Should Northern Coloradoans Purchase Local Beef?
Food. It is something we all need but how often do we stop to think about where our food is coming from,
how the animals have been treated, how does it impact our environment and how does it impact our own communities economy. We all need food to sustain life, and it is often seen as a source of enjoyment for meals with family or friends and holidays, but is there a bigger picture that we should all be looking at? The food producers and manufacturers have put a “veil between us and where our food is coming from. The industry does not want us to know the truth about our food anymore, because if we did, we may not want to eat it.” (Food, Inc.) Do we really know where our food, more
importantly, our beef is coming from? We go to King Soopers, Safeway, or maybe Sprouts, whatever our store of choice is, and we find the beef already wrapped and stamped in a neat and tidy package, but what led up to its arrival there? A survey done of adults who consume beef living in Northern Colorado but who do not currently buy local showed that 50% know nothing or very little about factory farming.
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This chart documenting survey results also shows that the three main reasons that those surveyed choose not to purchase to local beef is because it is too expensive, it is not convenient, and that they had not thought about it. In order to set the stage for you as to why you should purchase local beef, first we need to determine how most of our beef that is available in the stores is actually being produced.
The majority of our food is no longer being raised on a farm, at least not the ones that we may have pictured in our minds. When we think about a farm, we might picture white picket fences, a barn, large green acres of pasture and the animals out grazing. The reality however of how most of the meat is being produced is on a factory farm, which is not actually a farm. According to dictionary.com, a factory farm is “a farm on which animals are bred and fattened using modern industrial methods”. But does this definition really give us the truth about what is going on in the factory farms? What are the modern industrial methods that they are referring to? If we look deeper at the definition given on the Humane Society of the United States, we see that the terms factory farm, CAFO – concentrated animal feeding operation and AFO – animal feeding operation are used interchangeably. Factory farm is a generic term and refers to industrial animal production facilities. AFO and CAFO have precise legal definitions. According to the EPA, “AFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals and production operations on a small land area.” (Factory Farming in America) There are three ways in which an AFO can be called a CAFO. There are medium and large CAFOs based on the number of animals that are being confined there. They also have to have some sort of man-made water system that discharges pollutants into the US water system. PCIFAP, Pew Commission on Industrial farm animal production research concluded that:“Industrial farm animal production systems are largely unregulated, and many practices common to this method of production threaten public health, the environment, animal health and well-being, and rural communities.” (Baur)
Now that we have a definition of what factory farming is, we can look at our first point. Of those surveyed 20% of respondents said that they thought local beef is too expensive. However, when looking at how factory farmed beef is produced, can we really begin to put a price tag on all the aspects of life that it can affect? Animals in factory farms are treated cruelly and many times tortured. The cost of the meat listed on the price tag may be cheap for the consumer, but it does not contain the high cost of the many systematic abuses of the industrial animal production industry. Nearly
10 billion animals are raised and killed each year for meat, milk, and eggs. (Humane Society) The cows are confined in massive filthy warehouses with little room to move. Many of the animals suffer injuries. They also are prone to suffer joint and bone problems. Animals are fed an unnaturally high quantity of grains in their diet causing severe gastric distress in many animals. The high corn diet combined with feed lot life is also conducive to breeding E. coli.
Because of the fact that they all stand in the same mud and muck, if one cow gets it, all the cattle will get it. With all the mud and manure that is caked on the animals hides, when they go to slaughter, how can they possibly regulate if the meat has E. coli or not? (Food, Inc.) The industry has also taken to use plastic based pellets instead of plant based roughage to compensate for the lack of natural fiber found in their feed. In addition to plastic pellets, the animals have been turned into cannibals with having pieces of other animals processed into their feed, which is otherwise known as animal byproducts. Nature intended for cattle to be herbivores. This change in their diet has been linked to Mad Cow Disease which has spread not only through cows but also humans. (Huff)
The animals are stressed and are at constant risk for disease. This stress causes the industry to rely heavily on antibiotics and other chemicals which has led to an increase of antibiotic resistant pathogens in humans. The antibiotics used are also usually laced with growth hormones. The growth hormones that the animals have been fed allows them to produce at a younger age and thus the cows consumes 15% less feed. It also allows them to produce more muscle and less fat. (Frankensteer) According to Dr. Mercola, the FDA stated that in 2009, 29 million pounds of antibiotics were used in animals. The Union of Concerned Scientists in 2001 said that non-therapeutic livestock use of antibiotics makes up 70% of the antibiotics used in the United States yearly. (Mercola) We have food borne sickness each year that can infect millions yearly; this can come from meat or produce but is often traced back to factory farms. The manure produced is too much for our environment to absorb. It poisons the land and water and sends noxious fumes into the air.
