By Dr. Mercola
I've often said that the differences between organic, pastured beef and that from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is so great that you're really talking about two completely different animals.
The same applies to other animal meats, and animal products such as dairy and eggs. The Epoch Times1 recently featured an article discussing reasons to switch to grass-fed beef. I'd like to add a couple more, relating to the benefits of switching to raw, grass-fed dairy and eggs as well.
Grass-Fed Beef Does Not Promote Antibiotic-Resistant Disease
In the grand scheme of all that is wrong with modern agriculture, the unnatural transition that turned cattle, which naturally eat only grass, into grain-eating ruminants is definitely toward the top of the list.
CAFO cows are fattened for slaughter in gigantic feedlots as quickly as possible (on average between 14 and 18 months) with the help of grains and growth promoting drugs, including antibiotics.
This routine practice, which is done purely for financial reasons, has led to the current scourge of antibiotic-resistant disease, which now kills at least 23,000 Americans each year. Other growth-promoters commonly used in US beef have been banned in most other countries due to suspected health effects, both in animals and consumers.
When you eat CAFO beef, you're also consuming small amounts of antibiotics and other drugs in each bite. Organic, grass-fed standards, on the other hand, do not permit non-medical use of antibiotics. With antibiotic-resistant disease being a major public health hazard, buying organic meats is an important consideration in more ways than one.
Regularly consuming small doses of antibiotics is a surefire way to destroy your gut health, which in turn will have a detrimental effect on your overall health and immune function. Not only does it make you more susceptible to chronic disease, it also increases your exposure to antibiotic-resistant infections.
Grass-Fed Beef = Better Nutrition
Antibiotics and hard-to-digest grains radically alter the bacterial balance and composition in the animal's gut. The natural diet for ruminant animals, such as cattle, is plain grass. When left to their own devices, cattle will not graze on corn or soybeans. Just as in humans, poor gut health in animals promotes disease.
This radically altered diet also affects the nutritional composition of the meat. For example, when raised on a grass-only diet, levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) are three to five times higher in the meat compared to CAFO beef. CLA has been found to have a wide array of important health benefits, from fighting cancer to decreasing insulin resistance and improving body composition.
Grass-fed beef also tends to be leaner, and have higher levels of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It also has a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. So, as noted in the featured article: "When you choose grass-fed beef, lamb or bison, you're eating meats that are more nutritious and antibiotic-free, just as nature intended."
Clean, Happy, Healthy Cows Make for Safer, More Sanitary Beef
CAFOs represent a corporate-controlled system characterized by large-scale, centralized, low profit-margin production, processing, and distribution systems. Traditionally, factory farms are hidden from public view. Certain states have even made making undercover videos taken on such farms — which often show shocking scenes of animal cruelty and filth — illegal.
Quite simply, they don't want you to see what's really going on, because if you did, you would probably turn away in disgust at the mere thought of eating the foods produced there. Grass-fed cows, on the other hand, are free to graze on wide open fields, and are usually tended by farmers who truly care about the health and well-being of their animals—even if they are ultimately destined to become someone's dinner... As noted in the featured article, "grass-fed isn't gross." And it's by far the most humane way to raise food animals.
Contrary to their crowded, confined, stressed-out factory farmed counterparts, organically-raised cattle roam free on open pasture, which makes a tremendous difference when it comes to their health and well-being. As a result, they're rarely sick and hence don't need drug treatment.
Organic farms, which tend to be far smaller in scale, also tend to provide far more sanitary conditions overall, since the animals are not kept in overcrowded barracks day in and day out. As a result, the animals are far less likely to harbor dangerous pathogens, which could contaminate the meat.
Unless labeled as grass-fed, virtually all the meat you buy in the grocery store is CAFO beef, and tests have revealed that nearly half of the meat sold in US stores is contaminated with pathogenic bacteria—including antibiotic-resistant strains. Grass-fed beef is not associated with this high frequency of contamination, and their living conditions have everything to do with this improved safety.
Raw Grass-Fed Milk: Safer and More Nutritious Than Pasteurized CAFO Milk
Many are under the mistaken belief that pasteurized milk is safer than raw milk from a healthy, grass-fed cow, but nothing could be further from the truth. The reason commercial milk needs to be pasteurized is because it comes from sickly cows standing on a rotating assembly line inside a giant metal structure. Since the animals tend to have high rates of disease and contamination, courtesy of the factory farming model, drinking such milk raw would be highly inadvisable! It must to be pasteurized in order to be safe to drink.
