Over the last 100 years, beef farming has experienced gradual but tremendous advancement. Prior to World War II, livestock farming was largely reliant on grass-feeding. Beef farmers fed their cattle from large pastures, with minimal addition of non-grass supplements.
After the war, improvements in agriculture have seen beef production largely shifted from the reliance on grass as the primary source of feeds to corn. This shift, though gradual, has had more reputable results- as well as impacts on beef farming. Corn-fed cows are fatter, they mature faster and they have better aggregate weight as compared to the ones that are fed with grass- all other conditions been equal.
Although, Corn-fed cows are fatter and are potentially more marketable, they are of poor nutritional value since corn contains more energy supplements which add fats. Energy supplements that add fats raise cholesterol value in beef. Corn based diet is also deficient in Omega-3 and certain essential proteins. This paper seeks to address the value of feeds to grazers- specifically cattle, as an effort to proffer a solution or improve on both the appearance and products content of the animals.
The Shift from Grass to Corn Feeding
Several reasons amount to why a number of farmers prefer feeding their cattle off of grass. Even though corn-fed cows are fatter and are potentially more marketable in terms of body size, the most certain reason why farmers are increasingly adopting grain-feeding is dependent on the ease with which feeds are made available to the animals using feedlots.
In the United States, corn is extremely affordable- this leaves most farmers with the one option of sourcing for corn as animal feeds. Feeding cattle exclusively on grass requires more demand for land and labour, as grazing animals would always rum to feed. The argument has however been; feedlots rely on corn as the primary fodder for beef cattle, and this has resulted in decreased vitamins, proteins and essential fats. Figure 1 shows deterioration in Omega- 3s, as cows are grain-fed.
Figure 1: Deterioration in Omega-3s, as cows are grain-fed (Tashin, 2011)
With decrease in nutritive content, consumers of corn-bred beef take meat that is diminished in animal health and low taste and quality beef products. As an alternative, other than matching the quantity of corn fed to the animals with the amount of grass and other normal feed by beef farmers, the FDA may be required to regulate the use of corn feeds in order to mammies the abuse of animals. Figure 2 presents data on the naturalness of grass-fed beef as compared to corn-fed.
Figure 2: Grass-fed beef is similar to wild game in total fat
The Significance of Corn Feeding
Like any other industry, the beef industry has experienced dramatic changes over the past 100 years. These changes have been necessitated by an increase in demand for beef for human consumption and as well as for usage as raw materials for factories and industries.
Beef farmers have had to develop new methods of beef production to boost yields and meet the increasing market demand for beef. Before the 1950s, beef farmers reared beef cows on pastures, which constituted a mixture of grasses or silage as well as other useful greens such as legumes. The implication is that grass was the main source of cattle feed.
While grass-fed cows take about two to three more years to mature, and they obviously have an added advantage over corn-fed cows; grass-fed cows are reared on natural methods with minimal intake of synthetic fodder and other artificial supplements as shown in figure 2 above. Such cows are naturally developed and thus more nutritious, healthy and more tasty.
To boost cows’ nutritional value, beef farmers added grain, but only as a supplement. However, the increasing demand for beef meant that farmers had to rely on other methods of beef production. Consequently, farmers have gradually turned to corn as the primary feed for beef cattle (King Corn, 2008). Overtime, beef farmers have turned to corn as primary source of cattle feed (American grassfed, n.d.).
The use of corn as the primary fodder has both merits and disadvantages. Primarily, as a merit, it enables farmers to increase beef yields. Corn based diets constitutes soy, barley, wheat, hormones, antibiotics and artificial supplements. Corn feeding is widely practiced in North America- in counties such as Canada and the United States of America, this forms professional organizations that promote and market corn-feeding as the primary livestock rearing method.
In these countries, grass-fed livestock farming methods have increasingly diminished and where practiced, livestock takes more time to mature. This constitutes significant cost implications on beef farming as corn-fed cows produce low quality beef. Moreover, Cows fed on corn have high level of animal fats, thus reducing the amounts of consumable proteins (American grassfed, n.d.).
Corn fed cows also rely on growth hormones and antibiotics and the combination of these hormones and antibiotics are meant to accelerate the growth-rate and the aggregate weight ratio of the animals.
Grass Finishing Compared to Grain Finishing
Two concepts standout prominently: grass-fed beef and grass-finished beef. Through grass-feeding, the cows are fed strictly on forage all their lives. Grass-finishing entails that the animals are feed with grains, but between 90- 160 to when they are killed, they are returned to grass-feeding. This helps the animals to regain their nutritive content. Inducing the hormonal content of cows may also be necessary to promote their market value.
