How Corn Changed the Cattle Industry


Once upon a time, cows lived in pastures and grazed on grass, living a life that was as quiet and peaceful as their bovine nature. But then, somebody discovered that feeding cattle cheap, subsidized corn would fatten them up two to three times as fast as grass and that you could raise hundreds of cattle in the same pastoral space that would only support a few. Thus began the era of modern feedlot cattle.

The truth is, a cow’s stomach is made to eat grass – and only grass. Corn is a grain (not a vegetable, as many think) and is harmful to a cow’s health and digestion. Corn-fed cows raised on a feedlot are kept in cramped, dirty conditions and because of their grain diet become sick so quickly that they need to be given frequent doses of antibiotics just to keep them alive long enough to make it to slaughter. (Here’s one heart-breaking image you won’t soon forget.)

That sounds pretty awful, but for an industry focused on profit, the equation of corn plus growth hormones makes for fast-fattening cattle (a high-corn diet will fatten a person up pretty quickly too, by the way). But this fat isn’t exactly what you want more of in your food – corn-fed beef is much higher in saturated fat and lower in Omega-3’s than the grass-fed variety.

Then there are the ethics involved: grass-fed cattle have a dramatically better life than their crowded, corn-fed, feedlot cousins. The corn that they’re fed is pesticide-laden, genetically modified and only cheaply available because of government subsidies.

Keep in mind that industrially-grown corn requires a great deal of petroleum (for the machinery and fertilizers) to grow. Supporting corn-fed cattle maintains our addiction and support of the petroleum industry. You could say that in comparison, grass-fed cows are solar powered.

Now think about it – what kind of meat do you want to be eating?


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7 thoughts on “How Corn Changed the Cattle Industry

  1. Pingback: The Low Carb Fallacy – Changing The Way We Think

  2. Pingback: Beef: Let’s talk the truth « Our Private Kitchen

  3. I am all for grass fed beef, I produce it myself. What you say about corn fed beef is misleading, cattle fed minimum roughage with corn do not get bloat also saying that cows are not meant to eat corn is nonsense. Cattle that eat a corn diet do not get sick or need frequent doses of antibiotics. Saying that the cattle are barely kept alive untill slaughter is total nonsense. I would agree with you on hormones that they have no place in livestock farming here in Europe hormones in cattle were banned in the 1980’s.

  4. Thanks, Sara. We have to change how we farm or simply give up meat. We are too advanced as a society to be sending sick cows to slaughter.
    I appreciate these posts so much.

  5. Hi Jay,

    The main point of this post is that a cow’s stomach is not made to digest something like corn. Cows are ruminants and their stomach system (which is VERY different from ours!) does not handle corn well at all. Corn makes them very ill, bloated and acidic. Because they are unhealthy and also in crowded conditions, these cows are more likely to become diseased, and are pumped full of antibiotics — which we don’t really want to be eating in our meat. Basically, feeding corn to cattle is a bad idea all around.

  6. Corn is an edible part of a plant and therefor a vegetable, like all grains and also fruits. Non-vegetable foods are usually either animal (meat) or fungi(mushroom).

    Corn fed cows are also solar-powered, for exactly the same reasons as grass is solar powered. Changing the solar collector from grass to corn does not substantially change the process.

  7. Thanks for the post Sarah! It is so important that people know how their food is being produced and what the real costs are – bravo!


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