Friday, June 22, 2012

Do You Want Corn With That? Grass-Fed vs. Feedlot Beef. Meat Terminology. G.I. Bill. Lunch with Leno, Nette and Mac

For “Foodie Friday”:

Power Steer # 534.   From:  New York Times Articles

“Garden City, Kan., missed out on the suburban building boom of the postwar years. What it got instead were sprawling subdivisions of cattle. These feedlots -- the nation's first -- began rising on the high plains of western Kansas in the 50's, and by now developments catering to cows are far more common here than developments catering to people.

Fast food indeed.

What gets a beef calf from 80 to 1,200 pounds in 14 months are enormous quantities of corn, protein supplements -- and drugs, including growth hormones. These ''efficiencies,'' all of which come at a price, have transformed raising cattle into a high-volume, low-margin business. Not everybody is convinced that this is progress. ''Hell,'' Ed Blair told me, ''my dad made more money on 250 head than we do on 850.''

Corn is a mainstay of livestock diets because there is no other feed quite as cheap or plentiful: thanks to federal subsidies and ever-growing surpluses, the price of corn ($2.25 a bushel) is 50 cents less than the cost of growing it. The rise of the modern factory farm is a direct result of these surpluses, which soared in the years following World War II, when petrochemical fertilizers came into widespread use. Ever since, the U.S.D.A.'s policy has been to help farmers dispose of surplus corn by passing as much of it as possible through the digestive tracts of food animals, converting it into protein. Compared with grass or hay, corn is a compact and portable foodstuff, making it possible to feed tens of thousands of animals on small plots of land. Without cheap corn, the modern urbanization of livestock would probably never have occurred.

We have come to think of ''cornfed'' as some kind of old-fashioned virtue; we shouldn't. Granted, a cornfed cow develops well-marbled flesh, giving it a taste and texture American consumers have learned to like. Yet this meat is demonstrably less healthy to eat, since it contains more saturated fat.

A recent study in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the meat of grass-fed livestock not only had substantially less fat than grain-fed meat but that the type of fats found in grass-fed meat were much healthier. (Grass-fed meat has more omega 3 fatty acids and fewer omega 6, which is believed to promote heart disease; it also contains beta-carotene and CLA, another ''good'' fat.) A growing body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with cornfed beef. In the same way ruminants have not evolved to eat grain, humans may not be well adapted to eating grain-fed animals. Yet the U.S.D.A.'s grading system continues to reward marbling -- that is, intramuscular fat -- and thus the feeding of corn to cows.

The economic logic behind corn is unassailable, and on a factory farm, there is no other kind. Calories are calories, and corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories. Of course the identical industrial logic -- protein is protein -- led to the feeding of rendered cow parts back to cows, a practice the F.D.A. banned in 1997 after scientists realized it was spreading mad-cow disease.

Make that mostly banned. The F.D.A.'s rules against feeding ruminant protein to ruminants make exceptions for ''blood products'' (even though they contain protein) and fat. Indeed, my steer has probably dined on beef tallow recycled from the very slaughterhouse he's heading to in June. ''Fat is fat,'' the feedlot manager shrugged when I raised an eyebrow.

F.D.A. rules still permit feedlots to feed nonruminant animal protein to cows. (Feather meal is an accepted cattle feed, as are pig and fish protein and chicken manure.) Some public-health advocates worry that since the bovine meat and bone meal that cows used to eat is now being fed to chickens, pigs and fish, infectious prions could find their way back into cattle when they eat the protein of the animals that have been eating them. To close this biological loophole, the F.D.A. is now considering tightening its feed rules.

Until mad-cow disease, remarkably few people in the cattle business, let alone the general public, comprehended the strange semicircular food chain that industrial agriculture had devised for cattle (and, in turn, for us). When I mentioned to Rich Blair that I'd been surprised to learn that cows were eating cows, he said, ''To tell the truth, it was kind of a shock to me too.'' Yet even today, ranchers don't ask many questions about feedlot menus. Not that the answers are so easy to come by. When I asked Poky's feedlot manager what exactly was in the protein supplement, he couldn't say. ''When we buy supplement, the supplier says it's 40 percent protein, but they don't specify beyond that.'' When I called the supplier, it wouldn't divulge all its ''proprietary ingredients'' but promised that animal parts weren't among them. Protein is pretty much still protein.

