But remember that all beeffatty or lean, grass-fed or
corn-fedcontains the same amount of cholesterol.
Though well-trimmed grass-fed beef is not much higher in saturated
fat than skinless poultry, you should eat beef (and all meats)
in moderate amounts, as part of a diet based on fruits, vegetables,
and whole grains.
Though grass-fed beef is much less likely to be contaminated
with dangerous bacteria, you must still handle it carefully
and cook it thoroughly.
While grasslands are more environmentally friendly and humane
than feedlots, grazing has its drawbacks, too. Large herds
of cattle anywhere pollute water, air, and land. And grass
takes up a lot of space. In some countries this wouldnt
matterin Argentina, for example, most grasslands will
grow only grass. But in other countries, grasslands could
be better used for growing crops than for supporting beef
cattle. In the U.S., grasslands could never support current
levels of beef consumption.
The best idea, for our environment and human health, is for
us all to eat less beef and less meat.
Reference Source 98