For overall environmental impact, meat is the king of foods, even if it's not likely to be laced with pesticide residue... though a recent USDA Inspector General report found that the government is failing to even test meat for the harmful chemicals the law requires. While beef muscle is typically clean, beef fat is a different story altogether, with 10 different pesticides having been identified. Pork meat can be contaminated, but pork fat is more contaminated, with as many as 8 pesticides. For chicken, the thigh is most contaminated.
Raising animals with conventional modern methods often means using hormones to speed up growth, antibiotics to resist disease on crowded feed lots, and both pesticides and chemical fertilizers to grow the grain fed to the animals. Additionally, it takes many times the water and energy to raise one meal's worth of meat than it does one meal's worth of grain.
Consumers looking to avoid meats raised with these substances can seek out certified organic meat. To meet USDA standards, this meat can come only from animals fed organic feed and given no hormones or antibiotics. Searching out cuts from grass-fed animals ensures that you're eating meat from an animal that was fed a more natural diet, and looking for a local source of meats lets you question the farmer directly about the animal's diet and the farmer's method of raising it. It cuts down on the environmental cost of transportation, too.
Photo: Monika Adamczyk / Istock
By Karen Berner
The benefits of grass-feeding livestock instead of a corn- or grain-based diet are far reaching. In this particular case, its positive effects are being felt yet again as the risk of E. coli contamination in the meat we eat lessens when cattle are fed a natural dried-grass diet. Their stomachs are equipped to naturally fend off offending microbes when fed hay over grain or corn.
According to an article in The Chicago Sun Times, we've known just how to prevent E. coli contamination of our food supply for close to 10 years. Unfortunately, it's a cold hard fact that we wait for an outbreak of illness due to something like contaminated meat before we take action to prevent what could have been avoided.
So as we muddle through the latest hamburger meat recalls that have become far too commonplace and negatively affect animals, people, and jobs -- solutions for "fixing" this nightmare seem logical and easy to achieve by the mere change of a cow's diet. But for now, this solution is not part of the bigger picture being considered by the beef industry.