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.

  • Hormone Injected Beef
    You can assume that most of the beef in your supermarket contains hormone residues.
    Illustration by Keri Rosebraugh
  • Industrial Beef Illustration
    Today’s industrialized process 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.
    Illustration by Keri Rosebraugh
  • Salty Meat
    Check ingredient labels to find out if meat has been unnaturally “enhanced.”
    Photo by Matthew T. Stallbaumer
  • Antibiotics in Meat
    An estimated 70 percent of all the antibiotics used in the United States are now being given to healthy animals to improve their growth and performance.
    Illustration by Keri Rosebraugh
  • High Grain Diet Beef
    When calves are finished on high-grain diets, a certain amount of suffering is simply taken for granted.
    Illustration by Keri Rosebraugh
  • natural beef
    Finding alternatives to the beef in your supermarket can take a little extra work, but you’ll be rewarded with healthy, flavorful beef free of added hormones, antibiotics and other unwanted nasties.
    Illustrations by Keri Rosebraugh

  • Hormone Injected Beef
  • Industrial Beef Illustration
  • Salty Meat
  • Antibiotics in Meat
  • High Grain Diet Beef
  • natural beef

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!!



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