Another tragedy, is that food manufacturers have learned how to engineer animals to lack certain proteins that are important to the anterior cigulate cortex operating. This essentially blocks the cattle’s perception of pain and causes them to be brain damaged. (Mercola) So the animals are mutilated, diseased and sitting in their own wastes but will not care because they are brain damaged.
Not only are the animals traumatized and tortured, the environment also pays a price for our desire of cheap food. There is a loss of water quality through the nitrogen and phosphorus that gets into the water supply, which contributes to a shift in the aquatic ecosystem. In addition, agricultural pesticides also get into the water supply. There is a large emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. There has been a negative impact on the soil quality through things such as pesticides and fertilization. There has been a decline in the nutrient density of a variety of garden crops. (Mercola)
Local beef on the other hand, has many benefits to human health, the animals and the environment. Organic free range cows are pasture fed. The cows fertilize the grass naturally as they eat and go about their day, as opposed to using chemicals. They also help to maintain the landscape and the grazing helps to prevent soil erosion. This type
of farming promotes cleaner water as all of their wastes are not dumped out into our water systems. In natural beef, they are not using the growth hormones or antibiotics, thus those dangerous chemicals also stay out of our water and more importantly our bodies. The healthy and natural diet of pasture fed beef helps ensure that nature stays balanced and that the E. coli that naturally live in the intestines of the cows does not turn into the dangerous strain. The pasture fed cows are also cleaner. They have been out feeding on grass in open spaces as opposed to standing ankle deep in wastes and mud, thus no E coli will be found on their hides. Organic beef is nutritionally superior to conventional factory farmed beef. Grass fed beef is lower in fat than conventional beef and contains three to five times more conjugated linoleic acid, CLA, than the grain fed animals. CLA can “help fight cancer and diabetes, help you lose weight, increase metabolic rate, enhance your immune system, and help maintain normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels” (Baur) The antibiotics that come into the meat not only increase our resistance to antibiotics but destroy the beneficial bacteria within our intestines, causing dysbiosis, weight gain, and increased food allergies and sensitivities. The question here comes down to this; can we really put a price tag on our own health?
Another 20% of those surveyed, said that they had not thought about the issue of local beef. Some of the things you might want to consider as you go to pick up your next package of hamburger or steak at the grocery store is that throughout the whole process of factory faming from being housed, fed, and slaughtered there is great suffering and depression. The animals are many times kept conscious during slaughter or are skinned alive. Dying animals that are not able to walk are thrown into a pile where they suffer until a few days later they are killed. (Huff) The suffering goes from the beginning to the end of their sad life.
Hazards to human health can also arise from the meat from CAFO and AFO’s. Growth hormones are given
cattle in an effort to get them to grow bigger, fatter, and faster. Back in the 1960s there was a hormone called DES, this has been shown to initiate and grow cancerous tumors, including breast cancer. This hormone took 7 years to get off of the market and multiple court battles. Oestradiol, which is one of the compounds that makes a hormone that is used now in cattle Revalor H, is very similar to DES. Revalor H is a combination of 2 different hormones “that are produced as implants for implantation in the back of the skin under the ear”. (Frankensteer) We are not able to determine how much of the hormone remains in the meat, or if what is there is exceeding the maximum residue that has been set by regulator. A single molecule can attach to a cell and if this is done on a consistent basis that can stimulate cancer.
So not only do we have the increased risk of cancer, we have all the antibiotics that have been fed to the cattle that are coming out in their meat and we are becoming immune to being able to use these antibiotics for treatment of human illnesses.
In the mid-1980s, Mad Cow disease also known as BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy started to appear.
This can be passed to humans through exposure to meat products from infected cows. In the 1990s, Canada, who the United States gets a lot of their meat from, did only minimal testing for BSE. They now test even less, doing less than 2% of the cattle slaughtered annually. The meat industry believes that testing for BSE is not the best way to handle food safety; instead they would rather remove the brains, intestine and spinal cord, the parts that are considered “high risk”. They feel if they remove these parts, the rest of the cow will be “safe”. On the flip side, they go on to label these parts that they have removed as hazardous waste. They have created a system in which they have been able to reduce the amount of safety regulators, by allowing the companies to handle this themselves using their own employees. (Frankensteer) When is it ok for us as humans to take a creature that by nature is not dangerous and turn
it into a monster that has parts in it that are now toxic?
