The chickens are finally starting to come home to roost for our national food supply. The WSJ had an article today on America’s cattle herd. Because of all the ways they are manipulating the herd to try and streamline production, the herd is finally feeling the effects of it and it’s hurting quality.
America’s corporate farmers have drugged, manipulated genetics, used mass production techniques and adapted them to livestock. It’s catching up to them.
I am sure they will use a drug to figure out a way out of the problems they have created for themselves. The national food regulator, the USDA, has aided and abetted them along the way.
A growing number of cattle arriving for slaughter at U.S. meatpacking plants have recently shown unusual signs of distress. Some walked stiffly, while others had trouble moving or simply laid down, their tongues hanging from their mouths. A few even sat down in strange positions, looking more like dogs than cows.
“I’ve seen cattle walking down a truck ramp tippy-toed,” said Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science and consultant to the livestock industry. “Normally, they just run down the truck ramp and jump out. We do not want to see bad become normal.”
Originally designed to alleviate asthma in humans, beta-agonists are mixed into cattle feed during the final weeks before slaughter to promote weight gain by stimulating the growth of lean muscle instead of fat. They aren’t hormones, but Zilmax, or zilpaterol, can add roughly 2%—or 24 to 33 pounds—to an animal’s final weight. Its rival, ractopamine-based Optaflexx, can add as much as 20 pounds.
They tried to engineer leaner meat instead of use natural techniques to get leaner meat.
I have done a lot of research on this sort of thing. My first angel investment was in Tallgrassbeef. I invested only after I ate the beef. It wasn’t tough and stringy. The beef was tender and juicy, full of flavor. We eat grass fed/finished beef all the time, and notice the difference in mouthfeel and flavor when it’s not.
It’s important to note, all beef is grass fed. It’s the grass finished beef that you need to buy to truly have a “grassfed” experience. The factory farmed animals are trucked to a feedlot the last bit of their life and finished on corn.
Corn isn’t a natural food for cattle. That’s one of the reasons they have to pump them full of antibiotics. Another reason is that they are penned in very closely, and the risk of one animal spreading disease to the entire herd is pretty high.
To be clear, I am not against factory farming like a lot of advocates. Even in organic farming, there are going to be technological efficiencies applied that can lower costs.
What I am against is the way the government of the United States has been lobbied to create regulations that make it highly difficult for independent farmers to compete.
If we had a level playing field, grassfed/finished beef would still cost more-but their costs would be a lot closer. These rent seeking government regulations play out in beef, chicken, pork, grain, dairy and all the other food group industries.
What I would prefer is clear labeling, accessible good information, and then let individuals decide what they want to buy. Let the free market pick the winners and losers, not the USDA.
In Chicago, I have access to outlets like the Butcher and Larder. They always have plenty of grass finished beef. But, in other areas of the country it’s easier to order it online and have it delivered to your door at Tallgrass.
The natural food advocates aren’t always on the right side of the argument. For example, organic fruits and vegetables are no better for you than factory farmed ones when it comes to nutrition.
What the people of the United States need is a regulator that keeps the playing field level, and scientists that use the Socratic method to reach conclusions.