cattleWheresTheBeefDo you know where’s the beef?

The iconic 1984 Wendy’s ad campaign is associated with ever-larger burgers on our plates. Rarely do we think about the cattle that have been raised and slaughtered to satisfy our cravings for burgers, steak, and roasts.

Up close, cattle are calm and peaceful. Despite being such big animals, domestic cattle have been bred to be passive and controllable. Here are some characteristics of cattle:

  • Cattle form close friendships and choose to spend much of their time with 2-4 preferred individuals. They also hold grudges for years and may dislike particular individuals. They can recognize 50 – 70 other herd members.
  • When grazing in open areas, younger cattle are often in the center of the herd, surrounded by more aggressive cattle for protection.
  • Cattle get excited when they solve problems. For example, when faced with a challenge of finding out how to open a door to reach food, their heart rate went up, their brainwaves showed excitement, and some even jumped into the air.
  • Cattle like to sleep close to their families, and sleeping arrangements are determined by the individuals’ rank in the social hierarchy.
  • Cattle are extremely curious and inquisitive animals who will investigate everything.
  • Cattle have 330° panoramic vision. This helps them to see predators coming from almost any direction except from directly behind them. They have poor depth perception, which results in them being afraid of shadows.
  • Cattle have an excellent sense of smell. They can detect odors up to five miles away. Cattle constantly sniff plants while grazing. Some researchers believe this helps them find favorite plants to eat. Conversely, they move away from the smell of blood and decaying flesh.
  • Cattle can also hear both low and high frequency sounds beyond human capability. They are stressed by loud noises and calmed by soothing music.

Similar to dairy cows, cattle have a natural lifespan of about 20 years. However, because of modern animal agriculture practices, adult cattle are at full weight and slaughtered at 14 – 16 months of age. Calves used for human consumption are slaughtered at 3 – 16 weeks of age. When you eat beef, you are eating cattle who are still babies or in the very early stages of their natural lifespan.

Young cattleDid you know about the short lives of cattle?

Unlike dairy cows, who are removed from their mothers at birth, beef cattle get to stay with their mothers for the first six months of their lives. In western cow-calf operations, mothers and calves spend most of their time in pastures eating their natural food: grass.

cowWeaningDeviceSome small farms and some beef cattle farms use weaning devices to keep calves from drinking their mothers’ milk. Producers of these devices claim they make the results of separating calves from cows more profitable.

There are web sites that sell these devices, with videos to show them in use. Inserted into a calf’s nose, these devices keep the calf from drinking from his/her mother’s udder. Any way you look at it, separating mothers from their offspring involves emotional distress for the cows.

All cattle farmers are familiar with the stress associated with weaning calves from their dams. Broken fences and bawling cattle are well known symptoms of a process that also leads to a loss of condition and weight in both calves and cows.

Calves then have one really bad day at about two months of age, when they are branded (with an instrument heated to 950 degrees) and castrated (without anesthesia). When the calves weigh about 600 pounds at about six months of age, they are weaned, taken from their mothers, and put in a pen with some other calves. In the pen, calves start to eat corn. During this “backgrounding” process, many calves become sick from the new food and the separation from their mothers. However, this is better than what will happen to them for the remainder of their short lives.

Cow feedlotAfter the pen, cattle are transported to feed lots in long truck rides without food or water. Feed lots are miserable places, containing thousands of cattle enclosed in metal fences with no shade or shelter. They have to stand or sleep in their own manure until they eat enough to reach their slaughter weight of 1,000+ pounds.

It used to take about five years to grow a cow to slaughter weight; today, it takes only 14 – 16 months. Feed includes corn, protein and fat supplements, and drugs, although, as ruminants,  their natural food is grass and pasture. Antibiotics are used to keep illnesses at bay – especially digestive illness caused by diet.

No one knows the impact on the humans who eat all these drugs – the meat industry claims beef is safe. However, many European and Asian countries are banning the import of US beef because of safety concerns over the drugs used to promote growth.

Cattle slaughter chuteThe Slaughter House

When it is time to die, cattle are walked single file into a chute where they can hear the cries of terror from the cattle ahead of them. The Humane Slaughter Act says they need to be knocked out before slaughter, so a pneumatic gun shoots a bolt between their eyes into their skulls. However, because of the speed of the line, many of these animals are only stunned and they are conscious as they are bled, skinned and dismembered.

Speed means profitability, so slaughter lines are getting faster and crueler. Here are some steps in the process:

  • Shackler: puts a chain around the hind leg of this 1000 pound animal and hoists it in the air.
  • Sticker: cuts the carotid arteries in the neck.
  • Bleed rail: drains as much blood as possible (humans don’t like blood in their beef).
  • Head skinner: peels skin away from animal’s head.
  • Legger: cuts off the lower portions of animals’ legs (a few are animals are still alive at this point).
  • Skinner: removes the remaining skin and guts out the organs.
  • Cutter: cuts the animal in half so now the cow looks like the sides of beef humans see hanging in freezers.

