Top Beef Myths

Beef Comes From Factory Farms

  1. Raising beef requires a broad community of dedicated people working together, including farmers, ranchers, cattle feeders, veterinarians and nutritionists, as well as those involved in packing/processing, retail and foodservice. 
  2. The beef community is not vertically integrated, meaning that an animal will change owners or caretakers an average of 2-3 times during its lifetime, with each caretaker along the way specializing in a key area of the lifecycle of the animal.
  3. Today, there are approximately one million U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers who make decisions daily on how to raise beef and work to keep their animals healthy and safe.
  4. Ninety-seven percent of beef farms or ranches are family-owned, and 54 percent of those farms and ranches have been in the same family for three generations or more. 
  5. The beef community represents the largest single segment of American agriculture based on USDA data, with more farms classified as beef cattle operations (35 percent) than any other type.
  6. The beef community’s mission is to provide the safest, highest-quality, most consumer-friendly beef in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.

Antibiotics and Hormones are Routinely Overused

  1. Farmers and ranchers work closely with veterinarians to develop a comprehensive health program, which includes a nutritious diet, proper housing, hygiene and, when necessary, vaccinations and antibiotics to prevent or treat illness.
  2. The primary goal for farmers and ranchers is to prevent illness in the herd and work with veterinarians to promptly diagnose illnesses in cattle and return them to good health because it is the right and humane thing to do. When antibiotics are necessary to maintain cattle health or treat sick cattle, farmers and ranchers believe in using the smallest and most effective dose of antibiotics made specifically for cattle.
  3. Cattle in feedyards are monitored constantly by trained personnel for potential health and wellness concerns. When an animal is sick, they are removed from their pen, taken to the feedyard hospital area and properly treated until they are deemed healthy enough to return to the herd. Treating each animal individually ensures that animal health is at the forefront.
  4. The health of U.S. cattle herds, as well as the continuous supply of safe beef, relies on the long-term effectiveness of antibiotics. Therefore, cattlemen follow the producers guide for judicious use of antibiotics, which call for:
    • Avoiding the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine;
    • Using a narrow spectrum of antimicrobials whenever possible;
    • Treating the fewest number of animals possible;
    • Limiting antibiotic use to disease prevention or control; and
    • Not using antibiotics if the principle intent is to improve performance.
  5. Anti-animal agriculture activists commonly distort antibiotic use figures to sway consumers against the use of antibiotics in the safe production of beef, claiming that 70-80 percent of all antibiotic use in the U.S. is in livestock. While the number may seem large it may help to point out that it takes a larger dose of antibiotics to treat a 1,200 pound animal than a 120 pound person, the same way an adult needs a higher dose than a child.
  6. The animal agriculture community is also working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to voluntarily phase out certain uses of antibiotics including antibiotics that are most important to human health. The most commonly used class of antibiotics in animal agriculture, tetracyclines, is the least used antibiotic in human medicine. The second most commonly used class of antibiotics in animal agriculture, ionophores, are not used in human medicine at all.
  7. The FDA requires a withdrawal period between when an animal is treated and when it can go to slaughter and these withdrawal times are strictly followed and enforced by regular testing and inspection by FSIS inspectors during slaughter and processing. This allows the animal’s body to fully metabolize the antibiotic so all beef should be antibiotic free, whether or not the animal received a treatment. The FDA routinely tests for antibiotic residues and has zero tolerance for residue violations.
  8. Growth promotants typically are administered through a small pellet, called an implant, which is placed under the skin on the back of an animal’s ear. They also can be administered through an animal’s feed. Either way, growth promotants are metabolized by the animal prior to slaughter.
  9. The safety of growth promoting products used in cattle production is ensured through several layers of requirements, which are enforced by multiple government agencies. First, growth promotants are required to go through a comprehensive, multi-step review process conducted by scientists to ensure animal health and food safety. These products then are re-evaluated by FDA annually and only remain in the marketplace if they are continually proven safe.
  10. Often consumers hear that cattle are “pumped full” of hormones but the reality is a very small amount of hormone is delivered to the animal, which stimulates its own hormone production. Everything that grows has hormones, which includes all plant and animal sources of food. There is no such thing as hormone-free meat or milk, or fruits and vegetables for that matter. The only thing we consume that should truly be hormone free is water and salt, a mineral.

Grass-Fed / Grass-Finished Beef is Healthier and Safer

  1. Beef farmers and ranchers care about the safety of the food we eat, too, and work hard to ensure the beef we raise for your family is safe. All beef – whether grain-finished, grass-finished, certified organic or natural -- goes through the same rigorous inspection process and is subject to strict government guidelines to ensure the highest level of safety.
  2. Some cattle remain on pasture for their entire lives prior to slaughter. The meat from these cattle is referred to as “grass-fed” or “grass-finished” beef. In order to meet the voluntary USDA certification for grass-fed, cattle may eat only a grass and forage-based diet throughout their whole lifespan and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
  3. Grass-finished beef also takes longer to raise – on average of 226 days longer than grain-finished beef – therefore requiring more resources like land, water and feed. For this reason, grass-finished beef typically is more expensive to produce and costs more at the supermarket than grain-finished beef.
  4. A common question from consumers is whether antibiotics or hormones can be administered to grass-finished cattle. The answer is yes, according to USDA, beef that is grass-finished may judiciously be given FDA-approved antibiotics or growth promotants as well as vitamin and mineral supplements.
  5. When it comes to nutrition, the primary difference is the fat content and fatty acid profile, specifically omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acids make up 1 percent and 4 percent of the fatty acid profile in grain-finished and grass-finished beef, respectively. However, since beef is not a primary source of omega-3 fatty acids, the difference is not generally recognized as preferential, or enough to have an impact on human health.
  6. All beef – whether grass-finished or grain-finished – is a high-quality protein that provides 10 essential nutrients for optimal health. Just remember 10/10/10: one 3-ounce serving of lean beef provides more than 10 percent of 10 essential nutrients and vitamins for less than 10 percent of your daily calories.
  7. Whether they are grass- or grain-finished, there are more than 30 cuts of beef that meet the government guidelines for “lean” including many consumer favorites such as tenderloin, strip steak and 95 percent lean ground beef.

