In college when the food service would serve us a chunk of meat covered in brown gravy, we would call it “mystery meat.” Today, for many consumers, there is a good deal of mystery surrounding meat. Social media has been doing a great job of spreading all kinds of myths and falsehoods about meat. Not knowing any better, many consumers accept these myths as truth. In an effort to dispel the myths and present the facts, the American Meat Institute has created a serious of short on-line videos that address some of these myths. They are available on a web site called Meat Mythcrushers.
One of the myths this series crushes is the idea that, as Americans, we eat too much meat. Vegetarians, vegans, and animal activists are always criticizing Americans for eating too much meat. They claim it leads to obesity and poor health. In reality, we are not eating too much meat. The USDA recommends that the average person consume 7 oz of protein from meat sources. Per capita consumption in the US averages around 6 oz. Furthermore, nutritionists advise that protein from meat and protein from plants is different, so simply using plants to replace meat will have an impact on your health. This is especially true in children where protein impacts a child’s ability to learn.
Another myth that is based on perception not reality is that large livestock operations do more damage to the environment than small ones. This has been proven not to be the case. Larger operations use less land, bring cattle to market faster, use water and other natural resources more efficiently, and have a smaller carbon footprint than smaller operations. This is not to say that smaller operations are bad, but they are not the ecological Mecca that some portray them to be.
Another meat myth steeped in emotional lore is that grass fed beef is better than grain fed. While the two production systems are vastly different, the fact is one is not environmentally better than the other. A recent study also showed that one does not produce better meat than the other. Texas A&M University Department of Animal Science researchers have published two research studies comparing the effects of ground beef from grass-fed cattle versus grain-fed cattle on risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes in men. Ground beef from grass-fed cattle contains three times the omega-3 fatty acids than ground beef from grain-fed cattle, but it is higher in saturated and trans-fat. Ground beef from conventionally produced, premium ground beef is high in oleic acid and lower in saturated and trans-fat than ground beef from grass-fed cattle. These studies have shown that grass feeding cattle doesn’t increase the amount of oleic acid in beef, as a quarter pound beef patty from grain-fed cattle has more than 2-grams more oleic acid than that from grass-fed cattle. Bottom line, no scientific evidence so far supports the claim that consuming ground beef from grass-fed cattle is a healthier alternative to ground beef from grain-fed cattle.
Antibiotics in livestock production is a hot topic, and the Mythcrushers page has several videos on this subject. One points out that most antibiotics used on livestock is done to prevent or cure diseases in the animals, just as in humans. In addition, the FDA requires a withdrawal period from the time a drug is administered to an animal and when that animal can be processed for food. The fact is that there are only 2 classes of drugs that can be used to enhance livestock production and neither of these are used by or on humans. Thus, there can be no resistance buildup.
One topic I was surprised to see tackled by Mythcrushers was the question of whether livestock know they are going to die when they get to a slaughter plant. To deal with this emotional landmine, they brought in Dr. Temple Grandin, who discussed her own personal research and observations. She concludes that animals have no idea what is happening when they get offloaded at a packing plant. Her research compared cattle behavior and stress levels walking up a chute at a feedlot, a veterinarian facility, and a packing plant. The cattle acted the same and had the same stress levels in all three situations. Grandin says animals are more likely to fear distractions (such as reflections on a wet floor) than they are the actual slaughterhouse chute. She says we, as humans, are quick to impose our concept of life and death upon animals, but the reality is that animals are animals and not humans.
As consumers, we have the right to choose the kind of meat we want to eat, at least at present. So if you want to eat grass-fed meat from small farms that don’t use antibiotics, that is your choice. But make your choice based on the facts, and not emotional poppycock you read on facebook. I would strongly suggest you visit Meat Mythcrushers and watch a few videos; you just might learn a few facts about the meat you eat.
By Gary Truitt