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Grass-Fed Products are Clean and Safe

Products from grass-fed animals are safer than food from conventionally-raised animals. This is especially reassuring now that mad cow disease, or BSE, has been confirmed in this country. Countries that conduct more rigorous testing for BSE have identified hundreds more cases. Many experts agree that if we were to test every one of our cows for BSE (the protocol in Japan), we, too, would find more diseased animals.

As you will discover by reading the postings below, 100 percent grass-fed animals have an extremely low risk of BSE That is because their diets contain no animal by-products or other unnatural ingredients. They eat what nature intended: grasses and other green plants. You will also see research showing that choosing products from grass-fed animals may lower your risk of two other food borne illnesses, campylobacter and E. coli.

A final note of reassurance is that the producers listed on the eatwild.com website certify that their animal and dairy products are free of feed antibiotics, added hormones, and other growth promoters, making them the "cleanest" animal food you can buy.

Nearly half of US meat and poultry likely contaminated with Staph

Almost half the meat and poultry sold in the US is likely to be contaminated by highly dangerous bacteria, according to research published this month (April 2011) in the scientific journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The study estimates that 47 percent of the meat and poultry on US supermarket shelves contains the bacteria staphylococcus aureus ("Staph"). It is not, however, among the four bacteria—Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and Enterococcus—routinely tested in meat by the US government.

The researchers tested 136 samples from 80 brands of beef, pork, chicken and turkey, purchased from 26 grocery stores in five major US cities. DNA tests from staph-infected samples suggest that the farm animals themselves were the major source of contamination. "Densely-stocked industrial farms, where food animals are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics... [are] ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans," according to the report.

The bacteria is not only linked to a number of human diseases, but is also resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics. Lance B. Price, Ph. D., senior author of the study, stated that “The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today.”

"Antibiotics are the most important drugs that we have to treat Staph infections; but when Staph are resistant to three, four, five or even nine different antibiotics -- like we saw in this study -- that leaves physicians few options," Price said. Click here to read more.

Grass-fed cows are not mad cows

downer cow
In December, 2003, tissues from a cow from a Washington State confinement dairy tested positive for BSE or mad cow disease.   The cow contracted BSE by being fed meat and bone meal made from other cattle that were infected with BSE. This was common practice in the U.S. until 1997.  In essence, grass-grazing herbivores were being turned into cannibals. Tragically, people who ate these meat-eating cows ran the risk of acquiring a human form of mad cow disease called Creutzfelt-Jakob disease that killed more than a hundred people in Europe. To date, two other US cattle have been diagnosed with BSE.

Since the 1997 USDA ban on meat and bone meal in cattle feed, the risk of mad cow disease has gone down substantially. But there is always the risk that feed producers will inadvertently mix meat and bone meal designated for other animals into approved cattle feed.  

When you choose products from cattle and dairy cows that have been raised on pasture all of their lives, there is no possibility that they consumed feed that contained any animal tissue,  virtually eliminating the possibility of mad cow disease.

Eating grass-fed beef may lower your risk of E. coli infection

When you eat grass-fed meat, you may have a lower risk of becoming infected with dangerous E. coli bacteria.

Why is this? Work conducted at Cornell University by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez in the late 1990s showed that cattle that were fed hay had far fewer E. coli than when they were fed a standard feedlot diet based on grain. (Microbes Infect 2, No. 1 (2000): 45-53.)



In addition, the two researchers conducted a test tube study showing that E. coli from grass-fed cattle is more likely to be killed by the natural acidity of our digestive tract and therefore might be less likely to survive and make us ill.

e-coli graph

The reason for the greater persistence of E. coli from grain-fed cattle, the researchers speculated, is that feeding grain to cattle makes their digestive tracts abnormally acidic. Over time, the E. coli in their systems become acclimated to this acid environment. When we ingest them, a high percentage will survive the acid shock of our digestive juices. By contrast, few E. coli from grass-fed cattle will survive because they have not become acid-resistant.