Compared with ground-up cow bones, corn seems positively wholesome. Yet it wreaks considerable havoc on bovine digestion. During my day at Poky, I spent an hour or two driving around the yard with Dr. Mel Metzen, the staff veterinarian. Metzen, a 1997 graduate of Kansas State's vet school, oversees a team of eight cowboys who spend their days riding the yard, spotting sick cows and bringing them in for treatment. A great many of their health problems can be traced to their diet. ''They're made to eat forage,'' Metzen said, ''and we're making them eat grain.''

Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal's lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal's esophagus), the cow suffocates.

The increasing gas causes the rumen to balloon and press against the lungs. Soon the poor creature cannot breathe. The vet's cowboys have to rush to the scene, before the cow suffocates, -and force a hose down its throat, so the gas can get out.  Since that is not done very tenderly, the cow suffers terrible pain in the process, and cuts made in the throat and esophagus can infect.

That cow goes through a lot of suffering, so you can enjoy your beefburgers.

A corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike that in our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn makes it unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio.

Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)

Cows rarely live on feedlot diets for more than six months, which might be about as much as their digestive systems can tolerate. ''I don't know how long you could feed this ration before you'd see problems,'' Metzen said; another vet said that a sustained feedlot diet would eventually ''blow out their livers'' and kill them. As the acids eat away at the rumen wall, bacteria enter the bloodstream and collect in the liver. More than 13 percent of feedlot cattle are found at slaughter to have abscessed livers.

Grain is unnatural for a ruminant; it is documented that ruminants cannot tolerate the high acid content of grain much more than 60-90 days, at which time the liver begins to fail. Commercial producers know this, but allow that the animal will be harvested anyway, so it doesn’t matter. The liver, which cannot pass inspection, is rejected for human consumption, one of the reasons liver is rarely for sale in supermarkets.

What keeps a feedlot animal healthy -- or healthy enough -- are antibiotics. Rumensin inhibits gas production in the rumen, helping to prevent bloat; tylosin reduces the incidence of liver infection. Most of the antibiotics sold in America end up in animal feed -- a practice that, it is now generally acknowledged, leads directly to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant ''superbugs.'' In the debate over the use of antibiotics in agriculture, a distinction is usually made between clinical and nonclinical uses. Public-health advocates don't object to treating sick animals with antibiotics; they just don't want to see the drugs lose their efficacy because factory farms are feeding them to healthy animals to promote growth. But the use of antibiotics in feedlot cattle confounds this distinction. Here the drugs are plainly being used to treat sick animals, yet the animals probably wouldn't be sick if not for what we feed them.

I asked Metzen what would happen if antibiotics were banned from cattle feed. ''We just couldn't feed them as hard,'' he said. ''Or we'd have a higher death loss.'' (Less than 3 percent of cattle die on the feedlot.) The price of beef would rise, he said, since the whole system would have to slow down.

''Hell, if you gave them lots of grass and space,'' he concluded dryly, ''I wouldn't have a job.''

Before heading over to Pen 43 for my reunion with my steer, No. 534, I stopped by the shed where recent arrivals receive their hormone implants. The calves are funneled into a chute, herded along by a ranch hand wielding an electric prod, then clutched in a restrainer just long enough for another hand to inject a slow-release pellet of Revlar, a synthetic estrogen, in the back of the ear. The Blairs' pen had not yet been implanted, and I was still struggling with the decision of whether to forgo what is virtually a universal practice in the cattle industry in the United States. (It has been banned in the European Union.)

American regulators permit hormone implants on the grounds that no risk to human health has been proved, even though measurable hormone residues do turn up in the meat we eat. These contribute to the buildup of estrogenic compounds in the environment, which some scientists believe may explain falling sperm counts and premature maturation in girls. Recent studies have also found elevated levels of synthetic growth hormones in feedlot wastes; these persistent chemicals eventually wind up in the waterways downstream of feedlots, where scientists have found fish exhibiting abnormal sex characteristics.

The F.D.A. is opening an inquiry into the problem, but for now, implanting hormones in beef cattle is legal and financially irresistible: an implant costs $1.50 and adds between 40 and 50 pounds to the weight of a steer at slaughter, for a return of at least $25. That could easily make the difference between profit and loss on my investment in No. 534. Thinking like a parent, I like the idea of feeding my son hamburgers free of synthetic hormones. But thinking like a cattleman, there was really no decision to make.

