John Stossel aired a program last week on Fox Business that amazed me. The aim as he admitted on the show was to offer the idea that natural, organic, chemical laden and grassfed food is not any better or even worse than industrial factory produced foods. He further indicated that he is in favor of corporate capitalism and the cheap food it can produce. Okay, but how very shallow to not look closely at the true cost of cheap food. What follows is part of Stossel’s article and my response on behalf of myself and the American Grassfed Association.
November 17, 2010 01:54 PM UTC by John Stossel
“Natural” food sounds so pure. Tampering with nature feels wrong. So it’s easy to believe that things like chemical pesticides and genetically modified food are unhealthy. It’s intuitive to believe that they harm the planet. But as so often happens, what we know just isn’t so. My Fox Business program this week (Thursday at 9pm ET) takes on some of those cherished environmental beliefs.
In my syndicated column this week, I examine one: “Natural” food promoters claim grass-fed beef is better for the environment that corn-fed cattle:
Michael Pollan, the prolific food author and activist, wrote in The New York Times that “what was once a solar-powered ruminant (grass-fed steer) (has been turned) into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine”. How so? Farmers burn fossil fuels to ship corn to feed cows instead of letting them eat what’s naturally under their feet.
The American Grassfed Association — surprise, surprise — says cattle are better for the environment because harmony is created between the land and the animals.
People believe. Nobody likes the idea of cattle jammed into feed lots.
…But so often, what sounds logical is just wrong.
…Once again, modern technology saves money and is better for the earth. By stuffing the feed-lot animals with corn, farmers get them to grow faster. Therefore they can slaughter them sooner, which is better for the earth than letting them live longer and do all the environmentally damaging things natural cows do while they are alive.
Read more: http://stossel.blogs.foxbusiness.com/2010/11/17/this-weeks-column-natural-is-not-always-better/#ixzz161Oad4wL
Response to John Stossel’s piece – Busting Another Food Myth, Natural is No Always Better
I currently serve as President of the American Grassfed Association (AGA) and represent around 400 grassfed producers. Our membership is primarily comprised of small-scale family farms that put care and pride into the protein they produce. Our foundation is that we produce food for the table with respect for the animals, the land, the quality and healthfulness of the food and the farm.
Grassfed versus grain-fed beef is a topic that seems to provoke controversy. Determining which of these methods of production is “best” is a complicated matter bringing in animal welfare, human health and environmental outcomes. It is unfortunate that Mr. Stossel appears to have taken a rather blinkered and biased approach to this very complex subject.
In making the statement about grassfed meat that “there’s no evidence it’s better for the environment or better for you” Mr. Stossel relies heavily on the evidence of Dr. Jude Capper. Dr. Capper has presented a few brief papers and posters at recent Animal Science conferences but her main published work is on dairy cattle. Aside from the fact that dairy production is a very different thing to beef or lamb production Dr. Capper does not mention that she has close associations with organizations that have a vested interest in promoting the most intensive systems of production. At AGA we are of course in favor of sustainable, pasture base systems but at least we come right out and say so! Why did Stossel not ask Capper who funded her research? Don’t forget the idea of follow the money. It just might prove bias in the outcome.
We are very familiar with Dr. Capper’s work. Her dairy paper was the subject of significant conversation “Bad Science” blogs [see http://www.animalwelfareapproved.org/2009/11/16/beware-of-bad-science/]
Capper claims that a ‘whole-system approach’ proves that intensive livestock systems – where meat or milk production is maximized per animal, per acre – are less environmentally damaging than ‘inefficient’ pasture or grass-based systems. Yet it is Dr Capper who is not looking at the ‘whole system’ – or indeed the ‘bigger picture’ we all face. For the vast majority of scientists who are working in climate related issues contend that it is intensive agriculture – with its heavy reliance on fossil fuels and other damaging environmental practices – which is the real climate culprit. And in the face of the reality of climate change and ever-decreasing oil reserves, ‘business as usual’ agriculture is just no longer an option.
AGA was not the only organization to challenge this report from Dr. Capper and indeed other similar reports from other authors. One of the biggest problems is the fact that any report that states grassfed meat is less environmentally friendly than grain fed meat does not take into account the environmental costs of all the inputs needed for the industrial system. The true cost of feedlot beef has to take account of the full environmental footprint caused by producing cattle feed – raising vast monocultures of corn which is the most heavily laden fossil fuel crop in the country, including the destruction of vast tracts of rainforest in order to grow soy and corn and the dead zone in the gulf caused by runoff of artificial fertilizers into the Mississippi River. This is before we start adding in the environmental pollution from feedlots, the greenhouse gas emissions from the stockpiled manure and no mentions of the positive influence of carbon sequestration that is specific to grazing grassfed animals.
AGA are disappointed that Dr. Capper maintains that there is no evidence of the health benefits of grassfed versus grain-fed beef. On the contrary there are many published papers on the health giving benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, conjugated lineoleic acids (CLAs) and vitamin E – all found at higher levels in grassfed rather than grain fed meat. Dr. Capper states that the differences in the levels of these compounds between grass and grain fed are “minor”. Perhaps she hasn’t read a recently published report (partly carried out by the USDA) that states CLA levels were 117% higher in animals that were simply pasture finished – not on pasture all their lives – compared with those finished on concentrates. Or another study that showed grassfed meat was several times higher in vitamin E than either grain-fed animals or – surprisingly – grain-fed animals that were given high doses of synthetic vitamin E.
The representation by Stossel and Capper that other inputs to the industrial system such as synthetic hormones and sub-therapeutic antibiotics are of no importance is a travesty. They contend that since it has not been proven that these inputs cause direct harm in the beef produced then it is not logical to demand products that do not have them involved in their production. This ignores the research that indicates otherwise. But more importantly it ignores the desires of society who may choose not have them as a part of their diet. A growing number feel strongly that while sub-therapeutic antibiotics and synthetic hormones contribute significantly to the accelerated growth of feedlot animals but ignore the issues of antibiotic resistance and pre-mature puberty. It is the height of elite mind sets that does not allow a consumer to choose what they want in their diet without being presented all the facts and instead presents a one sided approach to a complicated issue. It must be remembered that the consumer has the freedom to vote for what agricultural system (pasture based or industrial) by how they spend their dollars.
Mr. Stossel sadly relied on only one source for his information. He didn’t take the time to listen to both sides of the argument and, like a poorly researched paper, published his article without review or evidence. This lack of rigor academically and journalistically appears to be the only way industrial agriculture can defend itself.
Mr. Stossel I challenge you to follow up and present both sides instead of the biased report you presented on the show.
Patricia Whisnant, DVM
American Grassfed Association
Grass fed producer