Thursday, 8 May 2008


I have been reading the Feb / March edition of America's "Mother Earth News" which is part of the Grow-off Show-off prize from last year (some competitions are fun!). There are some dreadful things happening in the USA with cows and I am not sure how far down this road the beef industry in Australia has followed. (Following...why are we following anyone?..Another topic for another day!) By the time I turned off my light to go to sleep last night I felt physically sick, after reading this article, and even reading Roger Doiron's lovely article on Brussel Sprouts did not stop the nausea that comes with total disbelief and almost fear for humankind.

Here is the gist of it....

The cow
has a digestive system that starts with the rumen which is designed to convert fibrous plants such as grasses to a nutritious, easily-digested meal, further along its digestive system. The cow grows in a slow and steady way on such a diet and is a relatively happy and healthy animal.

The human
has decided that if the cow could be made to grow faster then profits would be increased as time is money.

The calves
spend 7 - 9 months on grass and then they are sent to feed-lots. They have various things done to them including worming, vaccinating, de-horning and given food mixed with anti-biotics. Then they are implanted with pellets containing growth-promoting steroids. The food they receive from here on consists mostly of things not normally eaten by cows - high-energy grains such as corn being just one example.

The problem
is the high-grain diets make cattle sick because the rumen becomes too acidic. They may begin to drool, hang their heads, kick at their belly and eat dirt and later develop growths and abscesses on their livers. In a feedlot these symptoms are considered 'normal'. (Do you feel sick yet? No? Then read on...)

The solution
to keeping them alive and gaining weight, is to add higher doses of anti-biotics to the diet. But..

The human
wants to cut more costs to make more profit so they begin to substitute other, cheaper things for the grain, such as 'by-product feedstuffs', which means anything left-over from some other process. Examples include nutritious ingredients such as beet pulp and carrot tops to junk food like stale bread and pizza dough, old chips, potato peel and sweets or even heat-treated rubbish. In New York state, old chewing gum (still in its foil wrappers!) has been found to be useful and was even recommended in the 1996 Journal of Animal Science as something that could safely replace 30% of the grain in feedlots. Now that the cost of corn is going up because of its use in the bio-fuel industry, more and more rubbish is being fed to the cattle in feedlots. Chicken feathers, salvaged pet food and ground-up, ex-laying hens are some of the prize finds as they are higher in protein.

The nutrition
levels of this meat are disgustingly and predictably very low and it doesn't look good or store well in the shops. So

The human
now packages it in nice little sealed foam trays, which have been gassed and the meat itself has been 'flavour and moisture enhanced'. ie It is injected with a water and chemical solution to make it look fresh, mask off-flavours and ensure it is tasty and juicy. The meat from ordinary, old-fashioned cows, raised in paddocks, doesn't need any of this.

How do you feel now? It has been on my mind all night, not because I thought everything was good in the meat industry before but because I didn't realise that humans could be so immoral, so cruel and so.....plain bad. If you don't want to be vegetarian, and I don't, eat feral or wild meat (goat, pig, rabbit, deer and soon camel, as well as kangaroo - isn't that enough choice?) available from 'Wild Oz' at the central market or be sure to buy free-range meat from a reputable butcher such as Barossa Foods, also at the central market.


Anonymous said...

Great post Kate. I think it is so important to be aware as a consumer. Beef isn't the only meat raised this way, sheep are also feedlot 'finished'. My son studies agriculture at school and the financial bottom line is what they focus on. I don't want to be a vegetarian either, so we raise our own meat. It is good to know what has gone into (or not gone into) producing your meat. My sister thinks we are barbarians for having our lambs and cattle butchered but she still buys eggs from caged birds.

belinda said...

Hi Kate,

As I can't find any humanely raised meat in my area that fits within my budget, except very occasionally, we decided that basically Vegetarian it must be.

We are planning to get chooks and maybe a goat to supply our basic animal protein needs but I can't really see the structure of our diet changing much... meat will from here on in be considered a luxury.

Kind Regards

Pattie Baker said...

I love how you laid this post out, Kate.Great job. And now you see one of the big reasons why going veg made sense for me last year. And a bit of what I'm dealing with here in the States.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

This is the main reason I became vegetarian some 20+ years ago. While the humane treatment of animals is of course an issue, the idea of eating something that I have so little control over is something I just reject outright.

While I don't think eating meat in reasonable quantities is inherently unhealthy, there are indications that most diseases people die from are probably meat related (most cancers, heart and circulatory problems, and so on) and it's almost certainly related to how the meat is produced.

Have you read Omnivore's Dilemma? Michael Pollan goes into a lot of detail on this subject.

I personally don't think the situation with meat in Australia is all that much better than the US, it's certainly not much better here in Europe.

Kate said...

The amount of meat we eat at one meal is a tiny fraction of what the big American meal consists of. Moreover, half our meals don't contain meat anyway.I just cook good food - meat is just one ingredient that may or may not be included, like any other ingredient.
As I get our meat from unusual sources like the feral meat stall at the market and from friends who have a heritage sheep or 2 on their small, organic property I never encounter 'commercially farmed meat' and there are many market stalls in Adelaide that would be horrified to think that people may need to even ask if their meat is free-range. Adelaide is a very easy place to find great food! The feral meat is purely that - unfarmed and wild, caught and butchered within our state (which is mostly desert or semi-arid so animals tend to congrugate at water holes) and provides a service to the native wildlife. Like you all, I would not eat something so out of its natural life-style as feed-lots are. In Australia though, we have enormous space and there is still a proud 'free and natural' type of attitude prevailing and so much emphasis on keeping the clean, green image for export. We are, fortunately, a long, long way from the USA! I haven't read Omnivore's Dilemma, mostly because I have read other, similar things and I feel pretty sure about what I am doing. Next I will write about fish and fishing in Australia and what I do. Coming soon to a blog near you!