Essentially fescue is infected with endophyte (a fungus) which is known to make livestock sick. And many of the grass-fed farms use this type of fescue due to it's ability to make the grass that it has infected hardier....
Final paragraph from artcle:
The fescue tradeoff does more than call into question the grass/corn dichotomy. It reminds us that, when we talk about agriculture, we???re talking about the most destructive activity humans have ever undertaken. We???re talking about a human-driven brute force intervention into natural ecosystems that, before we decided to take them over to provide ourselves with a reliable source of food, operated according to their own rules regarding what was meant to be.
This one suggests that the use of MaxQ, a ???novel endophytes???, can help solve the problem by creating resilient grass that doesn't harm the cattle.... It doesn't say this directly, but sounds like the "novel endophyte" is a GMO product...
Is feeding the cattle GMO grass a problem?
What will be the unintended consequences this time around?
Is there a solution? or is this the cost to feed a growing population?
asked byCD (26217)
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on June 28, 2013
at 07:53 PM
I can only speak for my family's ranch, where we don't sow grass seeds (it's all volunteer). As far as I know, the grasses that grow in our pastures, like the flowers and grapes and nut-bearing trees in our forests, are what have been there 'forever.' This area is the Ozark Mountains.
We could only run a small herd of cattle (or hogs, chickens, sheep, goats, whatever we had going) because our ranch covered basically two valleys -- truly a third but that's fully wooded. If we tried to over-crowd, then we'd have to import feed. We didn't do that.
We have years that are better or worse (about 10 years of drought caused us to stop ranching at all -- I have photos of dead cattle our neighbors lost due to how dry the grasses became).
While this happened to us and our area, which is NOT seeded or sprayed herbacides, etc.,buying from small family operations is healthier than any mass 'farm.' Nobody I know running an operation like us would eat sick animals. It's called a loss because we put them out of their misery -- we wouldn't sell them to others.
on June 28, 2013
at 12:26 PM
When you value profits the most then the quality will suffer 8 out of 10 times. Did it happen in this case? Yes. Do I still think grass fed beef is healthier? Yes. Do I buy grass fed meat? No, it's expensive.
Upon reading this I'm forced to ask myself just how bad this unnamed? endophyte in Fescue really is? Assuming one were to be buying antibiotic free grass fed beef I have to assume that it can't really be as bad as they're making it out to be. If it were, these cattle would have to be fed antibiotics so they don't die before going to market, like many industrial non grass-fed beef wold if they weren't fed antibiotics.
I don't see any studies and it seems to just be this guy's conjecture that this endophyte is exceptionally bad causing things like depression (how the f* would you measure cow depression?).
on July 01, 2013
at 03:40 PM
Thank you for sharing this! I majored in agronomy at Clemson University and the professor I worked for was engaged in tall fescue research. His work was about drought tolerance, but funnily enough, I never heard about the endophyte until now. I was pretty young and ignorant back then, so perhaps it went over my head.
The article does offer several solutions, so a GMO hybrid is not the only possible solution. Also Allan Savory's Holistic Grazing practices are catching on with smaller farmers and may solve the issue by changing the way animals are pastured.
My recent experience with most (not all) of our local small farmers, (in Western WA, Santa Fe, NM, and Boise, ID) is that they care about their animal's health and well-being. The ones who sell direct, at the farmer's market or their farm store are very open about what they feed their animals, and very open to market feedback.
For example, here in Boise, there is a Huge campaign against GMOs, largely organized by concerned parents. They are doing education and rallies to raise awareness. Folks learn to ask the right questions and the farmers have learned that they need to have the right answers or they will lose business.
We have a FB page called the Boise Real Food Coalition, where we share info on the best farmers for soy, grain and GMO-free products.
Now, just about every farmer I have seen at the Market is advertising GMO-free meat, dairy and eggs.
While I don't know how many farmers graze their stock on endophyte-infested fescue, or what cultivar they use, I can go to market this weekend and start asking the question.
I can also share the links you mentioned and get a conversation going.
More consumer awareness/demand = more farmer awareness/change in practice.
Buying local from farmers you know is key.
Profit-driven farming can mean better animal nutrition, if the consumers are knowledgable.
on June 28, 2013
at 11:38 AM
My answer is quite a bit tangential to your actual question, but anyway here goes...
In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan argues that there's a reciprocity of relations between humans and nature - far from being the opposed entities of a binary, humans and nature are embedded in a matrix of ???co-evolution???. Domestication of plants and existence of agriculture is taken to reflect human capacity to exert power over nature, yeah, but plants too are conceived as having mechanisms through which human action is influenced. (Think lectins, sweetness of honey etc).
Where humans do use what that author called 'brute force' over nature, end result probably is counterproductive for humanity in the long run - if humans and nature co-evolve, humans are gradually destroying themselves by destroying nature, whether or not for short term material gain (I'm thinking of the Alberta oil/tar sands here... Humans get disease - even if humans mess with nature, nature wins in the end!
So while humans might impose will on the wilderness, I agree with Pollan that the relationship is not so much oppositional as it is reciprocal. Perhaps this is why as soon as humans try to do things commercially and on a large scale (grass fed agriculture), there are problems (and as usual, cows lose out in short term, humans may well in longer term with nutrition being worse. World is big, lots of people, difficult to see how things can improve in the long run without there being some sort of return to things being on a smaller scale. Things might be less 'efficient' but then again people might have jobs... If grass fed profits have led to less nutritious meat, then to me that is symptomatic of how capitalism works. iE there doesn't seem to be much that can be done to change things, whether from 'within' or from outside.
PS- thanks for posting this, I'm glad I read the article...
on June 28, 2013
at 12:34 PM
So, I guess my confusion lies over what "many farms that raise grass-fed meat" means in terms of a hard ratio. From my understanding of the article, fescue, while hardy for the grass, is going to screw with cattle health. Obviously in a large-scale commercial grass-fed farm, losses are acceptable and don't affect the bottom line enough eliminate profits, but what about small farms? I know the farm I buy my meat from rarely has more than 5 or 6 cows grazing at any one time and probably another 5 or 6 on their way to the slaughterhouse (at least as far as I can tell) and isn't turning huge profits, so the farmer literally cannot afford to lose a cow. I somehow doubt this farm is an anomaly when you're talking about small, local farms that do pasture raising.
Now, don't take this as an attack on capitalism or industralization (I heartily support those things, provided the short term benefits aren't overshadowed by the long term costs), because it's not. I think it's just an indicator that our own health, as well as the health of the animals we raise, may still be best served by buying from local farmers; when you buy local you usually have the option to actually tour the farm and talk with the farmer about how he/she raises the animals. That's probably the easiest way to figure out if fescue is affecting the cattle.
So...in answer to your actual question, I'm not sure grass-fed profits have led to less-nutritious meat (it's unclear from the article whether fescue-infected cows are nutritionally deficient in some way) but they certainly have led to poorer health for the animals we eat. Still, you don't have to be a part of that system just because you want to eat grass-fed, as I noted above.
on July 01, 2013
at 07:31 PM
Doesn't this simply illustrate that not every farming/grazing practice is appropriate for every location?
If it is profitable there's bound to be a bit of greenwashing going on in the industry. I suspect no grazing operation (at least not small scale) would intentionally sicken cows though, not good for profits in the long run. "Grass fed" just like "organic" shouldn't be taken at face value. Since we lack regulations to control for these sorts of things, it is on the consumer to research the source of their food.