Since this original work, other researchers have explored the link between cattle feed and E. coli. Some have confirmed the work by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez (see “Hay feeding does indeed reduce acid-resistant E. coli, says Nebraska Beef Report.” But the majority have disputed the finding.

Because of this lack of scientific certainty, people eating grass-fed beef should practice all the safe handling techniques recommended for grain-fed beef. A type of E. coli referred to as 0157:H7 can be deadly, and it takes very few bacteria to cause disease.

Whether or not grass-feeding reduces the number and acidity of E. coli in the digestive tract of cattle, there is another undisputed reason that eating grass-fed beef may be safer.  Cattle raised on pasture are cleaner at the time of slaughter.

E. coli contamination takes place in the slaughterhouse when manure from an animal comes in contact with meat. The less manure on an animal when it enters the slaughter house, the less likely the meat will become contaminated.

It is difficult to remove all the fecal contamination from feedlot cattle because they stand all day long in dirt and manure. In a recent article in the magazine Meat Marketing and Technology, the associate editor stated that pasture-raised animals were much easier to clean "because they come from small herds raised in relatively clean pastures." Most U.S. cattle, he said, "are raised in far larger numbers in congested and typically less sanitary feed lots." ("The Future of Food Safety," by Joshua Lipsky. Meat Marketing and Technology, April 2001.)

Russell, J. B., F. Diez-Gonzalez, and G. N. Jarvis. "Potential Effect of Cattle Diets on the Transmission of Pathogenic Escherichia Coli to Humans" Microbes Infect 2, no. 1 (2000): 45-53. (Chart data extracted from this document.)

Study shows that cattle raised on pasture have fewer campylobacter bacteria

Australians have discovered that raising cattle on pasture reduced their risk of carrying a bacteria called "campylobacter." Fifty-eight percent of the cattle raised in a feedlot carried the bacteria, but only two percent of those raised and finished on pasture.







Campylobacter bacteria can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, and muscle pain. Most cases are mild, but it can be life-threatening if other diseases such as cancer or liver disease are present. People most likely to be affected are children under the age of 5 and young adults from 15–29. Symptoms can occur from two to ten days after eating infected meat.

Bailey, G. D., B. A. Vanselow, et al. (2003). "A study of the food borne pathogens: Campylobacter, Listeria and Yersinia, in faeces from slaughter-age cattle and sheep in Australia." Commun Dis Intell 27(2): 249-57.

USDA gives consumers a false sense of security about U.S. beef

Ann Veneman, Agriculture Secretary in the Bush administration, made the following statement in a 2004 news conference: "scientific evidence shows that only nervous tissue like brain and spinal cord can carry the infectious agent" for mad cow disease.

Not so, according to Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the neurologist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1997 for first describing prions, the misshapen proteins believed to cause the devastating disease. "We don't know where and how prions move through the [cow's] body before they show up in its brain," he told a New York Times reporter.

This means that the disease may be transmitted by eating other parts of a cow besides the nervous tissue—including the meat. Dr. Prusiner has devised a test to find out exactly where prions are located, but according to the New York Times article, "That experiment has not been done..." The USDA's new safeguards requiring that "specified risk material" be removed from the food supply do not appear to be broad enough.

The New York Times, Sunday, January 4th, "Jumble of Tests May Slow Mad Cow Solution," Sandra Blakeslee," p. 10.

Feedlot cowboy expresses alarm at the amount of drugs given to U.S. cattle

We recently received a letter from a ranch hand at a medium-sized U.S. feedlot. Like most modern day cowboys, his job is more likely to involve injecting cattle with steroids than herding them on horseback. His comments give a rare, behind-the-scenes look at some of the current practices in animal feeding operations.