We rarely see or hear slaughter houses – they tend to be located in isolated areas and typically hire undocumented workers to do this bloody work that most Americans do not want to do. These workers suffer from horrible physical injuries because of line speeds and adverse psychological illnesses. Ag gag laws in many states keep out documentary journalists.

For more details, read Gail Eisnitz‘s book, Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry.

CowPersonalChoiceDid you know eating beef is not good for you?

A plethora of studies have shown that eating beef is not good for humans. Here are sample study results:

  • World-renowned nutritionist, T. Colin Campbell, supervised a 19-year study of the eating habits of people in China to see if and how food choices impacted cancer rates. This study has been called the gold standard of epidemiological studies by The New York Times. Campbell also conducted laboratory studies at Cornell to better understand cancer growth. He concluded nutrients from animal-based foods increased tumor development while nutrients from plant-based foods decreased tumor development.
  • The World Health Organization concluded the protein in soy, farina, peanut butter, refined wheat, wheat flour and wheat gluten is more readily digestible than that in meat or fish.
  • The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines recommended eating more plant protein and less animal protein. It also said that teen boys and adult men are eating too much animal foods for optimal health. This guidelines have been roundly criticized by many for being too influenced by the American Meat Industry (AMI).  While the Dietary Guidelines advisory committee recommended eating more fruit and vegetables, its advice to decrease the consumption of red and processed meat was challenged by the AMI. As a result, the final version does not include the recommendation of decreasing consumption of animal food for better health. One report from NPR criticized the guidelines for not being explicit enough in recommending less animal products.
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest shows how powerful political forces are used to change the US Dietary Guidelines, despite that half of Americans suffer from diet-related preventable diseases (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer). .
Amazon Rainforest Destruction
Amazon Rainforest Destruction courtesy The Guardian

Did you know cows are a major source of pollution and cause of global warming?

The recent movie, Cowspiracy, tells the little-known story of how cattle agriculture is the major cause of global warming. Meticulously researched and summarizing major worldwide scientific studies (you can read more here) some of the findings are detailed below:

Destruction of Rainforests

  • To sustain our beef-eating habits, 1 – 2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second.
  • Up to 137 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction.
  • Animal agriculture, in particular livestock farming and growing feed crops,  is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.

Greenhouse Gases

  • Livestock and their byproducts account for at lease 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20 year time frame. Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
  • Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.
  • Emissions for agriculture are projected to increase by 80% by 2050.


  • 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
  • Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US.
  • 5% of water consumed in the US is by private homes.  55% of water consumed in the US is for animal agriculture.
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 20% – 33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today.


  • Livestock and livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land.
  • Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
  • 2 – 5 acres of land are used per head of cattle to raise them to slaughter weight.
  • 1/3 of the planet is has been degraded (fertile land transformed into desert) with livestock as the leading driver.


  • Every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the US.
  • 130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced in the US – 1.4 billion tons from the meat industry annually. Five tons of animal waster is produced per person in the US.


  • 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by people living in developed countries.
  • 15 times more protein can be produced on any given area of land with plants, rather than animals.
  • The average American consumes 209 pounds of meat in a year.
  • 1.5 acres can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food but only 375 pounds of meat.
  • The food for a person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11 of the oil (fossil fuel), 1/13 the amount of water, and 1/18 of land area compared to the diet of a meat lover.

If you are concerned about the environment and want to preserve resources for future generations, the best step you can take is to eliminate meat and dairy from your diet.

Veggie Food
Image courtesy of Forks Over Knives

Did you know you can make a difference?

Beef is not good for you, for the planet, or for the environment. You can change the world for the better, for yourself, the animals, and your children, by simple eliminating beef and other animal products from your diet. There are so many alternatives. In fact, every dish you enjoy as a meat-eater comes in a vegan version that is kind to animals, the environment, and you!

As Richard Oppenlander wrote [p. 145]:

These are the realities of your food choices. With every burger, steak, pot roast, turkey sandwich, fired chicken, rib, barbecue, port chop, bacon, ham, or whatever you want to call it or however you want to cook it, you are perpetuating the demand, which furthers the business of raising animals and then slaughtering them for you to eat. You can turn your head the other way, but the process continues. It continues at the detriment and ill fortune for the animals, for our health, and for the health of our planet. Until this moment, most of you have been comfortably unaware with regard to food responsibility and global depletion. What you decide to eat is killing our planet, but it does not have to be that way – if the right choices are made.



Campbell, Colin, The China Study, Benbella Books, 2004.

Joy, Melanie, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows, Conari Press, 2011.

Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff, The Face On Your Plate: The Truth about Food, W. W. Norton & Co., 2009.

McWilliams, James, The Modern Savage, St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

Oppenlander, Richard, Comfortably Unaware, Beaufort Books, 2012.

Robbins, John, No Happy Cows, Conari Press, 2012

Robbins, John, The Food Revolution, Conari Press, 2001.