Activism Healthy Living Real Food

Whole and Healthy Meat…Does It Really Exist?

Eating meat in the modern world could be compared to playing Russian Roulette. If it is cooked thoroughly, nine times out of ten you probably won’t get sick from eating it – not immediately anyway.

Repeated consumption of what is known as factory-farmed or industrially-produced meats is actually hazardous to your health. This meat is largely what you will find available at most grocery stores, restaurants, cafeterias, and other places that serve food (and yes, even at your neighbor’s house when you are invited over for a homemade dinner).

Over time, this activity will greatly contribute to many health issues like heart disease and colon cancer. What are factory farms and why do they adversely affect meat and our health? Let’s find out!

Factory farms

First of all, animals (cows, pigs, and poultry) raised in a factory-farmed environment lead unnatural lives. They are often confined to small quarters, and are not allowed to roam or graze. Sometimes they are in metal structures where they stand on concrete, or in large, barren swaths of dirt and stand or lay in their own excrement.  They are not allowed to carry out natural behaviors such as grazing, foraging, or rooting. The primary purpose of these farms is to make a profit, so little effort and consideration is given to the animals’ comfort or health.

Conditions are filthy and unsanitary in these operations. The result is often that animals become ill and must be treated with medications and antibiotics. Farmers give the animals regular doses of antibiotics to reduce the incidence of sickness and illness, but the downside is that this creates antibiotic resistant bacteria. Animals are also administered growth hormones in addition to antibiotics.

Both substances cause the animals to grow larger and at a faster rate, which in turn equates to quicker turnaround on selling animals for slaughter to make room for more animals being born…and the cycle continues.

Because these facilities are a far-cry from a real farm, the government refers to them as animal feeding operations or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). CAFOs usually refer to a much larger number of animals being processed. If you have ever driven past a farm like this, you’ll know it by the terrible stench of toxic gases being released into the air due to the poor conditions where the animals reside (besides the obvious appearance of industrial buildings and no grass).

The noxious odor is actually responsible for a great deal of pollution which affects soil, water, and air as well as illness and death to employees of the operation. Oh, and incidentally, if you are a taxpayer – some of the money you pay goes toward controlling this pollution.

Antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides

Animals on feedlot facilities are given hormones and antibiotics to make them grow faster and to increase profits. These substances make the cattle’s intestinal tract acidic and contributes to disease. Hormones affect their health adversely too, and residues are passed on in the meat you eat to affect your intestinal, circulatory, endocrine (hormonal) and overall health in negative ways.

Bad feed and GMOs

Animals raised in feedlots are fed grain, soy, corn. Why should that matter? Cattle are ruminants and are not meant to consume grains. Their digestive systems are designed for grass consumption. Remember the antibiotics? Those are given because the animals become sick from eating grains they were never designed to ingest in the first place. This also causes the meat to be too high in Omega 6s – something most people in developed countries like the U.S. have too much of, and is to blame for many chronic and degenerative diseases.

Most factory farms feed cattle corn and soy, the majority of which are now genetically modified (GMO) organisms from companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont. These have been linked to many health issues for soil, environment, and humans.

So there you have it: unhealthy animals being made to live in completely unnatural conditions and eating food they were never meant to eat. That’s a recipe for disaster! Yet huge factory farm environments are pervasive, even the norm, throughout our lands. And they make billions and billions of dollars.

Is it really cheaper?

If you ask the average person, he or she might try to convince you that industrially-produced meat has a cheaper price tag. On the surface, that appears to be the case.  But don’t be fooled – it is a myth that cheaper meat is truly more affordable. If you consider the the true cost of factory meats – that is, the massive damage incurred to both health and environment – you’ll see that sustainable meat is less expensive.

Every time you visit the doctor or hospital because you eat a poor diet, you are maintaining a losing financial system. You’ll be paying for your bad habits in spades for years to come – doctor bills, surgeries, prescription drugs, missing work, and rising insurance premiums. If you are eating and living healthy, you will stay out of the doctor’s office and over time, save money.