"What really alarmed me is when I put $5,000 worth of shots in 500 head of heifers. I gave shots of Dectomax, which is a pesticide and is very thick and oily. I get the impression that it's a pesticide strip inside the cow. I'm told that it leaves the animal over the course of 6 months or so, but I'd think some of it stays in the fat. And then some kind of 7-way vaccination. Then I put in some kind of hormone implant that is so strong it was recommended to wear gloves. Other times, I have given Lutalyse, which synchronizes the heifers so they all cycle at one time. I truly think those of us in the cattle market can do without all this stuff, except maybe a 4-Way vaccine to prevent black leg and a couple of other things that can wipe out your herd."

The "bad" E. coli persists in the barn but not on pasture

The type of E. coli bacteria responsible for most cases of human illness and death is called "E. coli 0157:H7. Recently, calves that had tested positively for this deadly strain were divided into two groups. One was raised in a barn, and the other on pasture. Samples were taken once a month from April to September. The calves raised on pasture showed no signs of 0157:H7 for the entire period. Meanwhile, every one of the calves raised in pens had at least one positive sample. According to the Swedish researchers who conducted the study, "This suggests that calves on pasture may be less exposed to the bacteria or that they clear themselves."

Jonsson, M.E. et al. "Persistence of Verocytotoxin-Producing Escherichia Coli 0157:H7 in Calves Kept on Pasture and in Calves Kept Indoors" Int. J Food Microbiol 66, 1-2 (2001): 55-61.

Too little, too late

(Posted in 2002) In response to growing public concern over Mad Cow Disease, the American Meat Institute is proposing a new certification program. Under this voluntary program, cattle marketers would certify that "to the best of my knowledge" their animals were not fed protein derived from mammalian tissues. J. Patrick Boyle, president of the AMI said that "We want to reassure ... consumers that the cattle we process into beef products meet all federal requirements, including their diets and medications." Meanwhile, because bags of feed can and do get mixed up, the animal feed industry is working on its own certification program to ensure that cattle and sheep by-products are kept separate from other feedstuff.

Whether these belated, voluntary efforts manage to protect the public and calm their fears remains to be seen. Can an industry that saves costs by fattening ruminants on pizza crust, chicken feathers, gummy bears, chicken manure, candy bars, bubble gum, cement dust, and ground-up telephone books be relied upon to produce a safe and healthy product?

Hay feeding does indeed reduce acid-resistant E. coli, says Nebraska Beef Report

In 1998, researchers Diez-Gonzalez and colleagues from Cornell University drew worldwide attention when they reported that switching cattle from grain to grass lowered the production of acid-resistant E. coli bacteria. Acid-resistant E. coli are believed to be much more difficult for humans to combat. The fact that keeping animals on pasture might protect consumers from E. coli was very good news, indeed.

Since publication of the Cornell study, however, these results have been contested by a number of groups, including researchers at the University of Idaho. Now a study by the USDA Meat and Animal Research Center in Lincoln, Nebraska supports the Cornell findings. The Nebraska researchers began their investigation by trying to find alternative feeding strategies to combat acid-resistant E. coli, contending that hay feeding "is not a practical approach for cattle feeders." Unfortunately, none of their experimental approaches worked. When they switched the animals to hay, however, they found that the more natural diet did indeed have the desired effect. The researchers concluded: "This study confirms Diez-Gonzalez (1998) report that feeding hay for a short duration can reduce acid-resistant E. coli populations." Score one for Mother Nature.

"Influence of Diet on Total and Acid Resistant E. coli and Colonic pH." Tony Scott, Klopfenstein, T., et al." 2000 Nebraska Beef Report, pages 39-41. Read the report in its entirety. The report is in PDF format.

Pastured pigs and poultry are safer, too.

Animals on drugs

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report that about 70 percent of all antibiotics made in the United States now go to fattening up livestock. In the mid-1980s, 16 million pounds of antibiotics were used in livestock production. Twenty-five million pounds are being used today. This ever increasing use is contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the UCS, more than 95 percent of a common bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus is now resistant to penicillin, requiring the use of newer and stronger drugs.

