7

votes

Have grass-fed profits led to less nutritious meat?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created June 25, 2013 at 4:29 PM

Here's the article: http://www.psmag.com/environment/the-fescue-conundrum-grass-fed-beef-isnt-natural-60963/

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.

Edit

Another article: http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/popular-grass-in-missouri-harms-cattle-zw0z1306zsal.aspx#axzz2XnrA4NJz

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?

C6648ab69e5a1560c7585fe3ba7108fb

(880)

on July 03, 2013
at 02:09 PM

I'd have to agree with you on the note of ethics at the supermarket. Unless you shop at a local market that buys from a local farm, it's a safe bet your meat isn't geting the most humane treatment before it's slaughtered, even if it is grass-fed :\

C6648ab69e5a1560c7585fe3ba7108fb

(880)

on July 03, 2013
at 02:06 PM

Ya, subsidizing the organic certification process for local farmers would be a huge step forward in the Local Food movement.

67871ef2326f29da48f1522827fc0f80

(704)

on July 02, 2013
at 05:24 PM

I'm with you. We never advertised at organic, free-range or grass-fed. For one thing, almost everybody HERE is (it's our norm as it was from when my grandparents carved out farms/ranches when they came to this country). I can't imagine the BS I'd have to go through to get an official stamp. I read about some nun who got into legal issues for making cheese. ::rolls eyes:: I mean, small family operation? Come on.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 02, 2013
at 12:01 PM

I think the concern is that farmers are planting the fescue in areas that previously did not have fescue. And that long term the fescue may become impossible to reverse. As far as intentionally sickening cows, the message boards suggest the opposite....

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 01, 2013
at 05:08 PM

@Matt.... Who knows best? Not the consumer, Not the farmer.

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32564)

on July 01, 2013
at 04:07 PM

Many of the aware consumers I am talking about raise their own chickens and goats, so why not? I think it's up to the educated consumer to decide if they care about animal welfare or not. I became a vegetarian for 14 years because I didn't want to support conventional animal rearing practices. My dollars went to support farmers whose practices I felt good about. Obviously, there are enough consumers who care about GMOS and there is probably little difference in the end product.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on July 01, 2013
at 03:58 PM

Does the consumer know best when comes to animal production? Probably not. Unless there's a end-product difference between endophyte-infected fescue-fed beef and grass-fed beef, what business is it of the consumer? I'm not sure there is a difference (or I haven't seen one yet.)

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 01, 2013
at 02:28 PM

I get most of my beef from a local farm. The farmer explained his costs to me once. The short story, to break event, he has to sell beef at an average of $5.75/lb. Also said that many local restaurants are turning away from local farms and going to large-scale organic meats so that they can advertise "organic" on the menu. Whereas at his production level it is too costly to be "organic", yet his meat probably more closely resembles what we think of when we say organic... The current market is a very sad situation.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 01, 2013
at 02:11 PM

I do question whether and to what extent we have gone too far. For example, species going extinct is part of nature, it happened long before humans walked the earth. We go through such pains to try to prevent extinction -- wildlife preserves, zoos, hunting restrictions, etc... Are we mucking with natural order? What are the unintended consequences of ensuring the survival of these species? Are we stunting the potential evolution of another species?

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 01, 2013
at 02:09 PM

I guess I take a more cold heart-ed approach. I think our responsibility is to our own preservation. So to the extent that we can grow cows that provide us with nutrition, I am not so concerned about the cow's living condition. However, more and more, it appears that it is to our best benefit to improve the environment for all species. And that unintended consequences abound in the quest to optimize our existence.

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:38 PM

You ask big questions lol

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:37 PM

me life at this moment is about about finding a way to doing things that in some tiny way make some things different in some context of other… What of you?

