Enough To Make You Turn Vegetarian

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In doing some research on the differences between ethanol made from corn and ethanol made from sugarcane, I came across the following sentence: “Cows are flatulent because they are fed corn, which they do not normally eat.”

That set me off on another search, to find out if this was actually true.

As Dr. Doolittle says, “I love red-blooded juicy chunks of meat.  Legs of lamb.  Sides of beef and chops and steaks and veal.  And pork of course, my favorite meal.”  But that’s before I found out how this food is “grown.”

I hadn’t devoted much thought to how livestock is raised for the dinner table, I confess, and I always thought what PETA was concerned with was the manner in which they were killed…not the manner in which they were raised.

Of course, I got some inkling a few years ago; when it was revealed that some farmers fed their cows on the remains of “downer cows” – i.e. turning the cows into unwitting cannibals.  Well, it turns out they feed them on a lot more than that.

There was an article in the Feb/March 2008 issue of Mother Earth News that explains exactly what happens to cattle.

It’s all about “factory farming.”

Up until about the 1960s, cattle were raised on family farms or ranches around the country.  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.  The calves grew to maturity, reaching market weight at two to three years of age.  After they were slaughtered, the carcasses were kept cool for a couple weeks to enhance flavor and tenderness.  (This is called dry aging.)  The meat was then shipped in large cuts to meat markets, where shoppers would come by and tell the local butcher what cuts they wanted.

According to this article, “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 tartar (raw ground beef) with little fear.”

No longer

Today, cattle are brought to slaughter weight in just one or two years, by using growth hormones and feed additives.  This reduces the nutritional value of the meat and increases the risk of bacterial contamination.

This artificial manipulation of beef begins prior to conception.  Many cows are treated with synthetic hormones to regulate the timing of conception, so that all the calves are born within days of each other.  And of course, instead of natural conception, there’s artificial insemination.

After the calves are born, they do get to spend their first seven to nine months grazing on grass.  But when they reach 500 to 700 pounds, it’s all over.  They are sold to new owners and transported to distant feed lots.

The journey can take up to a week.  Once they arrive, the stressed, thirsty and hungry calves are herded down chutes and subjected to such things as dehorning, castration, branding and tagging.  Then they are dewormed and vaccinated against various diseases.  Antibiotics are typically mixed with the feed, whether the now-stressed animals show signs of illness or not.

Then, the calves are implanted with pellets containing growth-promoting steroid hormones.  After a few months, new implants of higher potency are used.  This adds 110 pounds of lean meat or more to a calf.

Nine out of 10 U.S. calves are treated with hormonal growth promoters.  The FDA has approved five hormone implant growth promoters for cattle.  Three of these are naturally occurring hormones that are identical to those found in humans.  According to this article in Mother Earth, many consumers and advocacy groups are calling for a ban on these growth-promoting implants because research shows that even trace amounts of these can promote tumor growth.  (And that’s why US beef is banned from the European Union – they don’t’ want it, and who can blame them?)

Another strategy to increase the growth rate of calves is to feed them an ultra high-grain diet.  Calves fattened on grain reach maturity months ahead of grass-fattened calves.  It’s all done for profit – the less time cattle spend in feedlots, the more money is made when they’re sold.  Corn is the grain of choice because it’s especially high in energy – despite the fact that cows don’t eat grains naturally.

And because cows don’t eat grain naturally, they get sick, Deathly sick.  So of course, they have to be given a steady dose of antibiotics in their feed.  And the residues of those antibiotics are, of course, going to stay with those cows when it’s turned into hamburger or steak.

These days, it seems that every year, hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef products are recalled.  Remember the recall in October 2007? Topps Meat Company recalled 21.7 million pounds of hamburger because of potential E. coli contamination.

After reading how cows are grown, I’m not surprised.

If you’re into living green, and are not a vegetarian, be careful where you get your meat from!

Photo by: Melissa Schalke –

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  3. How to Be an Eco-Friendly Milk Consumer
  4. Genetically Engineered Animals and Your Family’s Diet
  5. 5 Tips to Take Care of Pets and Environment
  6. Seafood and the Environment


  1. Carla says:

    Though I’m not vegetarian, I eat very little beef (like once a year) and when I do, its grass fed from small farms, etc. Thanks for the heads up about where this “meat” comes from.

  2. Judy says:

    Absolutely right! Just like in the movie Fresh, Inc. But there are alternatives; humanely raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free, happy cows, lambs, chickens, turkeys, pigs. Polyface Farm, for example (it’s featured in the film) is not only sustainable – for the earth, air, and water – but produces the best of the best (as do so many other wonderful farms). We’re lucky; it’s close by. And Chipoltes fast food restaurant, committed to using only meat from happy animals, shows how it can be part of that industry. The more we support sustainable and healthy sources of meat, the more we affect a change in the system. Support your local farmers, who raise hormone- and antibiotic-free, humanely-raised meat! You can taste the difference and your body will love you for it.

  3. Great article! Thank you for referencing Mother Earth News. We appreciate it, and we’d love it if you could link to the factory farms article on our site that you’ve mentioned. Here’s the URL: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Natural-Health/Meat-Poultry-Health-Risk.aspx. Thank you again for the shout-out, and for joining the discussion of factory farms.

  4. Green Freak says:

    Sad, isn’t it? People these days seem to think their meat comes simply in a plastic wrapped foam plate. They have no clue how it actually gets to the store at all. I grew up in a farming community. Factory farming was always frowned upon, but that doesn’t mean you can stop the corporate giants from moving in.

    I still eat meat, but I try to buy it locally from farmers that actually raise and butcher the animals themselves.

  5. Angel Chavis says:

    Even before I became a vegetarian, I would think of the fact that one hamburger contains several cows and that poop get mixed in with it. How gross.

  6. Christine says:

    The post is really informative. It really is important to make sure that the cattle being raised are fed properly to avoid contamination. But then, microorganisms are everywhere right? everything that enters our body are full of microbes. So no matter how the cattle are raised, we cannot escape the tiny things called germs. =)

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