One of the main uses for antibiotics in the cattle industry is to combat so-called "feedlot diseases," diseases that are common when cattle are shipped to distant feedlots, mingled with animals from other herds, and switched from their natural diet of forage to a grain-based feedlot diet. Animals that remain on pasture from birth until market are so healthy that they rarely require antibiotic treatment.

It was only a matter of time

pastured pigAccording to a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, pigs raised in factory farms in Taiwan are harboring a dangerous type of salmonella that has become resistant to one of our newest and most potent antibiotics—fluoroquinolone, a drug that is critical to human medicine. When people become infected with this resistant strain, doctors will have few drugs in their arsenal to combat it.

The reason that the salmonella became resistant to fluoroquinolone is that the pigs were dosed with the drug on a regular basis. The bacteria that were vulnerable to fluoroquinolone died off, allowing the few that were naturally resistant to flourish.

According to a study in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, Pigs raised on pasture are healthier than ones kept in confinement and rarely require drugs of any kind.

The New England Journal of Medicine 2002; 346:413-419. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 1983. Vol. 1. p. 357-369.

Cipro's sister drug, Baytril, is being wasted on chickens

Infected poultry are now being treated with Baytril, a drug very similar to the anthrax-fighting antibiotic Cipro. The FDA, health advocates, and an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine have all urged Bayer, the producer, to withdraw the drug from the poultry industry. Bayer, veterinarians, and commercial poultry producers are in strong opposition. If Baytril is withdrawn, they argue, the United States will have to alter its poultry-raising practices.

That is exactly what needs to happen. It makes no sense to raise chickens or any other animals under conditions in which infection is routine, requiring the routine use of antibiotics.

Bayer officials say they need more proof of damage to humans before they will stop supplying Baytril to chicken producers.

US confinement-raised poultry not good enough for the Russians

Early in March, 2002, Russia imposed a ban on the importation of all poultry from the United States. Vladimir Fisinin, vice president of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences, explained his government's position in the March 20th issue of The Moscow Times: "I would like to note that American farmers are injecting chickens with antibiotics used to treat people. This is prohibited in Russia." According to Fisinin, US poultry producers use such large doses of these drugs that they accumulate in the tissues of the birds. "It is dangerous," he said, "especially for children and older people."

Fisinin also asserted that giving antibiotics to chickens fosters the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. US medical experts agree. In a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers randomly selected 407 chickens from 26 stores in Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, and Oregon. More than half of the chickens were tainted with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

McDonald, L. C., et al. "Quinupristin-Dalfopristin-Resistant Enterococcus Faecium on Chicken and in Human Stool Specimens."N Engl J Med345, no. 16 (2001): 1155-60.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria not found in free-range chickens

One of the problems with raising large numbers of animals in confinement is that disease is more common, resulting in a greater reliance on antibiotics. Over time, the bacteria mutate and become resistant to the drugs. When we humans become infected with these antibiotic-resistant bacteria, there are fewer effective medications available to treat us.

A survey of E. coli bacteria isolated from poultry raised in a state-of-the-art confinement poultry operation at a university found that all the bacteria were resistant to the commonly used antibiotics, Tetracycline, Streptomycin and Sulphonamide (Sulphafurazole). By contrast, all the strains of bacteria isolated from free-range birds were sensitive to the drugs.

Ojeniyi, A. A. (1989). "Public health aspects of bacterial drug resistance in modern battery and town/village poultry" Acta Vet Scand 30(2): 127-32.

Human health and quality of life are compromised by large-scale swine operations

According to a 2000 study, people living close to a 6,000 head swine operation in North Carolina reported "increased occurrences of headaches, runny nose, sore throat, excessive coughing, diarrhea, and burning eyes." These complaints are similar to those reported by people who work in confinement swine operations.

Factory farming may increase profitability for corporate owners, but it can erode the health and quality of life of farm workers and members of the surrounding community.

Wing, S. and S. Wolf (2000). "Intensive livestock operations, health, and quality of life among eastern North Carolina residents." Environ Health Perspect 108(3): 233-8.


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