Last week, Paleo guru Robb Wolf posted a scathing rebuttal to a Fox Business – John Stossel investigation into the relative merits of corn-fed and grass-fed beef. Today, I chip in my two cents.
In the Stossel report, Mr. Moustache came to the conclusion that grass-fed beef is an inferior product that:
- Doesn’t taste any better than corn-fed beef
- Is worse for the environment than corn-fed beef
- Costs more than corn-fed beef
- And is no more nutritious than corn-fed beef
Watch the latest video at <a href=”http://video.foxbusiness.com”>video.foxbusiness.com</a>.
Stossel’s objectivist analysis of the beef industry has led him to believe that the corn-fed beef produced by America’s industrial agricultural companies is a superior product deserving of it’s large market share and that anyone who eats grass-fed beef is sacrificing their best interests in favor of some romantic ideal that olde-tyme farming is somehow better.
Too bad he’s wrong.
Stossel’s in-house taste test led him to conclude that people can’t really taste the difference between corn-fed and grass-fed beef.
As taste preferences are subjective, I am willing to give Stossel this point.
However, I have to note that since most Americans never eat grass-fed beef, I found it surprising that they didn’t notice any difference in the taste. The first time I tried grass-fed beef, I thought it was strange. Strange because it was different than the corn-fed beef I was used to eating. Just like the first time I ate sushi or drank coffee or downed a wee dram of single malt scotch.
At first taste, different almost always tastes wrong.
We like what we’re used to eating. But, like I said, tasting is subjective.
Stossel’s science expert (Dr. Jude Capper) claims that corn-fed industrial beef is better for the environment than grass-fed beef.
Industrial cows grow faster (corn, growth hormones, et al) and as a result are ready for slaughter sooner (15 mos. vs 23 mos.). And since we kill them 8 months sooner, they have less time to expel methane gas into the environment.
However, they neglect to mention the massive amounts of fossil fuels required to:
- prepare the land for corn production,
- create the chemical fertilizers & pesticides used in corn production
- harvest, dry & store the corn
- transport the bulk corn – rail, sea & road
- process the corn – milling, mixing, extruding, pelletizing, etc
- distribute the corn to individual farms
They also neglect to mention the local environmental damage caused by the huge pools of animal waste created at large scale industrial cow lots
During his taste test, Stossel mentions that the grass-fed beef costs twice as much as the corn-fed beef. This difference in price is attributed to the higher efficiencies of the corn-fed beef operations.
And this may be at least partially true.
Common sense would tell you that a large industrial farm is going to have economies of scale that a family farmer can’t match. However, as Stossel said in the video, common sense isn’t always right. And in this case, a recent UN study into the effectiveness of agroecology concluded that ““today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production“.
In addition, neither Stossel nor Dr. Capper mention the massive government subsidies given to industrial farming operations that artificially lower the price of corn & other grain-based cattle feed.
And this is where Stossel’s hypocrisy really starts to eat into his Objectivist street cred.
I find it hard to believe that Ayn Rand’s classic version of laissez faire capitalism would allow for Big-Agri lobbyists and selective government subsidies.
Dr. Capper says that the difference in nutrition between corn-fed and grass-fed beef is a very small difference in fatty acid profiles.
She neglects to mention:
- the slight difference in fatty acids are really not that slight. We’re looking at an Omega 6 : Omega 3 fatty acid ratio of 3:1 in grass-fed beef and a 20:1 ratio in corn-fed beef
- the high levels of e-coli found in industrial corn-fed beef cattle
- the chemicals – fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides stored in that delicious beef fat
- the high doses of antibiotics, steroids, and growth hormones given to all industrial corn-fed beef cattle
- the fact that industrial corn-fed cattle are sick for much of their lives – feedlot bloat, acidosis, diarrhea, ulcers, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio. While this can’t be quantified in the nutritional profile of your filet mignon, which steak would you choose – one from a cow that was sick all the time or one that lived a “normal” life?
In this story, John Stossel uses America’s beef industry as an example of how Ayn Rand’s laissez faire economics allows the best amongst us to produce at their highest levels and create a better society for the rest of us.
Unfortunately for Stossel, not only do the facts fail to support his argument, he exposes his own hypocrisy by ignoring the very behaviors (mooching & looting) that Rand railed against in her masterpiece – Atlas Shrugged.
Who is John Galt?
He sure as heck doesn’t work for the industrial beef industry.
Maybe he’s working on his small family farm producing America’s best grass-fed beef cattle?
- Fox News – John Stossel: Busting another food myth
- United Nations Framework for calculating fossil fuel use in livestock systems