You Are What Your Animals Eat
by Jo Robinson
In my investigation into pasture-based farming, I've stumbled upon an alarming  void: few people care about the link between the diet of our  livestock and the nutritional content of their products.  "Feed animals anything you want," the research suggests, "and it makes no difference to their  meat, milk, or  eggs."

Browse through  the animal science journals, for example, and you'll see that the goal of most  feeding experiments is to increase production and minimize costs.  Period.  As long as the feed is cheap and the animal gets fat,  anything goes. Here's a glaring example.  A 1999 study published  in
The Journal of Animal Science explored the desirability of feeding  stale chewing gum and its wrappers to cattle.  Wonder of wonders, the  article concluded that a bubble gum diet was a net benefit. I quote:'Results of  both experiments suggest that [gum/packaging material] may be fed to safely  replace up to 30% of corn-alfalfa hay diets for growing steers with advantages  in improving dry matter intake and digestibility.'  In other words, feed a  steer a diet that is 30 percent bubble gum and wrappers, and he'll eat  more.  Needless to say, there was no mention of the nutritional value of  the resulting meat. (When I first read these articles, I assumed that no  one would actually feed bubblegum to their animals, despite the "positive"  results of the studies. Then a professor of animal science drove me by a  Beechnut gum factory in upstate New York where dairy farmers used to buy  truckloads of bubblegum to feed to their cows. The only reason the practice  stopped is that the factory closed  down.)

Researchers studying human nutrition have been just as slow to see the  connection between animal diets and human diets. To most dieticians, beef is  beef, eggs are eggs, and milk is milk.  Few  pay any attention to what  the animals were fed or how they were raised. Thus, when  the USDA  guidelines say 'eat less red meat,' the edict applies to
all red  meat, whether it's a fatty steak from a grainfed cow, or a lean steak from a  grassfed cow with its invisible bounty of omega-3s, vitamin E, and  CLA.   I have spent the past three years trying to connect the dots between animal feed  and human food.  It's been arduous work. For the past 50 or so years,  virtually all our information about the nutritional value of meat, eggs, and  dairy products has come from grainfed animals. To discover the nutritional value  of grassfed products, I've had to search through moldy journals published  before the advent of factory farming, extrapolate from small studies financed by  individual farmers, and rely on studies based in Ireland, Australia, or New  Zealand; parts of the world where pasture-based farming still  survives.

Finding the  amount of vitamin E in grassfed beef has been my biggest challenge.  I  began to search for this data as soon as I learned that grass has 20 times more vitamin E than corn or soy.  Given the magnitude of this difference, I  reasoned that meat from grassfed animals must have an extra helping of vitamin  E.  Diligently, I searched  the scientific record.  At long last, I located one study that compared the  amount of vitamin E in grainfed and grassfed meat.  The impetus for the  study came from disgruntled Japanese buyers who complained that the meat from  American feedlot cattle spoiled more quickly than the meat from Australian  free-range cattle. To find out why, the Americans decided to measure the vitamin  E levels in the two types of meat. (Antioxidants such as vitamin E are known to  prolong shelf life.) Their tests revealed that meat from grassfed cattle has three to four times more vitamin E than meat from feedlot cattle.  How  did they use this data? They decided to add more artificial vitamin E to  feedlot diets. 

What can be done about the lack of interest  in raising animals in a more natural environment? The underlying problem is that  most of our animal research is funded by commercial interests--- primarily the  grain, chemical, pharmaceutical, farm equipment, and meat-packing  companies.  Together, these vertically integrated behemoths have a  multi-billion dollar investment in perpetuating factory farming.  The USDA,  meanwhile, devotes the bulk of its effort to supporting and tweaking the feedlot  system. It is more willing to spend $100,000 on a new piece of equipment  designed to measure the odor that wafts off manure lagoons than to spend a  similar amount on exploring the odor-free grazing  system.  What  will it take to rearrange the priorities of the USDA? An enlightened public. And  what will it take to enlighten the public? A sustained media campaign.  But  since there is no money to fund such a campaign, the breakthrough will have to  come from investigative journalism. A journalist from a major TV show such as  "60 minutes" or "Dateline" or a prestigious newspaper such as
The New York  Times or The Washington Post will decide to explore the stunning  differences between raising animals on pasture and in confinement. Building on  this ground-breaking work, Bill Moyers or another respected TV journalist, will  produce a one-hour documentary on  pasture-based farming.  The program  will conclude---as it must---that raising animals on pasture is better for  consumers, animal welfare, the environment, and small-scale farmers. Before  long, dozens of TV shows, newspapers, and magazines will have followed suit and  launched their own investigations into the new  phenomenon.

All of a sudden, grassfarming will be the talk of the town. Serving organic  meat won?t win points in Los Angeles anymore unless it's grassfed as well.  Meanwhile, Ted Turner will have stopped sending all of his bison calves to  feedlots to be fattened like cattle, and by 2005, his 'Turner Reserve Grassfed  Bison' will be
the thing to serve at celebrity  gatherings. Propelled by this groundswell of interest, investors and  institutions will finally devote more time, money and energy to supporting  pasture-based farming.

Will grassfarming really become the darling of the  media? Only time will tell. But even if it doesn't, there is evidence that  grassfarming is gathering momentum the old fashioned way?word of mouth.  Friends are telling friends about the health benefits of pastured animal  products, and they're turning the curious into converts by inviting them over to  share in a feast. I've gotten calls from quite a few grassfarmers this  year who say they're having trouble keeping up with demand. The good news  about grassfarming seems to be spreading---one satisfied customer at a  time!
Jo Robinson is a New York Times bestselling  writer. To purchase her 128-page book, Why Grassfed Is  Best!; ($9.50  plus shipping) go to Also, visit her website to find suppliers of grassfed products and new research  about grassfarming.
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