By Stanley A. Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat
A meat shortage is coming. I hear this a lot from butchers and ranchers. The price of meat is already rising. The demand for meat is much greater than the supply, and the supply will not increase because of the rising price of corn. You would think that corn is necessary to raise livestock.
Corn is not a vital part of the diet of cattle, bison, or sheep. In fact, corn is an unnatural food for all of these species, which were designed to thrive on grass. My solution to the corn shortage is simple—let them eat grass.
The Price of Corn
The price of corn has been rising steadily in recent years. This has resulted in record corn crops, but the increased supply has not lowered prices. Why?
The answer is ethanol. The United States government supports the production of ethanol as an alternative fuel. Many other countries also favor the use of ethanol. While ethanol could theoretically be made from any plant matter, the U.S. has decided to support ethanol made from corn. Many farmers and large agricultural operations now grow corn solely for the purpose of making ethanol. These farmers invariably use massive amounts of artificial fertilizer, which requires substantial amounts of oil to produce and transport. The profitability of making ethanol has led to huge profits. It has also caused the cost of corn for animal feed to skyrocket. The use of corn for ethanol is blamed for a substantial increase in food prices all over the world.
The increase in the price of corn has made it much more expensive to raise animals in feedlots.
The Feedlot System Depends on Cheap Corn
Corn is an important component of the feed given to animals in feedlots, along with soy. The whole feedlot process is dependent on corn. The feedlot system was developed to make it much cheaper to raise and fatten meat animals. Cheap corn raised on artificial fertilizer was the basis of the whole system.
The feedlot system came about as a result of World War II. The war caused a huge demand for explosives, which created a number of large companies to fill the demand. These large and wealthy companies faced ruin when the war ended, because the demand for their product was greatly reduced. A plan was devised to use explosive products as artificial fertilizer. Farmers were sold on the idea that artificial fertilizer would enable them to grow huge amounts of corn. Of course, a market had to be found for all that corn. The feedlot system was the answer, as it was found that cattle could be fattened much faster if they were confined to a pen and fed huge amounts of corn. The U.S. government supported the new system with subsidies, and nearly all meat production in the U.S. was quickly switched to the feedlot system. Meat became cheaper and more abundant, and profits became higher.
But there was a hidden price—grass eating animals like cattle and sheep were not designed to be stuffed in a stall for six months, eating corn. They were designed to graze on grass and meadow plants. Large amounts of antibiotics were used to keep them somewhat healthy. The corn growers used massive amounts of pesticides and weed killers. These poisons, along with the artificial fertilizers, killed much of the life in the soil, depleting its mineral value.
Corn feeding in feedlots, later supplemented with soy and other unnatural feeds, greatly reduces the nutritional value of the meat. Eatwild.com has an excellent description of this process: Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products. The taste and texture of the meat were also affected, as feedlot meat lacked flavor, was watery, and had a mushy texture.
The industry dealt with this problem by an intense marketing campaign designed to convince the public that corn feeding resulted in better meat. This campaign succeeded, and it became almost impossible to find beef that was not finished in a feedlot. Cooking techniques were invented to deal with the watery, flavorless meat. The very knowledge of how to cook grassfed meat was lost to most Americans, and most ranchers lost the knowledge of how to raise tender grassfed meat.
The traditional ways of raising grassfed meat used by humanity, developed and perfected over thousands of years, were almost completely abandoned in the rush for profit.
Now the very heart of the feedlot system—cheap feed—is being threatened by the high price of corn.
In the long run, this may be a blessing in disguise, as grassfed meat is a far superior food, and proper grassfed ranching restores the land, rather than depleting it.
The Grassfed Solution
Grassfed beef, grassfed bison, and grassfed lamb have the proper balance of nutrients that our bodies expect. Grassfed meat shrinks much less in cooking, has much more flavor, satisfies the appetite, and can be very tender if properly cooked.
Raising and finishing grassfed meat requires no corn. It requires grasslands and skill. Many ranchers have rediscovered how to raise terrific grassfed meat. There are huge amounts of unused grasslands in this country that can be used for grazing. In fact, proper rotational grazing actually restores and enriches the land. Innovative ranchers in this country have been successful in increasing the richness of their soil. See Grassfed Farmer Renews the Land.
Cooking grassfed meat also requires knowledge and skill. That is why I wrote Tender Grassfed Meat. Cooking tender and delicious grassfed meat is actually simple, and it tastes so much better than the feedlot variety.
I call on all ranchers to learn how to raise grassfed meat, drop the feedlots, and free themselves from their dependence on corn.
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