Holy Cow
"Green" Beef Catches On

In the increasingly industrial world of North American cattle production, organic farms are the exceptions. While other farmers send their calves off to crowded feedlots to be fattened on grain enriched with nutritional supplements, a new breed of alternative rancher is keeping their young animals close at hand, to spend their final months before slaughter on the green, green grass of home.

In NATURE’s Holy Cow, viewers visit one of the leaders of the “alternative” ranching movement, Colorado’s Lasater Ranch. There, the Lasater family is demonstrating that they can raise high quality, organic beef using methods that many experts say are friendlier to the environment — and healthier for beef eaters. And although skeptics doubt that such methods will ever supply most beef to consumers, others credit ranchers like the Lasaters with demonstrating the benefits of the “grassfed” movement.

Once, all beef cattle were grassfed — spending their entire lives grazing on farm fields or prairie. These days, however, beef calves typically spend the last few months of their lives in feedlots, where they are fattened on special feed, and often given drugs to ward off disease. Mainstream producers say such methods have helped guarantee a steady, reasonably-priced stream of meat to consumers.

   

Dale Lasater nurtures one of his cows.

Critics, however, say cheap meat has come at the expense of safety. They argue that the modern approach has had dangerous consequences, such as the spread of food-borne illnesses caused by bacteria, and even deadly “mad cow disease,” a fatal neurological disease caused by eating contaminated beef. Researchers believe mad cow is spread by giving cattle feed that includes bone meal and brain or spinal cord tissue taken from other diseased cows (that practice is now banned in the United States and other developed nations).

To avoid such problems, grassfed ranchers feed their animals only pasture grass, legumes, and hay. And while just a few consumers were once aware of the existence of such beef, a series of disease scares — including the late 2003 discovery of a “mad” cow in the U.S. that led to the destruction of hundreds of animals — has helped spark greater interest.

“The silver lining in this horrible situation is that it is getting people to think about what they are eating and how it is produced,” says Marlene Groves, president of the Colorado-based American Grassfed Association, an alliance of several dozen alternative ranchers and food purveyors.

Some consumers prefer grassfed beef because they believe that the production method is kinder to the environment and more humane to animals than large-scale commercial production. But others are interested in potential health benefits. “Nutritional research shows these products to be much higher in [beneficial chemicals], and lower in fat and cholesterol,” says Groves. And grassfed consumers “don’t have to worry about E. coli contamination,” she adds. (E. coli is a common bacteria that, in some forms, can be deadly.)

Such claims have helped increase demand for grassfed products. But the ranchers still face major challenges. Many major grocers don’t carry the products, forcing consumers to order them over Web sites or through specialty stores. There are few national standards that define true “grassfed” agriculture. And, so far, grassfed methods have proven to be more expensive than competing industrialized methods, relegating grassfed beef to niche markets.

Still, Groves is optimistic. “I think this may be the beginning of a revolution where people examine the evidence and make better choices for themselves and their families,” she says. “Ultimately, I believe this movement will benefit independent family producers, such as grassfed producers, who are more closely connected to the food they produce.”

Tags: , ,
  • Marilyn C.

    Having watched the documentary “Earthlings”, I have gone from hopelessness and grief to finding hope alive and well because of ranchers and farmers like these. For those who chose to still eat meat, they can find local sources of sustainable farming practices through http://www.eatwild.com. Ranchers like the Lasater family are the heroes here, and I applaud them.

  • Gwendolyn

    I agree with Marilyn, if you feel you must eat meat it is better for you, the environment and most importantly (to me!) the animals to eat organic, grass fed animals. It is heartbreaking for we humans have completely exploited all aspects of nature, including each other, primarily for financial profit. This, ironically, has not increased our GNH. Science and industry must now undo the misguided damage of “better living through chemistry” and “greed is good” and work in accord with nature rather than trying to exploit and control it. We can not undo the European colonization of America, but we could look to the ways of Native American culture to try and undo the harm that our lifestyle has brought to the earth, air, water and animals.

  • Luis

    I believe that sustained growth in the plant goes through a return to farming because there are few things more environmentally sustainable livestock that reasonable criteria. Abogados

  • Miguel

    Enterate de todo lo que pasa a tu alrededor

    http://www.investigando.net

  • Joseph

    Well actually the occurrence of mad cow disease was caused by an unnatural diet. When cows eat ivan released on brain and spinal cord of animals? are ruminants and is now the experiments in order to increase profits in food is not safe. For the rest I agree with a href=”http://abogados-abogado.com”>abogado. Greetings and congratulations on the Web.

  • Joseph

    Well actually the occurrence of mad cow disease was caused by an unnatural diet. When cows eat ivan released on brain and spinal cord of animals? are ruminants and is now the experiments in order to increase profits in food is not safe. For the rest I agree with a Abogado. Greetings and congratulations on the Web.

  • Neils

    Yes it is !
    “I agree with Marilyn, if you feel you must eat meat it is better for you, the environment and most importantly (to me!) the animals to eat organic, grass fed animals. It is heartbreaking for we humans have completely exploited all aspects of nature, including each other, primarily for financial profit. This, ironically, has not increased our GNH. Science and industry must now undo the misguided damage of “better living through chemistry” and “greed is good” and work in accord with nature rather than trying to exploit and control it. We can not undo the European colonization of America, but we could look to the ways of Native American culture to try and undo the harm that our lifestyle has brought to the earth, air, water and animals.” rFactor F1 mods Circuitos Ferrari

  • Escort

    Excellent Article

  • Pepe
  • Juanes

    Well actually the occurrence of mad cow disease was caused by an unnatural diet. When cows eat ivan released on brain and spinal cord of animals? are ruminants and is now the experiments in order to increase profits in food is not safe. El perro más grande del Mundo

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 THIRTEEN Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.