What is Grass Fed and Why Should I Care?

Grass fed beef is claimed to be “better” than corn fed beef, but why? Due to the industrialization of the agriculture business, corn fed animals have become more common because corn fattens the animal faster, increases efficiency and overall costs less. Although this adaption has resulted in economic advantages, there’s a variety of disadvantages with the popular commodity.

Corn fed cattle aren’t given the liberation of free range out in the pasture. They are compacted in feedlots which consequently results in potential environmental issues, such as air quality and water quality, according to Mother Earth News. Cows produce methane gas and when in high quantities it can have a greater impact on the atmosphere than carbon emissions. These feedlots also have an excess of runoff waste that can contaminate our waterways and eventually end up in produce fields. This waste often contains traces of E.coli 0157:H7 that is specifically linked to cattle.

This specific strain is notorious for having a higher acid-resistance than other types of E.coli, which means that the bacteria when consumed, can “pass through [a human’s] stomach unharmed,” (Mother Earth News) by the gastric acid making its way into the intestines. Once it reaches a human’s intestines, it produces a toxin that causes organ damage and diarrhea.

This E.coli is developed in the cows starting from the consumption of corn. Cows have rumen which resides in their stomachs that allows the break down of cellulose (structural polysaccharides in plants) and turns it into protein, unlike corn which fattens the cow producing a less hearty cut of meat. Rumen is a neutral pH opposed to corn which is highly acidic. When cows eat a high concentration of corn, it throws off the pH of the cow’s stomach leading to an illness in the cow, called acidosis, “a kind of bovine heart-burn that in some cases can kill the animal, but usually just makes [them] sick.” (The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan) Not only that, but the low levels of pH eventually eats away at the rumen wall allowing bacteria like E.coli 0157:H7 to enter the cow’s bloodstream. When it enters the bloodstream, the likelihood of the bacteria lingering in the part of the cow that the average human omnivore eats in his or her cheeseburger increases.

The corn fed beef in that cheeseburger not only consists of an organ damaging bacteria, but also a great deal of fat compared to grass fed beef. The less fat there is, the better the meat is for the heart and weight management. Although corn fed beef is less expensive, the product may not be as filling or substantial because the industrial farming of cows can get away with putting a lower price tag on something that will cost the individual and society more in the long run.

Personally, I would choose grass fed cattle over corn fed, knowing that generally grass fed farms tend to be more humane in their processes. That is only if I were forced to choose, otherwise I wouldn’t choose either. I don’t have much of an opinion outside of that because I am vegetarian for reasons far beyond this and I’d prefer to not go into that much detail.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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