I found out Dr. Oz was doing a special on beef in America. As a state and national beef ambassador I thought, why would I not watch it?
I would typically be at work but was actually home sick. I guess that’s one of the only benefits.
For everyone that did watch it that has limited experience in the beef industry, you were probably left with lingering questions. I know if I wasn’t knowledgeable about where my beef comes from I would be in the same situation.
Where we source our beef has come from farmers and ranchers that are continually concerned about improving by ensuring we have access to a safe product that comes from a healthy animal while impacting natural resources as minimally as possible.
I think to begin we need to understand what the differences are in the labeling of beef you purchase at the grocery store. What it boils down to is that the rancher that was interviewed raises grass fed beef. However, those that choose to raise grass fed beef are free to use technologies such as hormone implants and antibiotics unless they choose further specify in another niche like ‘naturally raised’ or ‘organic’. Ultimately the qualifications that must be met for beef to officially be labeled as grass-fed essentially means that these cattle only eat forage based diets and grass having constant access to it in addition to not consuming any grain or grain byproducts.
Mark Shatzer, an investigatory journalist made lots of claims but we need to look at the full picture to better understand what he’s referring too. He states that a feedlot is “A big fenced off area [in which] we feed them tons and tons of corn so much it’s actually toxic to them.”
Corn and feedlots were a running theme in this episode. “Scary corn” as noted by the butcher who later appeared to discuss buying preferences in beef for burgers.
I had my first animal nutrition class last year. Cattle in feedlots aren’t just fed corn. There are special nutritionists that formulate diets for them. These diets are called rations and are calculated based upon data from rigorous tests performed by agencies based upon what energy an animal needs for growth, maintenance and/or lactation based upon a variety of other factors. There’s also resources that detail what nutrients specific feedstuffs provide in measured amounts. I’ve calculated rations before and it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. I sat in lab for hours with encouraging Graduate Assistants each week that helped me review my work to meet the needed levels of essential nutrients if my final check didn’t work out. Beef cattle are ruminants which means that products our bodies can’t digest are perfectly nutritious for them. This is the same reason why they can thrive on grass and it wouldn’t be healthy for us. So what do cattle eat in a feedlot? Sure they eat corn as it’s an incredibly energy rich carbohydrate but there are lots of other feedstuffs that would go to waste if they weren’t consumed by cattle that are byproducts from things we make for ourselves like soybean hulls, cotton seed meal, distillers grains, etc. This varies by region.
Feedlots are a great way to conserve the impact cattle have upon natural resources because they are centralized. Cattle are not ‘crammed’ as was stated by Shatzer in fact they have between 125 to 250 sq. foot per animal to engage in natural behaviors.
The USDA quality grading system was discussed leading to the assertion ‘farmers have developed fatty meat’ when in fact the meat we consume today is 80% leaner than twenty years ago when looking at external fat. Better yet the difference in the quality grades is partly due to the amount of marbling or IMF (intramuscular fat) – half of which are mono saturated fats. Mono saturated fats are healthy and are also found in olive oil.
When Will Harris of White Oak Pastures said they formerly used antibiotics routinely please know that this is not common. If antibiotics are needed they are utilized to help sick animals regain superior health because those administering them believe that it is the right and humane thing to do. Antibiotics in livestock are used in the smallest most effective dose and have a withdrawal time to meet before the animal is slaughtered that is adhered to by farmers and ranchers. Testing for residue occurs through the Food Safety and Inspection Services Inspectors as a way to double-check we don’t consume anything that may contain residue. Antibiotics are not doled out like candy due to an animal consuming corn as viewers are lead to believe. Animals can become sick for a variety of reasons but a cattlemen’s goal is to first and foremost keep his herd healthy through a herd health plan established with the help of a trusted veterinarian.
Furthermore Harris shares that he was disgusted with the ‘excesses of that system’ when describing conventional beef production. When a beef animal is processed 99% of it is used so virtually nothing goes to waste. Many have chosen to use hormone implants to conserve natural resources as they improve average daily gain between 15 and 25 percent each day. Hormone implants have been used safely for sixty years and are constantly evaluated and re-certified as safe by the USDA, FDA and EPA in particular to guarantee they promote food safety and animal health. I’m not sure what excess he’s speaking about to be honest.
Next the nutritional profile is discussed when looking at fat extracted from both grass fed and conventional beef. The grass fed beef is noticeably more yellow which is due to carotenoids – a vitamin A precursor found in grass. The grass fed beef option is boasted to be significantly healthier by the show’s host and investigative journalist. There have been two different studies to date showing that grass fed beef isn’t any healthier but grass fed or grain finished they each provide more than 10% of 10 essential nutrients we need each day with less than 10% of your recommended daily calories.
In the end there are different ways to raise cattle. Regardless of if cattle is grain finished, grass fed, naturally raised or organic it is always a safe, wholesome and nutritious option for your plate.
To learn more about how the beef you enjoy gets to your plate connect with a farmer or rancher or visit as Facts About Beef, Explore Beef or even earn your Masters of Beef Advocacy they are excellent resources and where I get information about how beef makes it to my plate.