There’s a trend among some food buyers. People are
signing up for a diet that means they can’t get what they need
from the supermarket. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams
There’s a trend among some food buyers. People are signing up for a diet
that means they can’t get what they need from the supermarket. The GLRC’s Rebecca
These people are setting out to eat only foods that are grown and produced
near their homes. A lot of times that means tropical fruit, chocolate and
coffee are off limits.
Writers James Mackinnon and Alisa Smith went on what they call the 100-Mile
Diet for an entire year. The couple wanted to challenge themselves to eat a
diet more friendly to the environment.
“Are we doing greater environmental good by eating out-of-season organic
apples from New Zealand in the winter? I would argue that that’s not a
compromise we need to make.”
Mackinnon says he worries about wasting energy by transporting food from far
Farm researchers at Iowa State University say there are two opposing trends
at work. There are more people demanding locally grown food, but at the
same time, imports of produce from countries such as China continue to grow
While red meat has taken a beating in recent years from the health industry, a number of studies now indicate that it’s also possible for even red meat to have some health benefits. Scientists and farmers have found ways to put certain important fatty acids in chicken and pig diets. Now chicken, pork, and even eggs can have lower than average cholesterol. An organic farmer from Northern Illinois is participating in a study that’s trying to get beef to catch up to its healthier counterparts. If he succeeds, farmers across the Great Lakes might start varying their grain crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Simone Orendain reports:
While red meat has taken a beating in recent years from the health industry, a number of studies now indicate that it’s also possible for even red meat to have some health benefits. Scientists and farmers have found ways to put certain important fatty acids in chicken and pig diets. Now chicken, pork and even eggs can have lower than average cholesterol. An organic farmer from Northern Illinois is participating in a study that’s trying to get beef to catch up to its healthier counterparts. If he succeeds, farmers across the Great Lakes might start varying their grain crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Simone Orendain reports:
It’s feeding time on this sunny winter morning at Joel Rissman’s organic farm. Sixty head of cattle converge on the troughs that line the fence of their Northern Illinois cattle pen. The young cattle bob their heads in and out of the troughs that hold a mixture of pungent, sour hay and grain. They’re eating silage mixed with haylage.
“Think of sauerkraut, it’s along the same lines of sauerkraut.”
The dull yellow mixture of alfalfa hay and silage is made up of sorghum, cowpeas and soybeans that are mixed in the grain silo with an inoculant. The inoculant causes the silage to ferment quickly so it maintains its nutritional value. It raises the lactic acid content of the silage, making it easier for cattle to digest the food.
This silage-haylage mixture has a little extra in it. It has a pound of flax seed for each head of cattle.
Rissman says the flax seed will make the beef healthier than non-flax fed cattle. And it will taste better.
“What I’m striving for and my theory is that we can get the taste and flavor of a grain fed with the low cholesterol of a grass fed.”
Rissman is one of 10 cattle producers taking part in a study conducted by the Animal Sciences Department of Iowa State University. Researchers and farmers are looking at ways to raise healthy cholesterol levels in beef.
Grass-fed cattle produce healthy cholesterol called conjugated linolaic acid or CLA. The CLA is made up of trans-fatty acids. ISU Professor Allen Trenkle says increasing CLA in lab animals’ diets has protected them against plaque build up of cholesterol in arteries and certain forms of cancer.
But Trenkle, a lead researcher in the beef study, says consumers just don’t seem to like the taste of beef from grass-fed cattle.
“It’s just most of the beef that we have that’s been fed grain is bland. But that’s the taste that we’ve developed that’s what we want. They you introduce a different additional flavor and we say we don’t like that.”
Rissman explains his cattle were raised in a pasture from birth. He says by feeding them flax in the silage-haylage mix, he’s hoping to maintain the level of CLA that they produced when they fed on pasture. The cattle now feed exclusively on silage and haylage. Trenkle says flax seed has fatty acids that help increase CLA, but scientists are still learning why.
And Trenkle says there is a snag to the grain-fed experimentation:
“I would anticipate that it will be improved somewhat over conventionally fat animals, but the concentration of these fatty acids in beef’s very, very low. So feeding the flax may double it or increase it three or four times, but the concentration will still be low compared with the original oil in the flax seed.”
Trenkle says it will take a while to see if the experiment works. He says beef alone might not have a high enough CLA content to benefit consumers. Trenkle says it would have to be combined with a high CLA diet.
“I think just time alone will tell us whether the consumer is willing, how much the consumer is willing to pay for that. Will they want that product over the beef that has less CLA in it? We don’t know the answer to that question yet. In that sense, these farmers are pioneers.”
Rissman says he hopes it will work because he wants flax seed to be a prominent, viable grain again.
“Really the whole flax idea came from me wanting to find other grains. One of the big problems is, if you take food grade soybeans away from the organic farmers, probably 70 percent of those farmers would fail for lack of diversification, myself included. I wanted to find a way to diversify our crops.”
Trendle’s lab has its first batch of meat samples from grass-fed cattle. The team will begin analyzing the meat this month. Rissman says his cattle will be ready for sampling next year.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Simone Orendain.