Like most American families, we enjoy the many benefits of eating meat. In the past, we relied on local grocers to find our favorite cuts. Each cut of beef was beautifully laid out on a piece of styrofoam, shrinkwrapped, and prominently displaying that bright red color of freshness. Then, with a little research, we began discovering the unfortunate truth behind the engine that has become industrialized food production.
What if I told you 80% of meat production in the United States is controlled by a handful of companies? Imagine the sheer impact of that statement. Does the American family farm still exist? Despite that staggering statistic, the family farm survives amid relentless pricing pressure from industrialized agriculture.
The primary goal in industrial farming is maximizing growth rates. These operators may use growth hormones (steroids), genetically engineered breeds, and over feed antibiotics to prevent illness in the herd. How do I know if the meat at my grocer was given hormones, unnecessary antibiotics, or from genetically engineered breeds? You don’t!
The feedlot is the first major entry point of the beef “engine” and the overwhelming majority of cattle, naturally raised or not, end up here. Most have seen feedlots in photos...thousands of animals packed into muddy excrement covered paddocks being force fed grain. This is where engineering and science collide. They have mastered the correlation between grain fed and weight gain in order to maximize livestock growth in the shortest period of time. How do they keep all those animals free from infection in such confined bacteria filled space? That’s easy...lots and lots of antibiotics. It’s become so well integrated that the antibiotics are premixed into the feed.
After the livestock have reached optimal size they are shipped off to the processing plant. These facilities are similar in scale to 8 Walmart’s stuck together, surrounded by loading docks. Inside, you’ll find a system that is much more akin to a science fiction movie than the thousand year old tradition of butchering meat. These meat processors complete the slaughter and butchering of livestock at a breathtaking pace. All of the meat from thousands of animals "neatly" flows through one station after another until it reaches its desired finished state, either commercial cuts or primals (much larger pieces of meat that are finished by the butchers in your grocery store). How would a family know if the meat at their grocer came in contact with tainted product in the processing facility? They don’t!
Finally this bright red delicious beef arrives at the local grocer. Each time a family goes to the store to buy food for the week, they purchase a handful of different meat items...each item coming from different livestock of unknown origin, of unknown exposure to steroids, of unknown exposure to antibiotics, of unknown exposure to disease or contaminants. This troublesome image is compounded even further when purchasing ground beef, as it may be the ground pieces of many different animals. In any given year, a family would likely eat meat from a hundred, if not thousands, of different animals.
When my family learned this we took action and began buying naturally raised whole beef. We eliminated the feedlot, the commercial processor, and the unknowns. Every time we reach into our freezer to prepare dinner, we know where our meat came from and that we are making smart choices for our family and our community.