I asked Rich Blair what he thought. ''I'd love to give up hormones,'' he said. ''If the consumer said, We don't want hormones, we'd stop in a second. The cattle could get along better without them. But the market signal's not there, and as long as my competitor's doing it, I've got to do it, too.''

I had on the same carrot-colored sweater I'd worn to the ranch in South Dakota, hoping to jog my steer's memory. Way off in the back, I spotted him -- those three white blazes. As I gingerly stepped toward him, the quietly shuffling mass of black cowhide between us parted, and there No. 534 and I stood, staring dumbly at each other. Glint of recognition? None whatsoever. I told myself not to take it personally. No. 534 had been bred for his marbling, after all, not his intellect.

I don't know enough about the emotional life of cows to say with any confidence if No. 534 was miserable, bored or melancholy, but I would not say he looked happy. I noticed that his eyes looked a little bloodshot. Some animals are irritated by the fecal dust that floats in the feedlot air; maybe that explained the sullen gaze with which he fixed me. Unhappy or not, though, No. 534 had clearly been eating well. My animal had put on a couple hundred pounds since we'd last met, and he looked it: thicker across the shoulders and round as a barrel through the middle. He carried himself more like a steer now than a calf, even though he was still less than a year old. Metzen complimented me on his size and conformation. ''That's a handsome looking beef you've got there.'' (Aw, shucks.)

Staring at No. 534, I could picture the white lines of the butcher's chart dissecting his black hide: rump roast, flank steak, standing rib, brisket. One way of looking at No. 534 -- the industrial way -- was as an efficient machine for turning feed corn into beef. Every day between now and his slaughter date in June, No. 534 will convert 32 pounds of feed (25 of them corn) into another three and a half pounds of flesh. Poky is indeed a factory, transforming cheap raw materials into a less-cheap finished product, as fast as bovinely possible.

Yet the factory metaphor obscures as much as it reveals about the creature that stood before me. For this steer was not a machine in a factory but an animal in a web of relationships that link him to certain other animals, plants and microbes, as well as to the earth. And one of those other animals is us. The unnaturally rich diet of corn that has compromised No. 534's health is fattening his flesh in a way that in turn may compromise the health of the humans who will eat him. The antibiotics he's consuming with his corn were at that very moment selecting, in his gut and wherever else in the environment they wind up, for bacteria that could someday infect us and resist the drugs we depend on. We inhabit the same microbial ecosystem as the animals we eat, and whatever happens to it also happens to us.

I thought about the deep pile of manure that No. 534 and I were standing in. We don't know much about the hormones in it -- where they will end up or what they might do once they get there -- but we do know something about the bacteria. One particularly lethal bug most probably resided in the manure beneath my feet. Escherichia coli 0157 is a relatively new strain of a common intestinal bacteria (it was first isolated in the 1980's) that is common in feedlot cattle, more than half of whom carry it in their guts. Ingesting as few as 10 of these microbes can cause a fatal infection.

Most of the microbes that reside in the gut of a cow and find their way into our food get killed off by the acids in our stomachs, since they originally adapted to live in a neutral-pH environment. But the digestive tract of the modern feedlot cow is closer in acidity to our own, and in this new, manmade environment acid-resistant strains of E. coli have developed that can survive our stomach acids -- and go on to kill us. By acidifying a cow's gut with corn, we have broken down one of our food chain's barriers to infection. Yet this process can be reversed: James Russell, a U.S.D.A. microbiologist, has discovered that switching a cow's diet from corn to hay in the final days before slaughter reduces the population of E. coli 0157 in its manure by as much as 70 percent. Such a change, however, is considered wildly impractical by the cattle industry.

So much comes back to corn, this cheap feed that turns out in so many ways to be not cheap at all. While I stood in No. 534's pen, a dump truck pulled up alongside the feed bunk and released a golden stream of feed. The animals stepped up to the bunk for their lunch. The $1.60 a day I'm paying for three giant meals is a bargain only by the narrowest of calculations. It doesn't take into account, for example, the cost to the public health of antibiotic resistance or food poisoning by E. coli or all the environmental costs associated with industrial corn.

For if you follow the corn from this bunk back to the fields where it grows, you will find an 80-million-acre monoculture that consumes more chemical herbicide and fertilizer than any other crop. Keep going and you can trace the nitrogen runoff from that crop all the way down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created (if that is the right word) a 12,000-square-mile ''dead zone.''