In the consideration of the term grass-fed beef, it is certain to take into account the fact that a majority of cows classified under this category may have at a certain point been fed with grain and grass. however, it is important to note that the finishing or fattening was done basically by relying grass-feeding instead of complete dependence on grains- at least for a period of between 90 to 160 days prior to when the animals are slaughtered.
During the period when the animals are grain-finished, there is usually a significant decrease in the nutritive value of the animals as such nutrients like omega-3 and CLA reduce in the animal body system alarmingly. It is therefore very imperative to ensure that in adapting grass-finishing, the animal is properly given enough grass at least for a period of two weeks before they are slaughtered.
Grass-feeding comes with such names as pastured beef; which implies that the animals are completely pasture-fed without any confinement. There is the possibility that a farmer may keep his or her animals in a confined situation but prevail on hay feeding- and regard the feeding process as grass-finished- this definition is currently standing a test of debate.
There is also the association of the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ beef with grain-finished beef; this includes commercial beefs as well. One standing difference between natural and organic beef has to do with that fact that the feed-grain is confirmed to either be natural or organic. But whether the grains are natural or organic, it all amounts to having cattle that have been fed with grains, hence the tendency that the animals will have very low vitality is supposed.
Based on the read availability of grains, grain-feeding animals in present society is fast becoming an industrial standard since it is making it possible for producing cows that are fat and which attain level of maturity sooner. This offers cost effectiveness as well, as feeding with grains is cheaper.
Solution: Match Corn and Grass Feed
To bridge the gap between corn and grass-fed disadvantages in cows, match of the feeds is supposed a better option. It is certain that the use of hormones results to faster growth of corn fed cows and increased profits for livestock farmers, there are health concerns amongst nutritionists, who claim that these hormones affect the health of beef consumers; these hormones are largely artificial and therefore not fully metabolized.
Thus, their residue is found to occur in beef. The concern of scientists happens to be that these hormones are likely to decrease sperm count in males as well as result to early maturation in girls. Additionally, the use of antibiotics increases the growth rates as well as protects cows from bacterial infections. However, such antibiotics lead to a rise of drug resistant strains of bacteria that not only poses other health risks to cows but also to consumers of beef (Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Beef Information Centre, 2003).
Beef from grass fed cows has more nutritional value; it is less rich in animal fats but added volumes of nutritionally good fats such as omega-3, oxidation agents, and vitamins A and E (American grassfed, n.d.; Cross, 2011). This implies that feeding cows on corn reduces the amount of good fats. In additional, as indicated earlier, grass-less cattle diet constitutes a mixture of corn, soy, legumes and other grains (Pollan, 2006). Corn based diet is also supplemented with hormones and antibiotics (King Corn, 2008).
It is imperative to note that corn based cattle diet lacks in one of the most essential non-grass animal fodder, and which is a vital source of Omega-3 and other good fats such as conjugated linoleic acid. Health experts in animal nutrition have found out that linseed, or flax as it is popularly known, is one of the richest sources of Omega-3, essential proteins and other good fats.
It evident that linseed conspicuously misses from corn based cattle diet, popularly used by farmers. It is also revealed that since linseed contains essential proteins, Omega-3 and other good fats, it is a valuable substitute for corn based fodder. As such, when fed to animals, linseed not only makes a healthy diet but also result to better quality beef (Maddock, Bauer, Koch, Anderson, Maddock, Barceló-Coblijn, Murphy and Lardy, 2006).
Since linseed is conspicuously absent from corn based diet, corn-bred cows are less healthy and have poor quality beef compared to grass raised beef. Additionally, majority of the modern consumers are concerned with three vital qualities of beef. These are the price of beef, the taste and the nutritional value. Despite the fact that grass raised beef is costlier than corn raised beef (Aubrey, 2010), grass raised beef has richer taste and added nutritional benefits for consumers.
Studies conducted by Colorado State University reveals that corn-bred cows have well marbled fats and thus have better taste than grass bred cows. The experts further found out that improved fat marbling resulted from meticulous grass feeding. Beef from meticulously grass-fed animals were thus found to have better taste than corn-bred cows (Umberger, Thilmany and Ziehl, 2003). In addition to this, the combination of superior grass breeding habits and good breed selection produces superior tasting beef.
Superior beef breeds such as Hereford or Angus, when carefully bred using grass-feeding methods, produce a beefier taste as compared to corn bred cows (Maddock et al., 2006). Raising cows on corn-based diet reduces the nutritional value thus destroying the taste as well as the food content of the beef.
The Essence of Abuse-to-Animals Regulation by FDA
The quality of food supplied to consumers is vital. As such, there is need to regulate rearing of beef cows. Raising cattle on corn produces fatter and heavier animals at a faster rate than raising cows on grass alone. However, as indicated earlier, raising cattle on grass produces learner animals, which takes a longer time to mature. It is more expensive to feed cows on grass that on corn. Grass-fed cows are also healthier than corn-fed cows (American grassfed, n.d.; King Corn, 2008).