Raising Beef is Bad for the Environment

  1. Beef farmers and ranchers go to great lengths to be good stewards of the environment. The average beef farmer and rancher has 13 environmental and social improvement practices in place, such as soil nutrient management programs, rotational grazing and monitoring, managing wildlife habitat and improving animal care and handling.
  2. The beef community recently completed a first-of-its-kind life cycle assessment to document current status and identify areas for continuous improvement. This research showed an overall improvement in sustainability by 5 percent from 2005-2011, and the environmental and social sustainability of beef improved 7 percent.
  3. There are many environmental benefits to grazing cattle including providing wildlife habitat, helping prevent the invasion of noxious weeds, decreasing the risk of catastrophic wildfire and encouraging robust forage growth and healthy root systems.
  4. More than 85 percent of the land where cattle are grazed in the U.S. is not suitable for crop production either due to soil type, rainfall, topography or other factors. The best use of this land is to allow animals to graze it.
  5. Specific to the feedyard segment, improvements are due to crop yields, animal performance, animal nutrition, resource use efficiency, responsible use of technology and improved manure management.
  6. Feedyards allow for cattle to reach market weight at an earlier age which reduces the amount of land, water, feed and fuel per pound of beef produced. They also allow for management of manure by agriculture engineers that reduces leaching and allows for manure to be used to fertilize crops. Water and air quality are monitored and managed in compliance with strict U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
  7. Beef has lowered its environmental foot print, specifically when dealing with water, through improvements in packing plant water efficiency, the installation of gray water recycling equipment in slaughter facilities and the increased use of recovered biogas from wastewater lagoons at slaughter facilities, which lowers the need for fossil fuels.
  8. Major innovations and investments in infrastructure by the packing sector contributed heavily to the recent improvements in beef industry sustainability. These include the installation of covered lagoons, which lowers community nuisance odors and reduces packing plant dependence on fossil fuels, the conversion of boilers from diesel to natural gas and reduced packaging requirements through the use of right-size packaging.

Beef is Unhealthy for Me and My Family

  1. All beef – whether grass-finished or grain-finished – is a high-quality protein that provides 10 essential nutrients for optimal health. Just remember 10/10/10: one 3-ounce serving of lean beef provides more than 10 percent of 10 essential nutrients and vitamins for less than 10 percent of your daily calories.
  2. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating a higher protein breakfast, such as one including a high-quality protein like beef, boosts satiety and reduces hunger and brain responses involved with food cravings more than a typical ready-to-eat breakfast that is lower in protein.
  3. Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet study, commonly called the BOLD study, found that when lean beef was included each day in a heart-healthy diet, LDL (bad) cholesterol was reduced 10 percent from baseline – virtually the same as when study participants followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, Diet which has been named the best overall diet by for five years running.
  4. Although BOLD and DASH diets are both rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, the diets differ in their primary protein source. The BOLD study included an average of 4.0 oz/day of lean beef, while the DASH diet included mostly white meat and plant protein and only 1.0 oz/day of lean beef.
  5. The BOLD study also found that the BOLD-PLUS diet, which included 5.4 oz lean beef per day, was more effective at reducing systolic blood pressure when compared to the other diets lower in total protein. These findings suggested that total protein, not type of protein, is important for eliciting reductions in systolic blood pressure.
  6. Media reports covering the latest study claiming a link between beef and chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes are often overstated. The fact of the matter is that the link between food and cancer is unknown. No single food has ever been proven to cause cancer. However, what most health experts do agree on is that the best way to avoid chronic disease is to maintain a healthy weight.
  7. Beef provides nutrients like zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins our bodies need to be physically active and high-quality protein, like beef, has been proven to help maintain a healthy weight.

Corn Feeding is Unnatural / GMO Feed is Unsafe

  1. When cattle arrive in the feedyard, they are fed a receiving diet that is very high in forages, which helps the cattle’s stomach transition from a primarily grass diet to a diet that contains higher grain content.
  2. Beef cattle, like other ruminants, possess a digestive system that includes a multi-compartment stomach that can digest fibrous materials such as grass, corn stalks, cottonseeds, alfalfa, grass hays, potato chips, soybean hulls, citrus pulp and other products that are considered waste products.
  3. While cattle may consume larger amounts of grain in the later stages of finishing, they are still receiving several pounds per day of forages such as grass hay, silage or alfalfa; all of which provide ample amounts of roughage in the diet.
  4. Some of the feedstuffs that cattle consume are genetically modified organisms or GMOs, like corn, soybeans, canola, alfalfa and cotton. Numerous studies, government agencies, scientific organizations and leading health associations—including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the British Royal Society—have concluded that bioengineered crops are as safe to eat as plants modified by conventional plant breeding.
  5. In fact, a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis reported that the performance and health of food-producing animals consuming GMO feeds is comparable to that of animals consuming non-GMO feed. The study, which examined nearly 30 years of livestock-feeding studies, and represented more than 100 billion animals, is a comprehensive source of information providing evidence that GMO fed-animals do not pose a health hazard to humans.
  6. Consumers that wish to avoid GMO foods—including if they would like to purchase beef from cattle that were not fed GMO’s—may purchase Organic or Non-GMO labeled foods.

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