What You Need to Know About The Beef Industry

The beef industry has turned supermarket beef into an unnatural, industrial product. The good news is there are better and safer options. Learn how to avoid hormones, antibiotics and other unwanted chemicals in your food; stay safe from mad cow disease and E. coli, and choose better natural beef.

| February/March 2008

Hormone Injected Beef

You can assume that most of the beef in your supermarket contains hormone residues.

Illustration by Keri Rosebraugh

You can’t see it. And you can’t always recognize it by reading the label. But the beef in your supermarket has gone industrial.

Before factory farming took hold in the 1960s, cattle were raised on family farms or ranches around the country. The process was elemental. Young calves were born in the spring and spent their first months suckling milk and grazing on grass. When they were weaned, they were turned out onto pastures. Some cattle were given a moderate amount of grain to enhance marbling (the fat interlaced in the muscle). The calves grew to maturity at a natural pace, reaching market weight at two to three years of age. After the animals were slaughtered, the carcasses were kept cool for a couple weeks to enhance flavor and tenderness, a traditional process called dry aging. The meat was then shipped in large cuts to meat markets. The local butcher divided it into individual cuts upon request and wrapped it in white paper and string.

This meat was free of antibiotics, added hormones, feed additives, flavor enhancers, age-delaying gases and salt-water solutions. Mad cow disease and the deadliest strain of E. coli — 0157:H7 — did not exist. People dined on rare steaks and steak tartare (raw ground beef) with little fear.

What’s in Your Beef?

Today’s beef industry process brings cattle to slaughter weight in just one or two years. But it reduces the nutritional value of the meat, stresses the animals, increases the risk of bacterial contamination, pollutes the environment and exposes consumers to a long list of unwanted chemicals.

The U.S. beef supply contains traces of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals that were never produced by any cow. That hamburger looks fresh, but it may be two weeks old and injected with gases to keep it cherry red. Take a closer look at that “guaranteed tender and juicy” filet of beef. The juiciness may have been “enhanced” with a concoction of water, salt, preservatives and other additives.

More ominous, the beef also may be infected with food-borne bacteria, including E. coli 0157:H7. Some experts believe this toxic E. coli evolved in cattle that were fed high-grain diets. Every year, hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef products are recalled. One of the largest recalls to date took place in October 2007 when Topps Meat company recalled 21.7 million pounds of hamburger because of potential E. coli contamination. The massive recall actually put the company out of business.

sarah clark
3/6/2012 5:33:18 AM

Today's society is so demanding yet they're complaining with their mouth full. Grass fed beef vs grain fed beef. Antibiotics and hormones vs. naturally raised cattle. How are we going to feed up to 10 billion people in 2050? There is talk that improving crop yields, reducing deforestation and reducing meat and dairy consumption will help cope with the increased demand in food production. Although all logical suggestions, the proposal that meat and dairy consumption should be reduced is thought of by livestock industry producers as another attack on animal agriculture. Farmers work hard every day to provide families all over the World with safe a nutritious products. 1.8 million fewer farms are feeding a U.S. Population that has increased 61% since 1960. How are today's farmers supposed to feed that large of a population with livestock that is "naturally fed roaming freely on the small family farm with the big red barn"? This way of production is simply far out of the question. This article states that the grain and forage used to feed beef can be utilized to feed the rest of the starving world. Until humans are equipped with ruminant stomachs to digest forage, we cannot hope to effectively make use of all crop resources without livestock as a food source. There is nothing wrong with organic products. After all, its a good way for producers to bring in more profit because uneducated consumers are more willing to pay more for products with the labeling "organic" or "naturally grown". The problem with producing grass fed cattle in large amounts is that few regions have the growing seasons to make it possible to support "naturally grown cattle" year round. With today's World population sky rocketing, eliminating grain-fed beef is out of the question.

t brandt
5/14/2011 5:32:34 PM

This article is full of un-truths and misinformation. Two pages are devoted to scaring us about MadCowDisease: no cases in 20 years, while 700,000 Americans were killed in auto accidents in that period. Is there a problem here? "Growth hormones" used in cattle are basically estrogens. The amount of natural estrogen in a serving of potatoes is 16x greater than the amount in a serving of beef. Antibiotics are used more for their metabolic benefits than for their effects on bacteria. They require a "wash out" period before slaughter and are essentially not present in the meat we eat. While they may be causing resistance in bovine bacteria, these are generally not human pathogens, so there is essentially no effect on human health. BTW- E.coli O157:H7 was always present in cattle; we just didn't know it. There are fewer than 70 deaths a year from that strain, and we eat something like a billion servings of beef here per year. Just cook it right and you don't have to worry. Technically, there are in fact differences in the nutritional content of grassfed beef vs feedlot beef, but these are of essentially no clinical significance. As far as feed goes, I love my free-range chicken eggs. The hens spend a good part of the day in the manure based compost heap. I raise "natural beef."It tastes better to me and my customers,but it does cost more. If you can't afford to buy "organic" don't worry about it. You're still getting a safe, nutritious product when you shop at the PigglyWiggly.

