An alliance of associations that represent the livestock, meat and poultry industries have come together and formed a web site called SafeFoodInc.com. This web site they created is aimed to set the record straight in the meat industry by providing current data, full facts, sourced information and third party experts with real expertise in their fields. Through this, they created a guide for consumers confused about recent claims made by some activists and media reports. They share interesting and common myths that consumers read or hear and believe about meat production. Here are a few of the myths and facts specific to corn in the animal’s diet. To read the whole guide, please click here.
MYTH: Most U.S. cattle are fed an unnatural diet of corn when grass would be more natural.
FACT: Cattle are herbivores (they eat plants) with ruminant digestive systems (four compartment stomachs). Corn is a plant that ruminants – from cattle to deer – will eat and enjoy when they have access to it. Anyone who has ever seen corn added to a feed trough knows that cattle will come running to eat it. When corn is fed, it is part of a feed mix that includes other roughage needed for digestion.
• Most beef produced in the U.S. comes from pasture-fed, grain-finished cattle. These cattle spend most of their lives on a pasture eating grass before going to a feedlot for four to six months.
• At the feedlot, cattle are grouped into pens that provide space for socializing and exercise. They receive feed rations that are balanced by a professional nutritionist. Feedlots employ a consulting veterinarian, and employees monitor the cattle’s health and well-being daily.
• Feeding cattle a grain-based ration for a small period of time helps improve meat quality and provides a more tender and juicy product for consumers.
MYTH: Corn feeding causes E. coli O157:H7 while grass feeding does not.
FACT: If the meat industry could make E. coli O157:H7 disappear through a simple change in the diet, we would do it today. The science will show, however, that it’s just not that simple.
• According to expert scientists Dale Hancock, Ph.D., and Tom Besser, Ph.D., DVM,, at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, “Statements suggesting that all or most of human disease associated with E. coli O157:H7 can be attributed to feeding cattle grain instead of hay…is not supported by the existing scientifi c literature.”
• The myth that corn feeding is to blame while grass and hay diets are the panacea seems to originate from a 1998 study of just three cows by a Cornell researcher. The study’s design was badly fl awed, according to experts in the fi eld of animal nutrition. Still, the discounted study’s conclusions continue to be cited as truth despite extensive research showing otherwise.
• A substantial number of papers by researchers around the world have documented that cattle on pasture or rangeland (i.e., eating grass) have E. coli O157:H7 in their feces at prevalences roughly similar to those of grain-fed cattle of a similar age (Sargeant et al, 2000; Fegan et al, 2004; Renter et al, 2004; Laegreid et al, 1999). One study (Fegan et al, 2004a) found that a higher prevalence among pastured cattle and, among positive cattle, similar concentrations of E. coli O157:H7 in feces.
• E. coli O157:H7 also is found in the gut of wild animals like deer that are not fed corn.