The Difference

Factory Farming. Since the 1960s, most of the meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products in the U.S. have been mass produced. Old McDonald’s Farm has been replaced by large confinement facilities that produce a year-round supply of meat, chickens, eggs, and dairy products at a reasonable price. Although the food is cheap and convenient, factory farming is creating a host of problems, including:•

Animal stress and abuse• Air, land, and water pollution• The unnecessary use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs• Fewer independent farmers and more low-paid farm workers • The loss of small family farms• Food with less nutritional value Unnatural Diets. Animals raised in factory farms are given diets designed to boost their productivity and lower costs. The main ingredients are genetically modified grain and soy that are kept at artificially low prices by government subsidies. To further cut costs, the feed may also contain “by-product feedstuff” such as municipal garbage, stale pastry, chicken feathers, and candy. Until 1997, U.S. cattle were also being fed meat that had been trimmed from other cattle, in effect turning herbivores into carnivores. This unnatural practice is believed to be the underlying cause of BSE or “mad cow disease.”

Animal Stress. A high-grain diet can cause physical problems for ruminants—cud-chewing animals such as cattle, dairy cows, goats, bison, and sheep. Ruminants are designed to eat fibrous grasses, plants, and shrubs—not starchy, low-fiber grain. When they are switched from pasture to grain, they can become afflicted with a number of disorders, including a common but painful condition called “subacute acidosis.” Cattle with subacute acidosis kick at their bellies, go off their feed, and eat dirt. To prevent more serious and sometimes fatal reactions, the animals are given chemical additives along with a constant, low-level dose of antibiotics. Some of these antibiotics are the same ones used in human medicine. When medications are overused in the feedlots, bacteria become resistant to them. When people become infected with these new, disease-resistant bacteria, there are fewer medications available to treat them.

Lower Nutritional Value. Switching grazing animals from their natural diet of grasses to grains also compromises the nutritional value of their meat and dairy products. The net result is that the food has more of the things you don't want in your diet and fewer of the nutrients that are good for you. For example, compared with natural grass-fed meat, meat from animals raised in feedlots contains more total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. It also has less vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and two health-promoting fats called omega-3 fatty acids and “conjugated linoleic acid,” or CLA. Taking animals away from their native environment and feeding them an unnatural diet gives us nutritionally inferior food. Caged Pigs, Chickens, Ducks and Geese. Our chickens, turkeys, and pigs are also being raised in confinement. Typically, they suffer an even worse fate than the ruminants. Tightly packed into cages, sheds, or pens, they cannot practice their normal behaviors, such as rooting, grazing, and roosting. Laying hens are crowded into cages that are so small that there is not enough room for all of the birds to sit down at one time. An added insult is that they cannot escape the stench of their own manure. Meat and eggs from these animals are lower in a number of key vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Environmental Degradation. When animals are raised in feedlots or cages, they deposit large amounts of manure in a small amount of space. The manure must be collected and transported away from the area, an expensive proposition. To cut costs, it is dumped as close to the feedlot as possible. As a result, the surrounding soil is overloaded with nutrients, which can cause ground and water pollution. When animals are raised outdoors on pasture, their manure is spread over a wide area of land, making it a welcome source of organic fertilizer, not a “waste management problem.”

The Art and Science of Grassfarming. Raising animals on pasture requires more knowledge and skill than sending them to the feedlots. In order for grass-fed beef to be succulent and tender, for example, the cattle need high-quality forage, especially in the months prior to slaughter. This requires healthy soil and careful pasture management, which keeps the grass a optimal stage of growth. Because high-quality pasture is the key to high-quality animal products, many people who raise animals on pasture refer to themselves as "grassfarmers" rather than “ranchers.”

Back to Pasture. Since 2000, several thousand ranchers and farmers across the United States and Canada have stopped sending their animals to the feedlots. Instead, they are keeping the animals home on the range and feeding them food that is as close as possible to their native diets. They do not implant the animals with hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. They are content to let the animals grow at their normal pace. Animals raised on pasture live very low-stress lives. As a result of their superb nutrition and lack of stress, they are superbly healthy. When you choose products from pastured animals, you are eating the food that nature intended. You are also supporting independent farmers, protecting small farms and rural communities, safeguarding the environment, promoting animal welfare, and eating food that is nutritious, wholesome, and delicious.

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