Big money equals bigger power

So why is this whole situation allowed to continue? One reason is that huge multi-billion dollar corporations run these farms and dominate the market with monopolies in the industry. They also receive massive subsidies from the government. These systems are designed to put through as many animals in as short a period of time as possible to maximize profit, thus making it much more difficult for smaller, more eco-friendly family farms and operations to continue doing business. It’s a system geared toward rewarding those who rake in big money and punishes the hard-working, less powerful, small-time farmer.

According to federal regulations, factory farms fall under the “agricultural” rather than “industrial” category. Therefore they are not required to the regulatory scrutiny that should be mandated given the massive amount of production and resulting pollution generated.  These agribusiness giants hire powerful lobbyists capable of influencing government agencies which monitor agricultural practices. The result is industrial operations which have free reign to hire employees (often illegally) who receive low pay, unsavory working conditions, and no benefits, erect their businesses with disregard to the impact realized on neighboring communities, and cause a tremendously negative impact on the environment. And that’s where your meat comes from.

Sustainable farms

In contrast, a sustainable farm maintains their facilities with the health of the animals and the environment as the priority.  The main idea behind sustainable food is that everyone involved in the process of farming benefits in some way – from the workers, to the animals, to the farmer, to the environment, to the consumer.

Currently there are no government regulations about sustainable farming, so it’s important to conduct research into any food you are purchasing from farms calling themselves ‘sustainable’.  The closer to home (local) your food is, the more sustainable it is likely to be. Keep in mind, there are plenty of people who do live near factory-farm and industrially-produced food, so it is important to do your research.

Sustainable farms are pretty much the opposite of the factory environment – animals have room to roam, graze, and just be animals. Farmers treat their animals as naturally as possible. All animals eat grass, alfalfa, or some other type of hay. Poultry and birds roam free and eat insects, worms, and forage in the dirt. If sustainable farmers do use medications or antibiotics, the incidents are isolated and most practices involve removing the animal being treated from the main farm environment for an extended period of time (up to one year).

Sustainable and organic…what’s the difference?

You may not be aware that sustainable-produced food is not necessarily organic. Here are the differences:

1) Organic farms must be certified annually by the USDA to carry the label. The sustainable principle is a philosophy and a way of life.

2) Organic farms often produce food in a sustainable manner. On the other side of the spectrum though, standards for organic simply require animals have “outdoor access”. This could be something as menial as through a window screen. And, it means the premises could have a dirt or cement area on which animals spend a majority of their time. So the difference is that sustainable farms provide the room animals need to carry on natural and healthy behaviors, whereas organic may or may not.

3) Organic farmers are prohibited from using antibiotics on animals, while sustainable farmers can choose to use them if their animals become ill, or not at all.

4) Hormone use in animals is prohibited in organic or sustainable-raised animals.

5) Organic farms may be small or corporate (and subsequently, could be operated much like a factory-farm) while sustainable food is raised by small farmers. Farm size is also key – organic farms can be small or large and sustainable farms are maintained on much smaller land plots.

6) Travel distance – your food can travel any distance and still be labeled ‘organic’. Sustainable food never travels too far.

Can organic food be sustainable at the same time? Yes it can. But many corporate operations are using the term ‘organic’ to sell products because there is now an automatic association between its mention and health. Be aware that some of these operations do not farm sustainable products. Do your homework to find out what practices are in use.

Be certain in your research, that when you purchase meat or dairy from a farmer, you distinguish between animals fed grass for the majority of their lives and then finished on grain, and those who eat grass for the entirety of their existence. The former is still grain-fed and cannot technically be in the true grass-fed category, and will not carry the same superior health benefits of all-grass fed meat.

Compare, factory and sustainable for health

For years, most health rhetoric has told us that we should curtail eating a lot of red meat because of things like saturated fat and cholesterol.  What many studies conducted don’t take into account is the content of the meat being consumed. Here is a side-by-side health analysis of factory-farmed meat and sustainable grass-fed meats:

Factory-farmed                                                 Sustainable-farmed

high in calories                                                       low in calories

high in carbohydrates                                         low in carbohydrates

low in protein                                                          high in protein

high in unhealthy, obese fat                            contains the right types of healthy saturated fats

The content of meat is critical as to how it is absorbed and nourishes the body. Just think about how nutritionally empty and unbalanced meat produced from factory farms is, not to mention chock full of toxins and harmful substances (this shouldn’t be a surprise given the process it endures to get to the grocery store).

