Texas A&M

As the Competition Reacts

You know you are having an effect on the factory food chain when they start making things up. The first instance of this was Texas A&M’s claim that they had conducted a study and found that eating grass-fed beef did not change one’s blood chemistry in the least. When their data was demanded, they refused to release it. When the study was leaked by someone in the department, it revealed that the “study” was conducted over 2 weeks and added a grass-fed beef hamburger twice a week during those 2 weeks, the participant eating from the conventional stream the rest of the time. So the participants received 4 four ounce beef patties over a period of 2 weeks and 42 meals. Shame on you for suggesting this was in any respect a fair study, A&M.

The latest false attack claims that grass-fed cattle expel more methane than grain-fed cattle, thus “adding more carbon to the atmosphere”.  So their point is that feedlots are better for the environment than pastured beef?

Let’s consider that proposition.  First, I find the base premise hard to accept. Any cattleman will tell you that grain has to be introduced slowly to cattle in the feedlot, and fed in combination with hay, in order to avoid killing the animal. The corn creates so much gas in their system - a system designed for grass not grain - that their stomach will literally swell with gas and asphyxiate them by crowding out the ability of their lungs to function. So I doubt the verity of the narrow claim made, i.e., that grass-fed cows create more methane gas than corn-fed.   But let’s accept their premise for the sake of discussion. When looking at the whole picture, is it possible that corn-fed is more environmentally beneficial than grass-fed?  Corn doesn’t simply appear at the feedlot. It has to be planted, cultivated and harvested first. That is all done by diesel tractors. It is then transported to a storage facility where it may be either ground or ground and cooked, all of that requiring the burning of energy. Then it has to be transported to the feedlot where it is distributed to the cattle with - you guessed it - a gas or diesel powered vehicle.  Consider also the fertilizers and herbicides required to grow the corn and the highly concentrated animal waste deposited at the feedlot. When the soil cannot use all that is deposited, and it never can, it ends up in our waterways and acquifers.  In the meantime, the grass-fed cattle have been grazing contentedly in their pastures. Are we really expected to accept this malarkey from the feedlot folks and their PR departments?

 The State of Sustainability

With all of the possibilities for dreariness, let’s instead talk about some positives. I am impressed by how thoughtful we are becoming about a more nature-centric approach to civilization’s needs, and even more impressed by the institutions that are joining that shift in thinking. What and who am I referring to in particular? In this example, the what is how we may better make clean drinking water and the who is Texas A&M, traditional innovator and defender of the industrial approach to everything we consume.

The example I refer to is clean water. Cities and counties in Texas spend big dollars trying to cleanse our water of the many pollutants that trickle down into the streams and rivers and then into the lakes created by our many dams that eventually supply Texas cities with drinkable water at the tap. But between the time it leaves the lake and enters our house, the water has to go through a cleansing process. Very expensive, and less and less effective as our waters become more and more polluted.

The Aggies were thoughtful enough to ask “Is there a better way?” And a better way was found. A large, 5th generation ranch between here and central Texas was engaged to take a small percentage of its acreage, slightly more than 500 acres that lay along a river, and convert it from grazing land to wetlands. Water tolerant grasses and trees were installed, river water was diverted through the newly-formed wetlands, filtered by nature and returned to the moving stream. The result was water that was cleaner than the purification plants downstream could produce, at a much lower cost - it’s cheaper by far to pay the rancher for the loss of his grazing land than it is to build, operate and maintain a purification plant. I’m impressed - aren’t you? Keep it up, Aggies.
Why did this happen? The credit goes to the movement that has questioned the way we produce food in this country. That journey has led to a re-discovering of Mother Nature’s power and resilience. She had purification methods in place long before we showed up on her planet. If we will get out of her way, she will solve our problems.

A Conversion Event?

The agriculture department at Texas A&M, designers of the modern beef production system whose ethics and utility are questioned by so many, me included, held a conference on guess-what subject - raising grass-fed and finished beef. Clay and I attended. My review of same...

Understand this about the professors of A&M: they are a curious, dedicated, unpretentious and helpful group of people, and they are very good at expressing those qualities. They are really just a bunch of good old boys who are coincidentally smart and well-educated. Pretty darned entertaining as a result. I enjoyed them all as speakers and presenters. However, it was clear that the professors knew less about grass-fed than the attendees that were already on-board. That’s OK so long as they are willing to learn. I submit this conference marks another turn in favor of naturally-raised beef. The fact is that the A&M model has reached its point of no return as fertilizer and grain costs rise so dramatically with the price of crude and grains. Watch for the trend to continue. You’re riding on the cutting edge.