Corn-fed vs. Grass-fed Beef

I’ve talked about the general impacts of eating cattle on society, but this week I want to look into more direct impacts of the changes we have made in producing beef on individuals who aren’t necessarily victims of health disorders such as coronary heart disease, obesity, or type II diabetes. Generally, when we talk about corn-fed vs grass-fed we are talking about non-organic vs. organic beef.

70% of the cows we raise are forced to eat corn to reduce our surplus, speed up their growth rate, and increase efficiency in production. However, in terms of long-run, this method is not efficient at all. Not only is it less environmentally friendly and produces more industrial waste, but individuals eating grain-fed cattle receive several direct health impacts.


Can you tell the difference between corn-fed beef and grass-feed beef?

Corn fed beef vs. Grass fed beef
-Corn-fed cattle receive antibiotic injections.
-Corn-fed cattle are injected with hormones. This can upset the balance in top-predators such as humans, leading to reproductive disorders, cancer, and other health impacts.
-Corn-fed cattle are confined in feedlots to prevent them from exercise and using energy so they grow quicker. This creates more fat and marbling in meat.

gr_beef -Corn-fed cattle provide reduced nutritional values. Their meat has significantly more fat. Grass-fed cattle have significantly more vitamins, minerals, omega-3, and Conjugated linoleic acid(CLA). Omega-3 is known to help lower blood pressure, depression, arthritis and others. Studies have discovered that CLA can help suppress tumor developments in rats, and possibly in humans.

These impacts affect anyone who consumes corn-fed meat. You can typically find grass-fed beef at a local farmer’s market, at Sprouts Farmers Market, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and other organic restaurants. Studying the production of beef has helped me realize that there are other important factors to maintaining a healthy lifestyle other than simply eating vegetarian. Consuming organic foods, especially from local farmer’s markets is just as important as limiting meat consumption.


Meet Your Meat

Last week I discussed how human domestication of cattle and evolution of cattle production over the past hundreds of years has allowed for cheap and accessible meat in the market today. As production strategies developed, supply of beef grew, and Americans consumed more. However, beginning in the 1980s, the demand for beef in the U.S. began to decline. More people began to follow healthier diets, such as vegetarianism. This may have been in result of the increase in wealth and education in the nation. In reflection of these new dieting trends, the meat-packing industry has begun to reform its practices to create more humane environments for the cattle they raise for slaughter.

Changes in Meat-packing industry
-non-slip flooring to prevent cattle slips and falls
-taking more time to walk smaller herds from each station to calm the cattle
-handling animals with more patience and care
-Dr. Temple Grandin’s design of a chute system that prevents cattle from seeing other cattle being slaughtered up ahead. Reduces stress and anxiety.



There are also rising activist groups such as PETA hoping to expose the way some industries still abuse the animals that we eat. Society is shifting towards healthier diets and humane treatment in food production. This is also evident through the increase in organic and vegan food chains and restaurants such as Native Foods, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Urth Cafe. Producing these organic or humanely treated meats may decrease efficiency and increase costs for the industries, but I believe this would provide the solution to our environmental and health problems surrounding meat production. As long as we treat and produce our meat with the care and respect they deserve, we can maintain healthy living for ourselves and our meat animals. 


Meet Your Meat

In discovering the evolution of cattle domestication, we can learn how such a cheap and accessible meat dish such as a Big Mac from McDonald’s came to be. In turn, this helped me understand why it is increasingly difficult for people to take on vegetarian diets.

Neolithic ~ Pre-Industrial
-10,000 years ago, the Mesopotamian people domesticated cattle.
-they used them sparingly for meat, dairy, clothing, more
-they worshipped cattle as spiritual offerings
-cattle grazed on pasture and were peaceful in their natural environment
-close relationship between humans and cattle because tribes were small and provided for themselves
-cattle became items of capital rather than sustenance

Post-Industrial Revolution
-mass-production from centralized locations allowed for efficiency and increase in per-capita consumption
-introduction of antibiotics allowed for growth efficiency and fatter cows
-life span of cattle before slaughter decreased from 4-5 years to ~1 year
-cattle consumed feeds containing grains, other animal remnants, and fecal matter
-cattle grazed on corn instead of grass to increase growth rate
-humans restricted their freedom to roam in pasture

Results From Changes in Domestication Practices
-cheap and accessible meat lead to overeating
-animal feeds caused outbreaks of mad cow disease
-animal feeds found to contain bacterias E. coli and salmonella
-overeating lead to health disorders: obesity, type II diabetes, coronary heart disease


Figure 1: 7 out of 10 adult Americans are considered overweight or obese


Figure 2: United States beef consumption is so large,
the tiny dot in India is almost negligible


Figure 3: Beef consumption in America exceeds other countries by far.
The nation’s resulting percentage of overweight and obese people is evident of this.

It has become increasingly difficult for people in America to eat healthy or vegetarian diets because of this cheap and accessible meat available beginning the Industrial Revolution in the 1750s. As we see from the figures, developing countries such as China and India still have very low consumption of beef per capita. Thought it seems that as a country becomes more developed, consumption rates increase, United States demand in beef has been on the decline since the 1980s. Next week, I will discuss how the meat-packing industry has begun to reform its practices and how that correlates positively with diet changes in America.