Deadzone on July 27, 2009.

But you can go farther still, and follow the fertilizer needed to grow that corn all the way to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. No. 534 started life as part of a food chain that derived all its energy from the sun; now that corn constitutes such an important link in his food chain, he is the product of an industrial system powered by fossil fuel. (And in turn, defended by the military -- another uncounted cost of ''cheap'' food.) I asked David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist who specializes in agriculture and energy, if it might be possible to calculate precisely how much oil it will take to grow my steer to slaughter weight. Assuming No. 534 continues to eat 25 pounds of corn a day and reaches a weight of 1,250 pounds, he will have consumed in his lifetime roughly 284 gallons of oil. We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine.”

The complete article at:    Written by Michael Pollan of “Food,Inc.” fame.


Grass-Fed vs. Feedlot Beef - What's the difference?

“Studies have shown that an animal’s diet can have an impact on the nutritional content of the meat on the consumer’s table. Grass-fed meat has been shown to contain less fat, more beneficial fatty acids, and more vitamins and to be a good source of a variety of nutrients. According to a study published in the Journal of Animal Science in 2009, eating grass-fed beef provides many benefits to consumers(3):

  1. Lower in total fat
  2. Higher in beta-carotene
  3. Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
  4. Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
  5. Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
  6. Higher in total omega-3s
  7. A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
  8. Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
  9. Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
  10. Lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease

Washington Grassfed Beef

Lower Fat – Meat from grass-fed cattle is much lower in fat, and therefore lower in calories. A 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished animal has almost 100 fewer calories than the same sized-piece from a grain-fed animal. If, like the average American, you eat about 67 pounds of beef a year, switch to grass-fed beef and you’ll save nearly 18,000 calories a year.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Omega-3 fatty acids are fats that are essential to human health. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass is omega-3, which is formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves. Grass-fed cattle can contain as much as two-to-four times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed animals.

At the same time, a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies, depression, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. A ratio of four to one or lower is considered ideal, Grain-fed beef has a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than wild game or grass-fed beef. In grass-fed beef the ratio is approximately 2 to 1, while the ratio in grain-fed beef is more than 14 to 1.

More Vitamins – In humans vitamin E is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Meat from grass-fed cattle is higher in vitamin E.; as much as four times higher in vitamin E than meat from feedlot cattle.

Rich source of CLA – Meat from grass-fed animals is the richest known source of “conjugated linoleic acid” or CLA. Grass-fed cattle have been found to produce 2 to 5 times more CLA than cattle fed high grain feedlot diets. In laboratory animals, a  diet containing even a small amount of CLA greatly reduced cancerous growths.”

More at:


A Meat Terminology Primer for Consumers at:


Dr. Mercola's Comments on: Discover How Your Beef is Really Raised

“When I first became aware of grass-fed beef, I was only superficially aware of the importance of omega-3 oils. I have now grown to appreciate that balancing the optimum amount of omega-3 oils is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy.
If you are not yet familiar with the benefits of omega-3 oils, please review my recent article on the cardiovascular actions of omega-3 oils.

Most nutritionist don't yet realize that it not only the amount, but the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils that controls much of our disease and health outcomes.

That is why it is so important to consume animals that are primarily eating grass. These animals will have far lower levels of the potentially dangerous omega-6 oils that nearly all of us have a surplus of.

The practical way to do this is to consume free-range chickens and turkeys and pasture or grass-fed beef. Unfortunately, you cannot buy this grass-fed beef at your local grocery store.

Obtaining free range poultry is relatively straight forward but you must be careful regarding the beef. Many stores will advertise grass-fed beef but it really isn't. They do this as ALL cattle are grass fed, but the key is what they are fed the months prior to being processed.

As this wonderful article explains most all cattle are shipped to giant feed lots and fed corn to fatten them up. I knew this before reading this incredible story, but I now have a far better understanding of the process.
You will need to call the person who actually grew the beef, NOT the store manager, to find out the truth.

The least expensive way to obtain authentic grass fed beef would be to find a farmer who is growing the beef who you can trust and buy a half a side of beef from him. This way you save the shipping and also receive a reduced rate on the meat.

An inexpensive, yet effective way to determine if the meat is really from a grass fed animal is to purchase the ground beef. Slowly cook the beef till done and drain and collect all the fat. Grass fed beef is very high in omega-3 fats and will be relatively thin compared to traditionally prepared ground beef.