In order for meat to properly nourish our bodies, it must contain the correct ratio of  protein and fats, and in particular, essential fatty acids. That means Omega 3s and Omega 6s at a ratio of about 0.16 to 1. Grain-fed meats can have an Omega 6 to 3 ratio that exceeds 20:1.

As compared to conventional meats, grassfed meats are higher in the following nutrients:

  • Beta carotene
  • Vitamin E
  • Vaccenic acid which can be converted to CLA in the body
  • B Vitamins Riboflavin and Thiamin
  • potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and other minerals
  • Vitamin E and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), powerful antioxidants which prevent cancer

“Grain-fed beef can have an omega 6:3 ratio higher than 20:1”– J. Anim. Sci. 2000. 78:2849-2855

Truly sustainable grass-fed meats and dairy products achieve these requirements perfectly.

Here’s a study from the National Cancer Institute

“The bottom line is we found an association between red meat and processed meat and an increased risk of mortality,” said Rashmi Sinha of the National Cancer Institute, who led the study published in March of 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In contrast, routine consumption of fish, chicken, turkey and other poultry decreased the risk of death by a small amount.

“The uniqueness of this study is its size and length of follow-up,” said Barry M. Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “This is a slam-dunk to say that, ‘Yes, indeed, if people want to be healthy and live longer, consume less red and processed meat.’ “

Neither Mr. Popkin nor Mr. Sinha outwardly stated that their study was done specifically on factory-farmed meat. But, because the majority of people who eat meat consume the factory-farmed variety, it is more than likely that this study means to tell us that factory-farmed meat causes disease. We know all factory farmed meat is processed beyond recognition from a real, whole food. Therefore, by his own admittance, Mr. Popkin and his colleague are confirming that eating factory-farmed meat can cause a person’s life expectancy to be shorter. No debate.

We can reasonably draw the conclusion, then, that when you hear people say things like, “the average person has 5 pounds of undigested meat in their colon”, they are referring to this horrific, meat-like substance people have been consuming in developed countries for the last hundred or so years. The advent of factory farming began just before the turn of the 20th century (late 1800s). Coincidentally, heart disease in the United States took a sharp upturn during the 1920s and has not let up since. The other major disease which has paralleled with the rise of factory farming is of course, colon cancer.

Sustainable is the solution

There is indeed a viable way for all citizens to make a noticeable impact on the horrors of the factory farming. Sustainable farms have a vested interest in maintaining their practices for the good of everyone, and won’t compromise your health or environment to increase profts. Here are some things you can do starting today:

  • Look for local produce, dairy, and meat products grown on smaller farms which use safe practices (no pesticides, organic soil management, no hormones, antibiotics, etc.). CSAs are good places to start, and ask around to locate other farms that grow the types of food you are interested in buying.
  • Encourage and others and educate your family and friends on the benefits and necessity of buying local and from farms that use safe practices for growing food.
  • If you have a farmer’s market, visit it regularly. The money spent on those products will go toward minimizing waste and fossil fuel usage, reduce damage to health and environment, and supporting the smaller farms and your local community’s economy.
  • You can use the Eat Well Guide to search for farms, restaurants, merchants and more who support sustainable farming.
  • Get involved locally and nationally on the issue of stopping factory farms in their tracks. Visit The Petition web site to sign and send in your signature saying you don’t support these operations of death and destruction.

For more information about getting involved to end abuse, suffering, and damage caused by factory farms visit Factory Farming Campaign.

50 replies on “Whole and Healthy Meat…Does It Really Exist?”

WONDERFUL POST!!! So happy that you showed exactly how meat can be raised so that it is healthier for you and the animal while INPROVING the environment!

Our pastures have improved and our grass is growing faster, with raising our Pastured Beef. Most of us sustainable farmers/ranchers out here will also be much pickier about how our animals are handled. We are slower and much more careful about how we handle our animals. We make sure that they are happier and thus healthier!

I don’t think we need to fight “factory farming” with politicians or laws. WE NEED TO FIGHT WITH OUR DOLLARS. Know what you buy, and know WHO you buy from.