keith hallam_1
6/9/2010 1:40:58 PM

The bottom link says make a better beef burger. Why on earth would anyone want to take good beef and make it into a burger? If it's the shape you like just cut the steak in a round shape and fry it with a little sliced onion on the side. All the bits you cut off to make it round, cut into strips and fry them as well. Burgers.... I ask you!!

vince dobson_2
4/15/2010 12:47:21 PM

Skeptic --- YOU SAID "I don't see anything in the above article about the malnutrition that animals are exposed to when on a 100% grass diet" WHAT? Where did you get that idea? I grew up on a cattle farm where all of the cattle ate nothing but pasture grass suplimented by hay taken from those same pastures to use in the wintertime when there wasnot enough grass available. All of our beef was no one prime and certainly none of them were malnourished. Each year we would pick the young steer we were going to have slaughtered for our comsumption. We had cattle that were a mix of black angus and other stock like milk cow stock, white face and brangus. We had the best steak you could imagine. i can even remember grilling round steak and it was tender and delicious. None of it was from a malnourished animal. That, my friend was the most uninformed statement I have ever seen.

gerald r kinney
11/30/2008 2:59:30 AM

I enjoyed this article about what is in our meat and I couldn't agree more. But n reality can an individual really do? The only thing that is reasonable would be to try and raise our own cattle again whether for dairy or for meat. In California farm land is at such a premium that it would have to be a co-op or a conglomerate effort. In this article when it was mentioned about adding certain antibiotics to feed or injection to foster the cattle to get more nutriants out of the feed it was almost like me taking them. When I was growing up as it said here, in the 60's and 70's my Grandfather never used these antibiotics. The last thing I might mention is my son and daughter were in the FFA and when we bought feed for their goats(couldn't afford cattle), we tried to buy feed without any antiboitics(hard to do) we thought of something we did for ourselves when we had an upset stomach and that was unflavored yogurt. We tried that on our goats and guess what? It worked! They started to pull more nutrients out of their feed. We tried something else for awhile which was called a "Probios Paste", same type of biotics as yogurt but more expensive. We whent back to yogurt. Just a thought, and what does anyone think? Anyone ever try this? Let me know here if you can.

1/23/2008 8:42:24 AM

Let's all employ critical thinking skills here and stop taking everything we are reading at face value! I don't see anything in the above article about the malnutrition that animals are exposed to when on a 100% grass diet. Neither 100% grass or 100% grain is good. Why don't people realize that cattle, like people, need a balanced diet in order to be healthy. I've never heard the junk about feeding garbage and chewing gum either and as someone who has been raised in the Midwest on a family farm and had some exposure to the "big" evil feedlots, I have a hard time believing that this is a widespread practice. I am so tired of people using scare tactics to prove their points. Let's have some real science here.

1/22/2008 4:24:39 PM

The conversation about whether organic standards would ever allow cloned meat to carry the certified organic label are still underway. Buying organic meat is one way to ensure that your meat is free of hormones, antibiotics and byproduct feedstuffs. But it's not the only way. You may also choose to purchase meat from farmers you trust. Find producers at www.eatwild.com and www.localharvest.org, check the farmers market or natural foods store in your area, and don't be afraid to contact producers. Anyone who is unwilling to answer your questions about how the animals were raised is not someone you want to purchase meat from. Yes, these kinds of meat seem expensive. But that's only because the rest of the meat at our grocery stores is artificially cheap. We pay for it tax money that cleans up environmental hazards caused by factory farming. We pay for it in health care costs. We pay for it when we subsidize the farmers who grow grains to feed animals that should be eating grass. It's also worth noting that some producers of high-quality, grass-finished meat choose not to go the certified organic route. That doesn't mean that their meat is chemically altered, but rather that they choose to employ honest methods and are willing to talk directly to consumers about their standards.

1/22/2008 3:27:59 PM

How do I know if the meat I'm buying will be coming from a company that will be using the cloned animals? I would love to strictly buy organic but prices are so steep. Is that the only way to be sure that I'm not getting cloned or chemically altered meat?

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