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:37 PM

I don’t think one person can be responsible for the ‘natural’ environment as a whole, in general no one can change the world systemically. Overall I think possible answers to these questions depend on what one’s status is in society. Most people on this site including you and I are extremely well off by global standards, and have relatively no interest in challenging systems that lead to environment being destroyed/animals being treated as nonpersons. Self-interest carries the day. The people, indigenous and other whose environments are being destroyed, I daresay think differently. I guess for

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:36 PM

that managing environments, treating animals well is ultimately to the relative benefit to humans compared to effectively putting future ways of living at risk due to short termist thinking. ‘I am all for ‘present mindedness’ but in way that leads to destruction of ecosystems which I think is generally unethical and ultimately detrimental to humans in the long run anyway…

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:36 PM

Animals are persons as humans are arguably and we have ethical responsbility towards them. This doesn't necessarily mean not eating them imho (although it may), but it does mean that is responsibility to treat well before slaughter. I think a dominant species has and should have more responsibility towards the 'weak' than any other. Sure people are ultimately responsible for themselves, but these very selves arguably cannot be divorced from the (often delicate) ecosystems that we inhabit. Without nature there wouldn’t be much of what is, and even if one doesn't think like this it is arguable

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:11 PM

And you are right about the fact that there is no actual studies the show it's nutrition -- but certainly begs the questions, Why aren't there?

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:11 PM

Thanks for the comment. I too work with a local farm. The farm I go to probably has closer to 20-30 cows at any one time. But they are all pasture raised -- although corn feed is provided. So the meat I get is not "grass-fed". What struck me about this article is the conversations around "ethical" decision making when choosing grass-fed at major supermarkets. Seems to me that the only way to value ethics is buying local and we should remove the ethical quotient from the super-market meat buying utility function.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:07 PM

Part of my question is concerning the ethical argument. Most of the "grass-fed is better" focuses on hormonal properties of meat and ethics. Ethically is this any better? The farmer I work with has pasture-raised cows that have plenty of room to roam and eat grass/hay. But he also provide corn-feed if the cows want it. I've been to the farm dozens of times -- never seen cows with the type of diseases this author speaks of (or maybe they are in the barn)

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:04 PM

re: depression in animals, you can look at things like lethargy, sleeping habit changes, fatigue, and digestive changes as proxy for depression. re: how bad -- fescue foot, fat necrosis, fescue toxicosis -- seem worse to me than depression. re: antibiotics -- organic, anti-biotic free labels do not mean the animals were never given anti-biotics. It means (according to my farmer) that non-symptomatic animals were not given anti-biotics.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:00 PM

Ok, but as the dominate species -- do we have an ethical responsibility of reciprocity? Where is that line drawn? Is our responsibility only to ourselves (i.e. whether it is detrimental to the cows is irrelevant)? Is our responsibility to the environment as a whole?

  • 3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

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6 Answers

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5
67871ef2326f29da48f1522827fc0f80

(704)

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.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 01, 2013
at 02:28 PM

I get most of my beef from a local farm. The farmer explained his costs to me once. The short story, to break event, he has to sell beef at an average of $5.75/lb. Also said that many local restaurants are turning away from local farms and going to large-scale organic meats so that they can advertise "organic" on the menu. Whereas at his production level it is too costly to be "organic", yet his meat probably more closely resembles what we think of when we say organic... The current market is a very sad situation.

C6648ab69e5a1560c7585fe3ba7108fb

(880)

on July 03, 2013
at 02:06 PM

Ya, subsidizing the organic certification process for local farmers would be a huge step forward in the Local Food movement.

67871ef2326f29da48f1522827fc0f80

(704)

on July 02, 2013
at 05:24 PM

I'm with you. We never advertised at organic, free-range or grass-fed. For one thing, almost everybody HERE is (it's our norm as it was from when my grandparents carved out farms/ranches when they came to this country). I can't imagine the BS I'd have to go through to get an official stamp. I read about some nun who got into legal issues for making cheese. ::rolls eyes:: I mean, small family operation? Come on.

4
Cb9a270955e2c277a02c4a4b5dad10b5

(10979)

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?).

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:04 PM

re: depression in animals, you can look at things like lethargy, sleeping habit changes, fatigue, and digestive changes as proxy for depression. re: how bad -- fescue foot, fat necrosis, fescue toxicosis -- seem worse to me than depression. re: antibiotics -- organic, anti-biotic free labels do not mean the animals were never given anti-biotics. It means (according to my farmer) that non-symptomatic animals were not given anti-biotics.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:07 PM

Part of my question is concerning the ethical argument. Most of the "grass-fed is better" focuses on hormonal properties of meat and ethics. Ethically is this any better? The farmer I work with has pasture-raised cows that have plenty of room to roam and eat grass/hay. But he also provide corn-feed if the cows want it. I've been to the farm dozens of times -- never seen cows with the type of diseases this author speaks of (or maybe they are in the barn)

3
Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32564)

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.