If you purchase froma small farmer/rancher you will also (probably) be buying more affordable meat.

Keep up the great work!!

Shanen aka GreenRanchingMom

Shanen – thank you for your comments! They are appreciated! Please keep up the great work and know that I support you in spirit 100 percent even though I don’t live near enough to purchase your meat. I do honestly believe we can make a difference if we educate and solidly persist in the idea that sustainable farming will be a workable solution for the future. And you are right, our dollars spent in those realms will speak loud and clear.

I do think factory farming should be banned, though. Perhaps that’s an extreme point of view, but it’s an abombinable practice that shouldn’t be legal. It feeds a lot of people, but not well. It destroys the environment and human health, and does not honor the animals nor treat them humanely. Will it ever actually be illegal? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean I won’t do everything in my power to put and end to it.

Thanks again Shanen!

I dunno. Vegetarians use the same claims about red meat causing mortality to claim that we shouldn’t eat any meat at all. I mistrust food studies anyway because far too often they are based on having people fill out questionnaires. I did surveys for pay for a while at Pinecone and similar sites, and I can tell you I am no good at remembering every minute detail of everything I’ve done over the past three months, much less the past ten years. They give these questionnaires to people, expect those people to remember what they ate and all they look at is the red meat–and the numbers are not accurate to begin with, and there’s another problem too.

That problem is that for a long time Conventional Wisdom has been telling us that meat is bad for you in large amounts. So who’s more likely to eat it? Especially red meat? People who are already engaged in other risky behaviors, is my hypothesis. I bet that if you found some way to honestly assess what people eat, and then cross-referenced with what bad habits people follow, you are going to find that red-meat eaters are more likely to smoke, drink, and eat lots of refined carbohydrates. Everybody screams about the fat in a Big Mac; nobody notices the bun on the sandwich, the fries on the side (other than to complain about their fat content), or the full-sugar soda bought as the accompanying drink.

It isn’t just fast food. Look at the Standard American home-cooked meal, a barbecue for instance, and you’ll find many, many more examples.

I don’t doubt sustainable red meat is better for me than CAFO red meat, but fat content has nothing to do with it, and red meat in itself isn’t a problem. I would guess the fatty acid profile in CAFO meat IS a problem, although there are ways to balance that out for someone who really can’t afford to buy grass-finished. And I guarantee you a lot of us *can’t* afford it, but thanks for looking over the budgets of everybody in the United States so you could tell us one way or the other.

Yeah, that was sarcastic. I’m kind of annoyed, though, at the way the healthy-food movement makes people neurotic but doesn’t seem to offer much in solutions other than “we need more people like Jamie Oliver” or “we need more legislation.” If it’s that big a problem–and I agree it is–and you’ve got the resources, take up small-scale animal husbandry. I know a guy who lives here locally who solved the problem of low availability of sustainable chicken and eggs for himself by becoming a chicken farmer. His eggs are pretty good, too, and he treats his animals well.

And let me stress that meat being lower in fat is NOT a good thing if you are also paring back on grains and refined carbs. We need lots more fats in our diets, anyway, than Conventional Wisdom will allow. They’re finally admitting we need oil for our salads or else the carotenes therein are useless. I wonder if it’ll take another thirty years before they finally admit that most fats not only don’t kill you but are necessary for survival and thriving.

The problem with fat content in red meat is that in contrast to our past experience as foragers (hunter-gatherers, gatherer-hunters or whatever you want to call it), we eat grazing animals at a much younger age (for the animal, that is) than we used to do. Younger animals equals leaner animals. Hunters in olden times would go for the older animals, not because they were slow and sickly but because they had nice fat stores built up. Fat is a buffer against excess protein consumption, which causes a buildup of ammonia in the system and can lead to rabbit starvation when the person experiences major stress. It’s also important in several bodily processes and in the assimilation of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins.

I think that’s why corn-fed beef appeals to people. As bad as it is for the cow, it takes an animal that in the wild wouldn’t have been hunted, it’s too young and too lean, and puts on the fat that the animal wouldn’t have had for another few years at least. Makes it more like something we would have sought out in our forager past.

