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?