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32564)

on July 01, 2013
at 04:07 PM

Many of the aware consumers I am talking about raise their own chickens and goats, so why not? I think it's up to the educated consumer to decide if they care about animal welfare or not. I became a vegetarian for 14 years because I didn't want to support conventional animal rearing practices. My dollars went to support farmers whose practices I felt good about. Obviously, there are enough consumers who care about GMOS and there is probably little difference in the end product.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on July 01, 2013
at 03:58 PM

Does the consumer know best when comes to animal production? Probably not. Unless there's a end-product difference between endophyte-infected fescue-fed beef and grass-fed beef, what business is it of the consumer? I'm not sure there is a difference (or I haven't seen one yet.)

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 01, 2013
at 05:08 PM

@Matt.... Who knows best? Not the consumer, Not the farmer.

3
Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

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...

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:00 PM

Ok, but as the dominate species -- do we have an ethical responsibility of reciprocity? Where is that line drawn? Is our responsibility only to ourselves (i.e. whether it is detrimental to the cows is irrelevant)? Is our responsibility to the environment as a whole?

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:36 PM

that managing environments, treating animals well is ultimately to the relative benefit to humans compared to effectively putting future ways of living at risk due to short termist thinking. ‘I am all for ‘present mindedness’ but in way that leads to destruction of ecosystems which I think is generally unethical and ultimately detrimental to humans in the long run anyway…

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:37 PM

I don’t think one person can be responsible for the ‘natural’ environment as a whole, in general no one can change the world systemically. Overall I think possible answers to these questions depend on what one’s status is in society. Most people on this site including you and I are extremely well off by global standards, and have relatively no interest in challenging systems that lead to environment being destroyed/animals being treated as nonpersons. Self-interest carries the day. The people, indigenous and other whose environments are being destroyed, I daresay think differently. I guess for

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:38 PM

You ask big questions lol

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 01, 2013
at 02:09 PM

I guess I take a more cold heart-ed approach. I think our responsibility is to our own preservation. So to the extent that we can grow cows that provide us with nutrition, I am not so concerned about the cow's living condition. However, more and more, it appears that it is to our best benefit to improve the environment for all species. And that unintended consequences abound in the quest to optimize our existence.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 01, 2013
at 02:11 PM

I do question whether and to what extent we have gone too far. For example, species going extinct is part of nature, it happened long before humans walked the earth. We go through such pains to try to prevent extinction -- wildlife preserves, zoos, hunting restrictions, etc... Are we mucking with natural order? What are the unintended consequences of ensuring the survival of these species? Are we stunting the potential evolution of another species?

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:37 PM

me life at this moment is about about finding a way to doing things that in some tiny way make some things different in some context of other… What of you?

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on June 29, 2013
at 12:36 PM

Animals are persons as humans are arguably and we have ethical responsbility towards them. This doesn't necessarily mean not eating them imho (although it may), but it does mean that is responsibility to treat well before slaughter. I think a dominant species has and should have more responsibility towards the 'weak' than any other. Sure people are ultimately responsible for themselves, but these very selves arguably cannot be divorced from the (often delicate) ecosystems that we inhabit. Without nature there wouldn’t be much of what is, and even if one doesn't think like this it is arguable

2
C6648ab69e5a1560c7585fe3ba7108fb

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.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:11 PM

Thanks for the comment. I too work with a local farm. The farm I go to probably has closer to 20-30 cows at any one time. But they are all pasture raised -- although corn feed is provided. So the meat I get is not "grass-fed". What struck me about this article is the conversations around "ethical" decision making when choosing grass-fed at major supermarkets. Seems to me that the only way to value ethics is buying local and we should remove the ethical quotient from the super-market meat buying utility function.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 28, 2013
at 02:11 PM

And you are right about the fact that there is no actual studies the show it's nutrition -- but certainly begs the questions, Why aren't there?

C6648ab69e5a1560c7585fe3ba7108fb

(880)

on July 03, 2013
at 02:09 PM

I'd have to agree with you on the note of ethics at the supermarket. Unless you shop at a local market that buys from a local farm, it's a safe bet your meat isn't geting the most humane treatment before it's slaughtered, even if it is grass-fed :\

1
6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

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.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 02, 2013
at 12:01 PM

I think the concern is that farmers are planting the fescue in areas that previously did not have fescue. And that long term the fescue may become impossible to reverse. As far as intentionally sickening cows, the message boards suggest the opposite....

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