Free Range vs Factory Farm Meat

by Brian on March 7, 2011 in Paleo Diet

This post is a continuation of my What and Why to Eat for Optimal Health series that explores optimal eating habits and compares the pros and cons of different diets including vegan, vegetarian, raw food, and the paleo diet.

In the modern world few of us even really think about meat coming from animals, let alone animal husbandry practices. Our daily experience tells us that meat comes from the grocery store in little rounded portions completely unrecognizable to the animal it came from. Often by the time we see it there aren’t even any bones but just a little package of reddish or whitish substance, possibly coated in breading.

As vegans object to animal based products even more so than vegetarians, I learned a few additional things about meat that changed my eating habits.

The typical vision you have of cows and other farm animals is grazing out on an open meadow with a beautiful blue sky and fluffy white clouds. However, this is very different from how most food animals are raised.

Imagine for a second that you were in a crowded movie theater. Then imagine that there was no doorway out and no bathroom. Now imagine that you were stuck in this same movie theater with all of these people for several months without being able to leave. It doesn’t matter how refined and civilized you are, eventually there is going to be poop and pee everywhere.

Most modern food cows are raised in a similar situation on densely packed feedlots where they are rump to rump with other cows on all sides. It’s not uncommon for them to be a couple inches deep in manure. They also sleep in the same pens, and contrary to cow-tipping lore they do not sleep standing up.

By the time cows go to slaughter they are literally covered in shit. Rushed and poorly trained factory farm workers don’t get all the poop cleaned off so there is always a certain amount that gets on the meat.

Every now and then a case of e. coli from fast food restaurants shows up on the news. To quote Fast Food Nation, it’s because there’s “too much shit in the meat.” This is another large reason the McDonald’s meal has been so vilified.

To exacerbate this problem, factory farmed cows are fed corn diets which increases the amount of e. coli in their stomachs. Unnatural corn diets also cause a base level of sickness in the cows we eat, since in nature cows only eat grass. Cows are systematically fed high levels of antibiotics to combat the health problems inherent in the system.

Other factory farmed animals don’t have it much better. If you choose to eat meat, when possible eat 100% grass feed beef and antibiotic, growth hormone free meats. Bison (American Buffalo) can be a good beef alternative as by law they can’t be fed antibiotics, which usually means they will be grass fed.

Meats from grass fed cows and free range animals are also much leaner and significantly higher in Omega 3s than their factory farmed counterparts.

For sake of completeness, you should also know about “natural” and “local” labels found on meats. The term “natural” is defined so weakly by the FDA as to be essentially meaningless in terms of judging the health of the meat.

“Local” is great if you want to support local farmers, but also does not indicate anything about the quality of the meat as animals can just as easily be raised in poor conditions near you as they can on the other side of the country.

Stay tuned for the next and final post in this series where I explore The Raw Food diet. You won’t want to miss this as I go super in depth about rarely discussed, but extremely important issues in nutrition.

Recommended Reading:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily January 24, 2013 at 11:03 am

Hi my name is Emily Yeoman and I am a student in high school and I was wondering if you had any further information I could ask you for, for my senior project. I need information concerning the health matters in cattle free range vs. factory farming. So if you have anything i could use that would be amazing. I have read some of your work and found it to be very interesting and imformative. You can email me at Thankyou 🙂


Brian January 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Hi Emily, You might find the documentary Frankensteer helpful for your project. Good luck.


Emily January 29, 2013 at 10:40 am

The documentary is very helpful I really appreciate your help. Thankyou!! 🙂


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