If the grass-finished beef people insist on making low-fat content one of their selling points they’re not going to last for long, unless folks figure out they can make up the lack of dietary fat through full-fat dairy, or insist on continuing to follow a high-carb diet–and let’s hope they figure out how to do it in a healthier way than how people are doing it at present.

Even then, you’re not going to see optimum health outcomes. When Weston Price surveyed what he termed “primitive” populations around the world, although he found they had far fewer cavities and health problems than their industrialized counterparts of the same ethnic background, the ones eating the highest proportion of carbs in their traditional diet also had the highest number of dental caries. That was also a population consuming high amounts of full-fat dairy, for what it’s worth.

So… There’s a difference between finding the secrets to good health, and being on the right track, I guess.

Dana – I’m definitely ad advocate for eating more fats – traditional, healthy fats, that is. With that said, it is a basic fact that the fat profile for grass-fed meats is lower, and it’s because of the way the animals are fed, as you probably know. There’s a big difference between the CAFOs fat content and the grass-fed beef cattle fat content.

I think what we should be going for here is quality over quantity in fat. I think if you eat healthy food and you eat until you are full, your body will know how much fat, protein, carbohydrates, and calories you need. So that’s why dieting, done by so many people, is a bogus activity. It doesn’t take into account the amounts of fat or protein people need to be healthy and have ample amounts of energy.

The comparison of fat, calories, and protein ratios between CAFOs and grass-feds is important. The fat to protein ratios are naturally balanced in the grass-fed, whereas the CAFOs meats are off-balance. I mentioned that the fat contents were lower in grass-fed meats not to try to convince people that low-fat diets are better, but just to show a side-by-side comparison between the two meat samples, and that the way the grass-fed meats come out is naturally balanced, and it just so happens to be lower in fat. It is not substantially lower, but all the same, it is lower. It is also the correct ratio for health and well-being. So please don’t misunderstand what was stated in the post.

I totally agree with you, people don’t eat enough fat – definitely not enough good fats for certain – and fats are villanized to death by the health industry and media. People rarely talk about the damage done to our health by eating all the factory-farmed meat that is what’s most prevalent in our food supply, only the fact that the meat is killing us. Totally off-base and not addressing the facts, which is that what’s killing us is the food in our industrial food system.

Raine… thanks for clarifying your point to Dana, and Dana… thanks for bringing up a good point. I think it was the line where you (Raine) wrote “In order for meat to properly nourish our bodies it must be naturally lean…” that throws a curve ball. Modern meat production has been systematically breeding for “lean” to the exclusion of good, especially in pork, which I would also include under the “meat” classification. It’s misleading for people to believe that meat needs to be “lean” to be healthy. That pastured meats tend to be leaner may be a side effect of their production method but the bottom line is that a pound of good quality of fat is still going to be better for you than a half pound of poor quality.


Brian – coconut oil, palm oil, and palm are great for deep frying. The environmental issue you mention is important; there are companies who harvest these oils sustainably and responsibly. Tropical Traditions, Nutiva, and Beyond Organic are good examples of companies who produce sustainable coconut oil products.

Most coconut oil harvesting does not pose a threat to rainforest environments. Coconut trees are very efficient absorbers of carbon. It’s the palm harvesting that I have read, poses a bigger threat. You have to do the research to find out which companies are sustainable in their practices. I know for a fact that Beyond Organics uses sustainable practices, and they sell palm oils.

If you don’t wish to use coconut or palm oils, you can use lard and tallow from pasture-raised animals – a very sustainable product and food, as well as being extremely nutritious.

This is the appropriate blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You understand so much its nearly hard to argue with you (not that I truly would need…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Nice stuff, just great!

Wow, I have defiantly learned a lot here today. I raise my own beef and chickens on pasture grass, but I grain fed at the end to fatten them up. Not going to happen any more. I have been on an seizure medication and I have never had seizures but I have small episodes of nerological disorders in my brain. I am getting more convinced that it is contributed to many of the foods we eat due to FDA approvals of killer additives to our foods, aspartame, cotton seed oil, MSG, hydronated fats, generically modified products, and the list goes on. All part of population control by our government hence FDA approval of known killer chemicals in our foods as fillers to make the rich get richer. Sorry, my opinion.

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