To maximize on gains of both corn and grass feeding, it is imperative to equalize the amount of corn and grass fed to cattle through out their growth period. This will ensure that both the farmer and the consumer gains added benefits. A study conducted by the FDA concluded that corn has significant levels of mycotoxins such as fumonisin (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).
Fumonisins are considered to be vital elements that enhance both human and animals health. Fumonisins are caused by many types of molds especially Fusarium moniliforme, either during storage or during manufacturing of grains.
There are various types of fumonisins which occur in both processed and raw animal products. These include fumonisin B1, B2 and fumonisin B3. Of the three mostly occurring fumonisins, fumonisin B1 is the most toxic. While Fumonisins are vital for good health, exceeding their standard limit exposes both humans and animals to certain health risks. It is imperative to state that most of these fumonisins, including fumonisin B1 occur in grain especially corn, especially those produces using flooding.
Around some point of thought, Americans dietary habits have been put into sharp focus since more than a quarter of their diet items contain corn (Pollan, 2006). Studies reveal that human intake of fumonisin is mainly via infected corn or minimally through beef.
There is also the progression to authenticate the fact that beef from cows which consumed fumonisin infected corn causes diseases amongst consumers. As a result of consuming fumonisin infected products, human beings risk contracting such health conditions as esophageal cancer (Turner, Nikiema and Wild, 1999).
Feeding cows on corn exposes them to health hazards such as toxic liver and kidney, leukoencephalomalacia as well as pulmonary edema. This exposes such cows and the consumers of resultant beef to these health risks. Additionally, feeding cows on corn alone denies them the opportunity to acquire vital fats such as Omega-3 found in grasses. This is possibly the reason why Cross (2011) argues that feeding cows on corn in inhumane. As a result, it is vital for the FDA to regulate such abuse through FDA’s legal framework.
The FDA can also achieve the regulation through attending as many international conventions organized by accredited bodies such as World Health Organization, and the UN, among others, to sensitize them on the health risk posed by fumonisins. Additionally, the FDA will seek corporation from these bodies in regulating the use of corn as a method of raising beef cows (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).
While these are long term measures, there are other immediate measures that FDA, in collaboration with other authorities, there is need to take to ensure that the level of fumonisin remains at the required level.
Most of the fumonisin affected corn occurs as a result of flooding during the production process. FDA also need to either educate farmers on how to ensure that flood water does not come into contact with the edible parts of the corn crop to avoid contamination. FDA could also educate farmers on how to adhere to safety standards during production of corn, and thus minimize microbial hazards (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011).
It is imperative to note the benefits of raising cattle on corn; faster growth, affordability, more weight and thus more profits. However, the use of corn as cattle feed needs to be strictly regulated due to associated consumer health risks. As more people consume beef from corn bred cattle, the overall food quality is compromised. This calls for regulations because if the use of corn is not regulated, people will largely remain uneducated on healthy consumption habits.
American grassfed. (n. d.). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.americangrassfed.org/about-us/faq/
Aubrey , A. (2008). Npr. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2010/04/08/125722082/the-truth-about-grass-fed-beef
Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Beef Information Centre. (2003), Understanding Use of Antibiotic and Hormonal Substances in Beef Cattle. Retrieved from http://www.afac.ab.ca/current/bichormones.pdf
Cross, K. (2011). The grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef debate. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/29/grass.grain.beef.cookinglight/index.htm
Gafa, D. (2011). Animal production for engineers. Ibadan: University Press.
Maddock, T, Bauer, M, Koch, M, Anderson, V, Maddock, R, Barceló-Coblijn, G, Murphy, G & Lardy, G. (2006). Effect of processing flax in beef feedlot diets on performance, carcass characteristics, and trained sensory panel ratings. Retrieved from http://jas.fass.org/content/84/6/1544.full
Pollan, M. (2006). The omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals. New Jersey: Penguin Press
Tashin, P. (2011). How to feed your farm animals. Ibadan: University Press.
Turner PC, Nikiema P, & Wild CP. (1999). Fumonisin contamination of food: progress in development of biomarkers to better assess human health risks. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10415433
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). US food and drug Administration. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/ChemicalContaminantsandPesticides/ucm109231.htm
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Guidance for Industry: Evaluating the Safety of Flood-affected Food Crops for Human Consumption. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidane Documents/FoodDefenseandEmergencyResponse/ucm274683.htm
Umberger, W, Thilmany, D, & Ziehl, A. (2003). Consumer tastes & preferences: what research indicates. Retrieved from http://dare.agsci.colostate.edu/aft/curriculum/3.1_cons_prefs.ppt