Satya has ceased publication. This website is maintained for informational purposes only.

To learn more about the upcoming Special Edition of Satya and Call for Submissions, click here.

back issues


October 1999
Beef Bunk and Milk Myths

By Angela Starks


There are plenty of tall tales out there about cows, beef and dairy, most of which we take for granted.

Intensive grazing of cattle helps to maintain the land; they are nature’s lawn mowers, gently keeping grass and foliage from overgrowing.
The overstocking and overgrazing of cattle may be the most potent cause of desertification in the U.S. Over a billion cows are each consuming at least 900 pounds of vegetation a month, disrupting the natural balance of plant species and wildlife. In the process their hooves compact the earth; this reduces the topsoil’s ability to hold water, so it dries out and erodes at an alarming rate.

It’s good that we have all that manure from cattle farming; it’s needed to fertilize the land to grow crops to feed everyone.
A huge amount of animal waste is produced, leaving us with a costly and hazardous disposal problem. It largely ends up dumped as untreated sewage directly into our water systems. Some manure is used to fertilize crops, but much of the resulting plant foods are simply fed back to livestock—not to people.

Down on the farm cattle enjoy the easy life...just chewing the cud in large green pastures.
In intensive farming ranches, cattle are treated as mere industrial products for the duration of their short, miserable lives. Many suffer an array of pain and indignities, such as removal from their mother at an early age, confinement in feedlots where they are pent-up side-by-side, dehorning, castration, force-feeding (perhaps with sawdust, sewage and animal remains added to the feed), being milked to exhaustion, suffering from infections, and then finally death by slaughter.

Beef is an efficient and convenient source of nourishment since the animal concentrates nutrients from whatever it eats into its own flesh.
Cattle, the “Cadillacs” of farm animals, are energy guzzlers and one of the most inefficient converters of feed. Only 11 percent of what the cow eats ends up as actual beef. At least one-third of world grain is fed to cattle and other livestock; just think how many people that could feed!

Modern cattle farming helps to provide lots of cheap food for everyone.
The real cost of factory farming includes massive government subsidies, the demise of rural communities, the waste of natural resources, pollution problems, and health risks from the products themselves. These hidden elements have worsened rather than improved poverty, malnutrition and disease both in the U.S. and worldwide.

The separation of the calf from its mother is not distressing to either.
Professor A. Web-ster, an expert in animal husbandry, says “The most potentially distressing incident in the life of a dairy cow is the removal of her calf.” So that the cow’s milk can be collected for human consumption, most calves are removed as soon as possible; they may remain together for only a matter of hours, whereas in nature the calf would suckle for six months to a year. Most of these calves end up in dark crates where they are purposefully kept malnourished and unexercised in order to produce soft, white veal.

Efficient slaughterhouse techniques mean cattle suffer little distress and pain on the killing floor.
Animals can see, hear, and smell the horrifying activity going on in the slaughterhouse. ‘Downers’—the sick or injured cows—are kept waiting at the scene to be killed last or are left for dead in a pile. In the rush to kill as many cattle as possible, many may not be properly stunned prior to the tortuous slaughter process and are therefore still alive during the initial stages, often being hung upside down writhing on a hook by one leg, which breaks from the weight.

Inspectors monitor the standards in slaughterhouses, so that beef is a safe, good quality product.
The National Academy of Sciences announced in the 1980s that inspection procedures were inadequate to protect the public from meat-related diseases. However, there are even more shortcuts in a new ‘streamlined’ inspection procedure which will result in fewer carcasses being checked and requires that beef need not be free of all contaminants but merely ‘aesthetically acceptable.’

The antibiotics given to cattle do not show up in the meat, so consumers have nothing to worry about.
Meat often contains antibiotic residues which are passed onto the consumer, making the human population vulnerable to increasingly resistant strains of bacteria. The industry claims to have discontinued routine use of antibiotics in cattlefeed, but they are still administered to dairy cows, which make up 15 percent of all beef consumed in America.

Beef is safe to eat compared to vegetables, which are full of herbicides and pesticides.
Beef is the most dangerous food in terms of herbicide contamination as a result of the extremely high levels in cattlefeed, which accumulate in the animals’ flesh. Eighty percent of the herbicides sprayed in the U.S. are for corn and soy which are used primarily to feed livestock.

There is no evidence to suggest that the consumption of beef increases the likelihood of cancer—that’s just vegetarian propaganda.
Between cultures that eat beef and those that do not, there may be up to a tenfold difference in the prevalence of colon cancer. Various scientific studies confirm the correlation between red meat consumption and cancer; the director of the largest study concluded “the optimum amount of red meat you eat should be zero.” Diets high in meat and dairy have long been associated with prostrate cancer, and scientists are now linking red meat to breast cancer.

Lean beef is perfectly OK as part of a diet to reduce heart disease.
This recent myth is largely the result of a misinterpreted study funded by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The research actually showed that a red meat diet lowered cholesterol by only one percent; the researchers themselves proved this to be statistically irrelevant and that it could have been mere chance. By comparison, research has shown that vegetarian diets can reduce cholesterol by more than 20 percent, which is as effective as some cholesterol-lowering drugs.

We get iron from red meat, which is why vegetarians and vegans are at risk of anemia.
There are plant foods that are rich in iron, including dried fruit, whole grains, nuts, leafy green vegetables, seeds, and pulses. It is true that more of the iron in meat is absorbed compared to iron in plants, but if dietary intake of iron is moderate, vegetarians are compensated with an increased absorption rate. Vitamin C, which is higher in plant-based diets, aids the absorption of iron. Studies show that vegans usually have a high iron intake, on average two or three times the recommended amount. Their iron status is usually normal and they are no more likely to be deficient in it than the general population.

Human anatomy and physiology are designed to digest red meat.
Even though we seem able to cope with some meat in our diet, the fact remains that it is difficult for the human digestive system to break it down completely. The average American may die with pounds of undigested meat in his/her intestines. True carnivores, such as lions, produce a more acidic digestive juice in their stomach in order to break down the high protein content of meat. They also have a digestive system that is much shorter in length than ours so that the putrefying meat does not hang around inside them for so long.

Beef is a perfect source of protein—vegetarians don’t get enough.
This depends on what you mean by ‘perfect.’ Beef is high in useable protein, yes, but regular consumption of meat provides far more protein than the body needs and this overload is difficult for the body to process. The ‘perfect protein’ notion came about largely from archaic, misinterpreted studies on rats whose nutrient requirements are very different from humans’. Beef is not a good way to obtain protein since it also provides us with excess saturated fat, a high concentration of herbicides, and other undesirables. Studies show that vegans consume, on average, at least the recommended amount of protein (and no, they don’t have to bother with ‘protein combining’ at each meal). Plant proteins also provide fiber and additional nutrients.

All contents are copyrighted. Click here to learn about reprinting text or images that appear on this site.