That is definitely a lot to think about, again so many risks are associated with factory farmed beef. Is it worth the risk? Dr. Oz, a proponent of factory farmed beef, in a recent article in TIME magazine stated that “There’s no question that free-range chickens and grass-fed, pasture dwelling cows live happier – if not appreciably longer – lives than animals raised on factory farms. They are also kept free of antibiotics and hormones and are less likely to carry communicable diseases like E. coli, which are common on crowded feed lots. If these things are important to you then by all means opt for pricier organic meats.” Yes Dr. Oz, many of us do care about not consuming meat that is filled with chemicals, hormones and antibiotics, increasing our risks of getting cancer and decreasing our bodies ability to be able to utilize antibiotics should we need them. We want to protect ourselves and our families from the widely recognized negative effects of the agrichemicals. Dr. Oz also further went on to state in his interview that, “for the most part it is O.K. to skip the meat-boutiques and high end butchers. Nutritionally there is not much difference between, say, grass-fed beef and the feed lot variety” This statement is not backed by scientific data which does show that there are lower levels of cholesterol, saturated fat, and higher levels of omega 3’s and nutrients associated with grass-fed beef. Another statement made by Dr. Oz was that “We know more about the connection between food and health than ever before – down to the molecular level actually. This has provided us the curious luxury of being fussy, even snooty, about what we eat, considering some foods below our station. That’s silly. Food isn’t about cachet. It’s about nourishment, pleasure, and profound well-being that comes from the way that meals draw us together.” I agree, food
is about nourishment and pleasure. We should care about our well-being and of the well-being of those we love as well. We are aware down to the molecular level of what is happening with our food and we should care. There is a difference between the two and that difference is large.
Finally, out the 3 main reasons for not purchasing local, 10% of northern Colorado consumers said that it was not convenient; however, with a little research we find that local beef in northern Colorado is available at Whole Foods and the Fort Collins Coop. There are also a multitude of farms in the area that are able to supply a high quality local beef. Some of the places include the Fort Collins farmers market and Dern Farm. In Loveland there is the Guidestone farm, Sylvandale Ranch and Rocky Plains LLP which has a store front. There is also the Rising Sun farm in Wellington (Local Harvest) All of these locations are easily accessible. With the Northern Colorado area having so many options to local meat, is there really a reason to choose to continue to support factory-farmed meat? It might be slightly less convenient or you may need to plan a little in advance and you might need to stock up a little bit.
Locally pastured beef is raised with the customers in mind. The meat is a higher quality. It is healthier, tastier, and easier to cook than supermarket meat. It also helps to maintain the“health of the local economy by helping ranchers get a fair price for the meat that they produce” (LOCAL BEEF) This helps them to maintain their farms that may have been in their families for years and keep them small and local rather than selling out to large businesses who will have no vested interested in the area.
According to TIME Magazine, New Economics Foundation found that twice the money stays in the community when you buy locally such as from farmers markets and CSAs verses buying from a supermarket. Keeping the money within the community is going to be what helps to keep it going. By purchasing local, we are able to lower the amount of oil and gasoline used in transportation, and you have the ability to visit the farms to see what you are getting. By purchasing local, more money goes to supplies, printing, advertising and paying employees. This all helps to keep the money in a continuous circle within the community instead of having it escape out into other areas, towns, states or countries.
Ultimately it comes down to this, we vote with our dollars and with each bite we take, what type of organizations that we are going to support, what type of community we want and in the bigger picture what kind of world we want to
live in. We tell the food manufacturers by where we spend our dollars what types of food we want. By supporting local farmers we are keeping the money within our own community, thus supporting people in our town and giving the ability to these farmers to hire more local people keeping it in that continuous circle of community and home, instead of allowing it to leave to other cities, states or countries into other people’s pockets. In addition, we can see how the cows are being raised if we want, and we know that the animals are not being injected full of hormones and antibiotics
which can be harmful to our health and theirs. We can also know that the meat will be tastier, it will have been fed on a natural diet for the manner that it was designed. It will not have been pushed grains which are not only fattening to the cow but also to us the consumer as well. The cow will also not have been eating animal byproducts. It will have been grazing just as nature intended it to be. There will no longer be any mad scientist experiments coming from the factory farm to your plate. All parts of the cows from the local farms are safe thus meaning less risks of disease such as e coli,
salmonella and mad cow for us in the long run. The big question is this – what price do you put on your own health and that of your family? Will it ever match up with the small amount you save by purchasing a conventional beef product? The cost of local beef may be a little higher, but the reward will be that you have access to meat that is pure and healthy, and which does not cause moral conflict in your heart.