Kyle Hornor: Not all beef is equal

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While I am a supporter of the Community Agriculture Alliance and I generally enjoy their articles, I found their most recent article concerning the beef industry to be misleading.

The article brings up the growing movement of concern for sustainability, environment and healthy food and then goes on to claim that these concerns have “resulted in great new technology that allows cattle operators to produce more beef on less land with less impact.” I would have liked to know what these new technologies are and how they are specifically achieving these claims. I would have liked to know what kind of cattle operation is achieving these claims. Is it the local grass-fed operations, which have grown in popularity because of increasing emphasis on sustainability, environment and healthy food, or is it the confined animal feeding operations, which dominate current beef production, that are making these gains?

As most people know, not all beef production is equal. Confined animal feeding operations are an environmental nightmare with issues ranging from the soil degradation, caused by monoculture type growing of corn for feed, to water and air pollution issues, caused by the concentration of the cattle at the feedlot.

Local grass-fed operations, on the other hand, mimic the ancient relationship between grasslands and large grazing animals and can improve the health of the ecosystem while also turning what humans can’t eat — grass — into something we can — beef.

I think that is misleading to tell people that they can feel good about supporting an industry “committed to responsible, safe and sustainable food production,” without distinguishing between these two very different types of beef production. I don’t think that I’m alone when I say that I don’t think that using vast amounts of fossil fuels to grow corn, transport said corn to feed lots and transport cattle to and from feedlots is responsible. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I don’t think concentrating so many cows in such a confined and unsanitary space is safe. And I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I think industrial beef production is anything but sustainable. Not only is local grass-fed beef richer in vitamins and nutrients than its industrial counter parts, it supports local families and healthy ecosystems, and that is something to feel good about.

Kyle Hornor

Student of sustainability studies, Steamboat Springs

Comments

sedgemo 2 years, 11 months ago

CAFOs cause a lot of stress on animals no matter how well arranged. Stress increases susceptibility to disease - thereby increasing the need for antibiotics - further made necessary by constantly mingling cattle from various home ranches. Often they are separated from their herds of origin and/or calves at the same time they are sorted and shipped, causing further stress, confusion and weight loss. Lower weights = less value, so overfeeding while they idle around in small lots puts the weight and fat back on them.

Another downside is more exposure to injuries, from shipping and from accidents while being herded into unfamiliar places. I once found a young calf collapsed in knee deep freezing muck at a sale barn (not in CO), unable to rise due to broken hind limbs, without his mom around and without a shred of human interest or compassion in either providing aid or euthanizing the suffering animal from the hundreds of people there that day. When I notified the barn managers, nothing was done for the several hours I hung around. They just kept driving groups of cattle past him as they sorted them into smaller pens. He slowly settled into the mud and died.

Sustainability, in my view, involves economics, certainly, but also ethics.

Grass fed cattle still have some stress when shipped and sold, but it is far less than what feedlot cattle undergo. Even if every other factor was the same, the cattle (if well managed) live a more natural life on pasture. The better quality beef produced is better for the cows, and better for those who eat them.

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Jeremy Johnston 2 years, 11 months ago

The new tech mentioned is probably referring to genetic "advancements" (GMO grains) and medical "advancements" (antibiotics). Ybul's comment on that article (Community Agriculture Alliance: Feel good and support beef industry By Christy Belton/For the Steamboat Today Thursday, January 5, 2012) is right on. I might add that according to research(Salad Bar Beef,Salatin,1995), if all the the land in the U.S. that is currently used to grow grain to feed live stock was planted in native grasses and forages and managed and grazed using a mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization system (thank you Joel Salatin), it would produce more meat per acre (up to 400% more) and sequester enough carbon in the soil that atmospheric carbon (greenhouse gasses) would be reduced to pre-1970 levels within ten years. No GMOs. No chemicals. No erosion. No food borne illness. No feed lot abuse and pollution. Just happy cows and healthy people. In short: Eating local grass fed beef is one of the most environmentally sustainable things one can do. Right behind raising grass fed beef.

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ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

It is actually thanks to Allan Savory, a wildlife biologist from Africa and founder of the center for Holistic management in NM. Salatin has done good things but there are others who have pioneered grazing management as described.

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Jeremy Johnston 2 years, 11 months ago

Actually it's thanks Andre' Voisin who was Savory's inspiration. I was thanking Joel for his verbiage. We all should thank good old Mother Nature who is the true pioneer of these methods. I would also like to thank J.I. Rodale, Wendall Berry, the Academy, and Tim Tebow!

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sedgemo 2 years, 11 months ago

And... don't forget Temple Grandin and Wes Jackson :-)

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ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

Touche, though it has been so long since I read his books. Joel has done great work and promoted a way which can make ag a venture enticing to new comers. The problem is the capital intensiveness.

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sedgemo 2 years, 11 months ago

Ybul, hasn't that always been true?

I shook Wes Jackson's hand once, a big day in my little life. Still don't understand why he's below the radar in so many arenas, great man with great ideas.

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ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

Always was a little bit of a problem but with cheap money for housing and development it is worse I believe. Throw in regulations which cater to the industrial distribution system and it is more difficult to stay on top. Especially with the new Food Safety Modernization act which will allow the FDA to shut down a farmer if they believe there is a problem, no due process or evidence needed.

Really just cash strapped right now, trying to make improvements and venting is all I suppose.

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Colette Erickson 2 years, 11 months ago

Well said, Kyle. You should also write an informative piece about confinement ops for hogs, chickens, and dairy animals. All equally horrific.

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