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Sun Feb 17, 2013, 11:46 AM

Why Beef Is Becoming More Like Chicken (cheap, uniform, and bland)

Full article (worth a read) found here.

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.

<snip>

As Zilmax gains popularity, it is creating a kind of positive feedback loop. As more feedlots use it and more meatpackers accept it, more of their competitors feel pressured to do the same just to keep up, even if they have concerns about Zilmax’s effects.

Cargill, for instance, accepted Zilmax only grudgingly. Cargill’s own studies found that Zilmax can hurt beef quality, and for years the company had a policy of refusing to accept cattle treated with the drug. But by the middle of 2012 Cargill felt it had no choice but to accept Zilmax-treated cattle. Meatpackers like Cargill buy cattle from independent feedlots, and Cargill decided that too many feedlot managers were using Zilmax for the company to keep refusing to accept it.

“To keep our plants running and meet customer demand, we find ourselves in a position where we must harvest cattle that have been fed growth promotants” like Zilmax, Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said in a statement.

<snip>

Last year, the already battered cattle business faced a crisis. Drought caused grain and feed prices to hit record highs, and feeding cattle became too pricey to be profitable in many parts of the country. Many ranchers sold off their cows for slaughter prematurely rather than spend more money to fatten them up. The drought created a perfect opening for Zilmax. Now, drug salesmen are roving Middle America, pitching Zilmax as an antidote to hard times in cattle country. With Zilmax, a feedlot owner can get more meat from a cow without feeding it any additional grain or letting it drink any additional water. According to one Zilmax salesman, using the drug could help a feedlot owner make about $30 in additional profit per cow by adding about 33 pounds of extra meat to each carcass.

More: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/food/2013/02/zilmax_the_cattle_growth_drug_that_s_making_beef_more_like_chicken.single.html

13 replies, 1550 views

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Reply Why Beef Is Becoming More Like Chicken (cheap, uniform, and bland) (Original post)
Tab Feb 2013 OP
skepticscott Feb 2013 #1
cbayer Feb 2013 #2
Laurian Feb 2013 #3
pinto Feb 2013 #4
Major Nikon Feb 2013 #5
intaglio Feb 2013 #6
cbayer Feb 2013 #7
intaglio Feb 2013 #9
pinto Feb 2013 #8
cbayer Feb 2013 #10
Warpy Feb 2013 #11
sir pball Feb 2013 #12
womanofthehills Feb 2013 #13

Response to Tab (Original post)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 11:48 AM

1. Strange, you'd think that

with airlines serving fewer meals these days, there'd be LESS demand for beef that tastes no different than chicken

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Response to Tab (Original post)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 11:53 AM

2. Meat in general just keeps getting worse and worse, imo.

Over the past year, when I have had the opportunity I have bought my meat at whole foods. The difference in taste and texture is remarkable, but so is the price.

But some of the chicken and beef from other supermarkets is so bad, it's not worth paying for at all.

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Response to Tab (Original post)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 12:40 PM

3. Uniform and bland, yes. Cheap, no.

The cost of meat these days is outrageous. Even chicken, which used to be an economical choice is quite high. I try to watch for sales but have recently been opting for more meatless meals.

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Response to Tab (Original post)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 01:23 PM

4. So that's it. Or at least a good part of it, I guess. A beef market here, sells local grass fed beef

There really is a difference. A little pricey, but worth it occasionally. Beef that's really good as is on its own. I shop for cuts there for special events, family get togethers, etc. The rest of the time it's marinate, spice, dice and stir fry...

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Response to Tab (Original post)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 01:24 PM

5. Meat has and is changing. The challenge for the cook is to find ways to modify old recipes

...to suit the products which you have available. You really have two options. You can either figure out ways to get more flavor out of what you have to work with, or you can seek out butchers that sell products that are much higher quality.

I just paid $25 today for one steak($11.99 per pound), and it was sirloin purchased from a more upscale butcher. I could have gotten the same cut of meat from my local supermarket for $4.99 per pound. The biggest difference between the two is one is grass fed and one is finished in a feed lot. I will take this steak and I will age it for one week in my refrigerator, I will rub it with some spices, I will cold smoke it for about an hour in my smoker as it comes up to room temperature, I will finish it on my grill to medium rare, and I will feed 3-4 people with it. Now I certainly could have used the $4.99 cut and gotten very good results, but with the amount of effort I'm putting into it I want a premium cut that's going to produce premium results. The reason the quality of meat becomes less and less is because people want to pay less and less for it. Since most people don't understand or care about the difference in quality, quality is going to suffer in favor of price.

There will always be upscale butchers (at least in non-rural areas), that will provide a premium product for those that are willing to pay for it. Personally I don't eat that much meat in the first place, so what I do eat I want to be good. I do this by either buying the good stuff, or I use methods that make the most out of cheaper, low-quality cuts.

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Response to Tab (Original post)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 01:25 PM

6. In Europe things are different

It is still one of the mane meats that comes from animals on the hoof and it is harnessed to many uses.

Indeed I may trot down to the supermarket and buy some, however much I may bridle at the prices.

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Response to intaglio (Reply #6)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 01:27 PM

7. By "mane meats", do you mean meats that come from animals with manes?

Like horses.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #7)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 01:38 PM

9. Might do ..

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Response to intaglio (Reply #6)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 01:37 PM

8. Sometimes I buy mine on the lamb.

To go, as it were.

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Response to pinto (Reply #8)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 01:57 PM

10. That's right, ham it up, pinto.

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Response to Tab (Original post)

Sun Feb 17, 2013, 05:11 PM

11. The local whole foods (small letters) place has grass fed beef

so when I want to do a rich Italian gravy, I can get that.

I noticed a few years ago that my once a year pot roast was starting to taste like cardboard. Now I know why.

The grass fed stuff is tough as an old boot, but it tastes like it's supposed to.

I don't know how anyone who has ever driven past a feed lot in summer can continue to eat feed lot beef. I can't.

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Response to Tab (Original post)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 08:09 PM

12. Well la-de-FRICKIN-DA!

So McD/BK/Taco Bell and processor pack chubs of ground beef (yes that's an actual term - means generic brand in the plastic tubes) will get cheaper and stay as tasteless; as long as there's still small ranches selling proper grass-fed beef to processors who know how to handle and age it, I literally could not care less what they're doing to commodity beef.

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Response to Tab (Original post)

Tue Feb 19, 2013, 11:26 PM

13. I only eat grass fed beef

Actually, I'm afraid not to. I live out in the country so I can buy grass fed beef from neighbors.

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