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Grass Fed Beef Are Not Mad Cows


May, Idaho; 13 March 2006. On March 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the third U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in an Alabama beef cow. While another case of mad cow disease might cause you to pause as you bite into that steak tonight, a new trend in growing beef may help you sleep better after that steak dinner.

The “new” beef is produced the “old” way. Called “grass fed beef,” it comes from young animals (under 24 months old) that have been fed only grass and stored hay, as cattle were a century ago. Since cattle become infected with BSE by eating feed contaminated with the remains of infected cattle, grass-fed cattle are safe from BSE.

Mad cow disease was first found in the U.S. in December, 2003, in a Holstein dairy cow imported from Canada. A second case was found in a Texas beef cow in June 2005. Eating meat products contaminated with BSE has been linked to more than 150 deaths from a fatal nerve disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Most of these deaths occurred in Great Britain in the late 1980s through the 1990s.

The U.S. banned ground-up cattle remains from being added to cattle feed in 1997. Rendered cattle protein can still be used in hog, poultry, and farmed fish feed, as well as pet food.

Glenn Elzinga, a rancher near May, Idaho, has been growing his Alderspring Ranch Grass Fed Beef for over a decade. His cattle spend their lives on his mountain ranch eating only green pasture or hay. Like most small-scale producers, he knows the history and condition of each animal, and follows the strictest quality controls.

“We do our best to avoid eating meat we haven’t grown ourselves, partly because of concerns about BSE” says Elzinga. He cites 3 reasons for his concern: 1) possible transmission of BSE due to loopholes and errors at the feed mill resulting in cattle feed that contains protein from rendered cattle; 2) BSE-contaminated imported beef products mixing with beef produced in the U.S.; and 3) the use of old cows which may be infected with BSE for hamburger and other processed beef products.

Elzinga’s concerns may be well-founded. This past October, the Government Accountability Office released a report that found the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is too slow in testing feed samples to prevent corrupted feed from reaching the nation’s beef herd.

And in the absence of labeling, consumers have no way of knowing the origin of the meat they purchase in the grocery store. Although Congress passed the Country of Origin Labeling Act (COOL) in 2002, cattle and other meat industry representatives have successfully argued for its postponement. Approximately 14% of beef consumed in the U.S. is imported.

Elzinga says he is especially concerned about the use of old cows in the food supply. Older cows that no longer serve for producing calves or milk are usually sold as “cull cows” and ground up into hamburger, made into hotdogs, or used in processed foods such as canned soup.

Scientists have generally agreed that BSE or BSE-like diseases spontaneously appear in one out of every million humans, cows, sheep and many other mammals. This is why older cattle are at higher risk for BSE. In addition, many of these older cattle were alive before the feed ban went into place.

About 5 million of these older cows are slaughtered every year. Because of the mixing that occurs during processing, a single infected cow could affect a large amount of processed product.

Elzinga takes several steps to personally ensure the safety of the meat he sells. First, he grows all his own animals from start to finish, so he knows the complete history of every animal. Second, he does not sell any animals over 24 months old, reducing the risk of spontaneous BSE. Third, he uses no commercial feedstuffs, relying only on pasture and locally grown hay, eliminating the potential for contamination at the feed mill. Fourth, all animals are individually examined and processed at a local USDA-inspected facility.

Elzinga’s grass fed beef can be ordered on-line and shipped anywhere in the U.S. Elzinga also recommends buying beef directly from a local farmer or rancher whom you can trust to tell you how the animal was raised.

Additional information:

Read more about BSE, grass fed beef, and how to purchase grass fed beef at

Read articles about BSE at the Organic Consumers Association website.


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