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Myth of Sustainable Meat


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http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/the-myth-of-sustainable-meat.html?_r=1&hp

NYT editorial skewers the sacred cow. Even Salatin gets the myth-buster treatment. Turns out he's feeding his critters tons of imported soy and corn.

By: James E. McWilliams is the author of “Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.”

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The beef that Bev Eggleston sells is also not 100% grass-fed. During the last months, the animals are grain and corn finished. This is done, however, in-situ. The animals are not shipped far away and held in over-crowded conditions and fed antibiotics to prevent illness that might arise from the over-crowding. They are slaughtered humanely, in local facilities. There is no suffering involved in this type of feeding--if anything, it's a "they get to eat whatever they like for a while, before the end" and the meat tastes better to lots of beef-eaters who aren't totally crazy about the flavor and leanness of 100% grass fed beef. I have no problem with that.

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McWilliams has some valid points. It would not be possible to raise cattle in the manner approved of by many locavores in the volumes that the US consumes, or anything remotely like that quantity of beef. Of course, one can question whether we should eat so much. And it is certainly true that methods could be greatly improved.

I was, however, taken aback by the reference to "imported" corn and soybeans being fed to cattle. The US, as everyone must know, is a major producer and exporter of those products -- as I write this I am sitting beside the Mississippi in New Orleans watching shiploads of the stuff go by, heading out. I seriously doubt any cattle feeder is using imported grains and beans. Maybe imported to Nebraska from Iowa. While it's not an important error in itself, is does make one wonder about anyone who would make it.

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... the meat tastes better to lots of beef-eaters who aren't totally crazy about the flavor and leanness of 100% grass fed beef.

That is only because we have become accustomed to artificially cheap, corn rushed beef or immature grass finished alternatives. The cost of naturally raising a suitable breed on grass the years it takes to become sufficiently marbled is prohibitive, and exceedingly gassy.

5 year old, 100% grass-fed “Normande” rib-eye. Hugo Desnoyer; Paris, France.

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Beautiful piece of meat in the photo.

I'd be curious to know the price/#

Desnoyer at this point has somewhat of a cult following.

I believe I read an article recently that he was charging something like 90 euro/kg. for some of his beef.

"After all, it’s not how we produce animal products that ultimately matters. It’s whether we produce them at all."

reminds me of a quote I heard via Ted Lemon, that I can't unfortunately remember who the original quote was from.

"Everyone wants to talk about the problems IN agriculture without talking about the problem OF agriculture."

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Beautiful piece of meat in the photo.

I'd be curious to know the price/#

Desnoyer at this point has somewhat of a cult following.

I believe I read an article recently that he was charging something like 90 euro/kg. for some of his beef.

The ribeye was about 35€/kg (about $22/lb, not unreasonable). Less marbled bone-in Limousin retailed for 32€/kg and the strip loin 34€/kg. High standards of quality cost money and there is a tremendous amount of pride is serving well reputed appellations. This is not that dopey Rancher’s Reserve.

The only 90€/kg beef I witnessed was the Rossini. A prototype for the holiday season –during which, the shop (retail space fits a dozen people) will serve over 700 customers on a Saturday. 4 week dry-aged tenderloin from 4 year-old 100% grass-fed Limousin steer. Foie Gras des Landes (exceptional 600gram lobes, not the obscene 1100gram nonsense peddled here) and legitimate Perigourd truffles whose thick aroma spread like fog. Wrapped in suet and caul fat. Sold by the slice. This particular one was gone by mid afternoon.

Excessive assembly, perhaps, but eaten with dignity and class. And you don't get a free T shirt for eating the whole thing.

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Salatin responds to NYT article:

http://grist.org/sustainable-farming/farmer-responds-to-the-new-york-times-re-sustainable-meat/

Among other things, he says that the GMO grain he feeds his poultry and pigs is local. He doesn't address McWilliams' claim that the corn and soy fed to the chickens is imported.

In decrying the errors in the NYT article, he makes a few of his own. For instance, he says that wetlands emit 95% of the methane in the world. The EPA estimates that half the global methane emissions in the world are human-activity related. Of the methane emanating from wetlands, well that includes rice paddies. And where he gets the idea that rainforest is not being cut to to graze cattle but only to grow transgenic corn and soybeans is beyond me - he's obviously not been to Mexico, Central America, Brazil ... where cattle grazing has definitely replaced not only rainforest but also much agriculture.

I'm not arguing for one side or the other. I don't have the knowledge needed to make this call. I'm just reporting on the fact that Salatin has responded, in the context of the response he has stated that McWilliams made errors and implies that McWilliams lied, and in doing so, made some errors that I do have the knowledge to spot and call out.

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Among other things, he says that the GMO grain he feeds his poultry and pigs is local. He doesn't address McWilliams' claim that the corn and soy fed to the chickens is imported.

While it’s true that at Polyface our omnivores (poultry and pigs) do eat local GMO (genetically modified organism)-free grain in addition to the forage, the land base required to feed and metabolize the manure is no different than that needed to sustain the same animals in a confinement setting.

Joel Salatin statesthat the grain is GMO FREE. I cannot find on Mr Alatin's site any definitive statement if he even uses corn or soy. Mr McWilliams does not say how he arrived at the conclusion that Mr Salatin does.

Both Mr. McWilliams’s and Mr. Saltin's rants are filled with error, and are misleading. They lack the shades of grey that any compromise includes.

Mr. McWilliams does not say if his vegan diet includes soy product {97% of which is GMO in the US I believe} or corn {81%, again the number is off the top of my head but I recently sheared some of my raggedy mop of graying hair.} Does he eat industrially farmed organic produce? Earthborn Farms and Cal Organics are no better, IMO, than their industrial and chemical dependent brethren.

The real shame is that our government devotes less than 3% of the funds spent on agricultural research to organics and there is a dearth of good information. What money that is spent on organics tends not to be informational and informative on the important issues of what sustainable really is.

The real shame is that while we see critiques of Mr. Salatin's operations get much press, the agribusiness interests have done a good job of blocking the environmental impacts of their industrial ways and preventing their having to pay for environmental repairs from that damage. We are told of the virtues of the industrial model when it is heavily subsidized and the true costs are hidden intentionally. People are dying from the antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that farming has contributed to creating and this cost is not counted as a cost of industrial agriculture. The damage to the James River from the mountains of piggy doo doo washed into it by hurricanes, the costs to the Chesapeake of agricultural {not to mention home owner misuse} of fertilizer all are left unexamined.

On the other hand, NOAA under Jane Lubchenko has does a much better job of getting science into the equation of fisheries management. While many of the fisheries are woefully in bad shape, at least we know the status of the fisheries not from the politically charged views of the fishermen, but from science. Imagine that!

Edited by deangold
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