This is simply not the case with milk from a grass-fed, pastured cow, raised under clean and healthy conditions. Rather than harboring pathogenic bacteria that must be killed, raw milk from a grass-fed, pastured cow contains a storehouse of nutrition and beneficial bacteria (probiotics) lacking from CAFO milk.
Previous CDC data2 shows there are about 412 confirmed cases of people getting ill from pasteurized milk each year, while only about 116 illnesses a year are linked to raw milk. And research by Dr. Ted Beals,3 MD, featured in the summer 2011 issue of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, shows that you are about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from organic raw milk. Drinking CAFO milk will also expose you to antibiotics, and in many cases the genetically engineered growth hormone rBGH (unless labeled as being rBGH-free), which has been linked to an increased cancer risk.
Besides that, the pasteurization process also transforms the physical structure of the proteins in milk, such as casein, and alters the shape of the amino acid configuration into a foreign protein that your body is not equipped to handle. Although certainly possible with raw milk, lactose intolerance is typically associated with pasteurized milk. The process also destroys the friendly bacteria found naturally in milk and drastically reduces the micronutrient and vitamin content.
In the end, the milk you drink will only be as healthy as the cow that produced it, so make sure to source your raw milk from a clean, well-run farm that gives its cows access to pasture. Raw milk from grass-fed cows is full of things that your body will thrive on, including healthy bacteria, raw fat, and cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). It's not uncommon for people who drink raw milk to report improvement or disappearance of troubling health issues – everything from allergies to digestive trouble to skin problems like eczema.
Reasons for Switching to Free-Range Eggs
Eggs are another animal product where free-range pasturing makes all the difference in the world, both in terms of creating superior nutrition and reducing the contamination risk. As with other livestock, the salmonella risk associated with raw eggs is primarily heightened when the hens are raised in unsanitary CAFO conditions. In small organic farms where the chickens are raised in clean, spacious coops, have access to sunlight, and forage for their natural food, salmonella contamination is a very rare occurrence.
One study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over four percent in organic flocks and 6.5 percent in free-range flocks. I strongly advise against eating conventional eggs raw for this reason alone.
Unfortunately, egg labels have turned into a confusing muddle. Designations like "organic," "free-range," "pastured," and "cage-free" are often thought to be interchangeable, but really aren't. In many ways, these labels are little more than creative advertising. For example, regulations on the use of the term "free-range" do not specify the amount of time the hens must spend outdoors or the amount of outdoor space each hen must have access to. Nor do they indicate that the hen must have access to a pasture diet... Also, avoid the mistake I almost made when I grabbed a dozen eggs labeled "pasteurized," thinking they were "pastured" eggs. Fortunately, I realized the mistake before I purchased them.
Ideally, what you're really looking for is chicken and eggs that are both certified organic and true pasture-raised. True free-range eggs, now increasingly referred to as "pasture-raised," are from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms. More often than not, you will not find true free-range eggs in your local grocery store as such eggs tend to come from large-scale egg farms that cannot comply with this criteria.
You also want your eggs to be certified organic because that's the only way to guarantee that they're antibiotic-free. Barring organic certification, which is cost-prohibitive for many small farmers, you could just make sure the farmer raises his chickens according to organic, free-range standards, allowing his flock to forage freely for their natural diet, and aren't fed antibiotics, corn, and soy.
Where to Find Grass-Fed Beef, Raw Milk, and Pastured Eggs
Now that you know why it's worth switching over to grass-fed beef and other animal products, the question becomes, where do you find them? Fortunately, it's becoming increasingly easy to find these, and many other organic foods.
- Grass-fed beef: Many grocery chains are now responding to customer demand, and will provide at least a small assortment of grass-fed meats. If your local grocer still doesn't carry any, go ahead and ask the purchasing manager to consider adding it. Some stores, like Publix, will even stock specialty items requested by a single customer. The least expensive way to obtain authentic grass-fed beef is to find a local rancher you can trust, and buy it directly from the farm. Alternatively, you can now purchase grass-fed beef from organic ranchers online, if you don't have access to a local source.
- Raw organic, grass-fed dairy products: Getting your raw milk from a local organic farm or co-op is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting high-quality milk. You can locate a raw milk source near you at the Campaign for Real Milk Website.4 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund5 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.
- Organic, free-range eggs: To locate a free-range pasture farm, try asking your local health food store, or check out the following web listings: