Fri Feb 15, 2013, 10:14 AM
Turborama (21,641 posts)
Why Beef Is Becoming More Like Chicken
A new cattle drug called Zilmax is being widely used in the industrial feedlots where most of America’s beef comes from, but not because it produces a better sirloin. In fact, it has been shown to make steak less flavorful and juicy than beef from untreated cattle. Many feedlot owners, big meatpackers, and at least one prominent industry group resisted the drug, worrying that the beef industry would turn off consumers if it started churning out lower-quality steaks.
So what accounts for the sudden popularity of Zilmax? Zilmax is a highly effective growth drug, and it makes cattle swell up with muscle in the final weeks of their lives. And despite concerns within the industry, the economics of modern beef production have made the rise of Zilmax all but inevitable.
The beef industry has been shrinking for decades, a problem that can be traced to cheap chicken. Poultry companies like Tyson Foods figured out in the 1930s and ’40s how to raise chickens in a factory-like system. Using a business model called vertical integration, poultry companies like Tyson began to control every aspect of animal production, from the hatchery to the farm and the slaughterhouse. After the dawn of vertical integration, chickens were raised in barn-like warehouses on the farm, killed and butchered along assembly lines nearby, and, later, shipped out to big customers like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart—with every step of the process dictated by the same company. In the 1990s, the same model was widely applied to pork production, cutting out the middlemen and leading to a drop in pork prices (after adjusting for inflation).
As chicken got cheaper, it took top billing on fast-food menus. Beef got pushed aside. Some companies have tried to vertically integrate cattle production, but it has never panned out economically, thanks to the stubborn biology of cows. Chicken and pigs have offspring in big numbers, which lends itself to industrial-sized barns. (Hens lay a steady supply of eggs that yield full-grown chickens in about two months; sows bear big litters of piglets that reach maturity in about six months.) But a cow can only have one calf at a time, and the gestation period lasts nine months. After that, a calf suckles from its mother for about four months. It would be exorbitantly expensive to confine that life cycle in a warehouse, since the cow and calf would have to be sheltered and fed for over a year, just to get one full-grown heifer out of the deal. As a result, the vast majority of calves are still born and reared on wide-open ranchland, where herds of them eat free grass and stick by their mother’s side.
But cattle producers still imitate the heavily industrialized chicken industry to compete. Zilmax is part of a new regime for raising cattle that emphasizes higher production and cost-cutting wherever possible. This regime is what created the modern-day feedlot, where thousands of cattle, after being raised on open ranchland, are corralled on muddy hillsides to spend the last few months of their life eating corn. It is also what necessitates the battery of pharmaceuticals and feed additives that cattle must consume to stay healthy and gain weight—as Michael Pollan and others have noted, cattle didn’t evolve to digest corn, so they easily become sick on feedlots without careful monitoring.
11 replies, 2063 views
Why Beef Is Becoming More Like Chicken (Original post)
|we can do it||Feb 2013||#9|
Response to rurallib (Reply #1)
Fri Feb 15, 2013, 10:30 AM
Nydari (79 posts)
2. Buy from small local farms
www.eatwild.com is a great resource.
Factory farms, both plant-based and animal-based, need to be shut down. They are a blight.
Support your local farmers and ranchers as much as possible.
Response to Nydari (Reply #2)
Fri Feb 15, 2013, 01:39 PM
onestepforward (3,691 posts)
11. I know my rancher.
I emailed him with a request and met him at the local farmer's market yesterday. He raises beef humanely without all the drugs. I don't eat much meat at all, but when I do, I get it from him.
I also know my farmer and subscribe to a local CSA where I get weekly deliveries of fresh produce grown organically.
I wish that everyone had access to fresh, clean food like I do.
Here's another source for finding local meat and produce:
Response to Turborama (Original post)
Fri Feb 15, 2013, 11:17 AM
laundry_queen (7,843 posts)
some chicken has become downright inedible. I say that as someone who occasionally buys chickens from local hutterites or menonites and every time I'm AMAZED at how good the non-supermarket chickens taste. It's gotten to the point I refuse to buy frozen chicken breasts, because they taste funny and are almost as fatty as the fresh thighs I usually buy.
I don't buy beef very often. I used to buy an entire cow from a local hobby farmer whose kids showed their cows on the 4-h circut and then you would buy the animal at auction and they'd butcher it for you. (Weird thing is they'd always give you a picture of the cow you bought. So you could see the cow while it was alive.) I don't have the means to do that anymore, so I rarely buy beef, but when I do, I haven't noticed a huge difference in taste from the 4-H cows, and I'm one of those people who is picky picky about taste. I hope farmers refuse to use this drug, much like here in Canada they refused to use the growth hormone in their dairy cows. The corn fed crap is bad enough.
Response to laundry_queen (Reply #4)
Fri Feb 15, 2013, 11:40 AM
WCGreen (45,558 posts)
6. I had an uncle who was a butcher back in the 60's and the meat was so tasty...
Even the best steak houses have beef that tastes like what a quarter pounder use to taste like...
Response to Turborama (Original post)
Fri Feb 15, 2013, 11:50 AM
Avalux (31,805 posts)
8. Just another reason why I DO NOT eat meat.
Cruel how we (humans) breed, abuse and kill these animals just because we like how they taste...we pump them full of chemicals and antibiotics so we have more, quicker.
Response to Turborama (Original post)
Fri Feb 15, 2013, 12:26 PM
BrotherIvan (8,288 posts)
10. The growth hormones and antibiotics are a national health crisis
All the hormones and antibiotics are leading to a national health crisis and are costing our country billions. Ever wonder why the US leads the world in obesity or girls are maturing so early? Many countries will not import our meat because of how it is raised.
That said, as I was a vegetarian for a very long time because I thought it helped to alleviate the suffering of animals, it was an amazing local organic farmer who changed my mind (plus the many health problems I encounted eating a heavily grain-based diet). He told me that monoculture and heavy dependence on soil-stripping crops such as wheat and soy is exactly the opposite of good farming practice and is just as harmful to the environment. Monocrops rely heavily on fertilizers and insecticides. The most balanced model is the small, organic family farm where the plants support the people and animals and the animals provide organic fertilizer for the crops in the form of good, healthy manure. There are some farmers who are making rolling chicken coops so they can keep chickens roaming over the crops to gather bugs. Sheep and goats will keep a field planted with alfalfa planted to replenish the soil shorn. And on and on. A farm was created as a self-sustaining system (to a point).
Once we affected this balance by making decisions not on good husbandry but on greed and profit, that balance was disrupted and you see the abominable results we have now.