It will also be a liquid at room temperature as it has very few saturated fats which are mostly solid at room temperature.

However, most of us live in large urban areas and do not have the time for this process. Just as it would be ideal to have an organic garden and grow your own vegetables, most of us elect not to do that for time or space reasons.

I used to have an organic garden, but my schedule just would not allow me to have that luxury anymore. So, if you are convinced, like I am, that grass-fed beef is better for you and you would like the convenience of being able to order it over the Net, you can buy grass-fed beef online, shipped overnight to your door, at Grassfed Organics. More at:


On This Day:

FDR signs G.I. Bill, Jun 22, 1944:

“On this day in 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill, an unprecedented act of legislation designed to compensate returning members of the armed services--known as G.I.s--for their efforts in World War II.

As the last of its sweeping New Deal reforms, Roosevelt's administration created the G.I. Bill--officially the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944--hoping to avoid a relapse into the Great Depression after the war ended. FDR particularly wanted to prevent a repeat of the Bonus March of 1932, when 20,000 unemployed veterans and their families flocked in protest to Washington. The American Legion, a veteran's organization, successfully fought for many of the provisions included in the bill, which gave returning servicemen access to unemployment compensation, low-interest home and business loans, and--most importantly--funding for education.

By giving veterans money for tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and equipment, the G.I. Bill effectively transformed higher education in America. Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans, and university campuses had become known as a haven for the most privileged classes. By 1947, in contrast, vets made up half of the nation's college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939.

As educational institutions opened their doors to this diverse new group of students, overcrowded classrooms and residences prompted widespread improvement and expansion of university facilities and teaching staffs. An array of new vocational courses were developed across the country, including advanced training in education, agriculture, commerce, mining and fishing--skills that had previously been taught only informally.

The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after World War II. Only 20 percent of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education. Low interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban centers and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs. Over 50 years, the impact of the G.I. Bill was enormous, with 20 million veterans and dependents using the education benefits and 14 million home loans guaranteed, for a total federal investment of $67 billion. Among the millions of Americans who have taken advantage of the bill are former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, former Vice President Al Gore and entertainers Johnny Cash, Ed McMahon, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood.”



I took Misty for her walkabout around here again, while Ray was mowing the weeds grass.

Then I settled my animals for leaving them for a couple of hours. When I leave, I have started to put Prime in the grooming room, so that Bobbiecat can have free range in her own home.  Bobbiecat likes Mistydog, even though Misty is twice her size, but she won’t even walk past Prime.  Prime wants to be alpha cat, and that has been Bobbiecat’s role for 17 years.  Bobbiecat resents the usurper, Prime, and she knows she cannot fight Prime with her arthritic shoulder, so she is scared of her. 

In my haste, I forgot to take my camera.  When I arrived at the China Buffet I didn’t have long to wait before Mac drove up in their great big black truck with Lynette and Arlene.  We had a great get-together over a nice lunch. It was so good to see Arlene again, and to meet Lynette and Mac. 

I know some of your ears were burning, as we talked about y’all including Gypsy (and her Lady), Bill, JB and Brenda, Speedy and Sheri, Donna and Nolan, Phyllis and Bob, Sandra and Gordon, Deb and Rod, Molly and Bob, Dee and Jim, Ellie and Jim, Joanne and her late Doug (and their Fillmore), the late Margie and Bruce (and their Annie).

Our next get-together will probably be when Dee and Jim get here to TX, then they, and Arlene, will meet my old friends Jake and Shari.  The RV-Dreams chat family is a big close-knit family, even though we are scattered all over from Iraq to Alaska.


Me, Arlene, Lynette and Mac

Lynette, Arlene, Mac and the waitress, took several pictures, and this was sent to me.  But with all that, and our other conversations, we managed to eat our fill there at the China Buffet yesterday.


Leno said...

I really enjoyed spending more time with you. Looking forward to our next visit.

Jenny Johnson said...

My ears were burning too!!!! Glad y'all had a nice visit---

LakeConroePenny,TX said...

Thank you for your comments, Arlene and Jenny.

Arlene, we always seem to meet when there are special people in town. It was great to meet Nette and Mac, and to see you again.

Ah, Ah, Jenny! Someone must have told you.

Happy Trails, Penny