‘Cows Eat Grass’ and Other Inflammatory Statements

| 8/9/2010 3:19:20 PM

Tags: Keith Goetzman, agriculture, food, sustainable farming, environmentalisim, Aldo Leopold, higher education, Iowa State University,

Swiss cow

Cows eat grass. You wouldn’t think it’s a big deal to state this, but at Iowa State University a highly qualified job applicant who had the temerity to voice this simple biological fact was ejected from consideration for a post leading a sustainable agriculture program, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

Among those who study sustainability, saying cows should eat grass is not a controversial statement. But saying so in Iowa—which grows more corn than any other state—is likely to attract attention.

Well, it sure did. Ricardo Salvador is a well-respected sustainable agriculture expert and a former professor at Iowa State—and a natural, many observers thought, to lead the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture as its new director. A finalist for the position, however, he didn’t get the post even when the top candidate turned it down. Apparently, his cow comment came back to haunt him:

The remark that may have sunk Mr. Salvador’s candidacy came 37 minutes into his on-campus presentation. While discussing a research project in New York State, he mentioned meat being “produced in the natural way that meat should be produced, which is on land suitable for grasses and perennial crops.”

If this were a TV game show, a loud buzzer would have gone off and Mr. Salvador would have been escorted from the stage that very moment. Because apparently he was supposed to say that cows should eat corn. Even if that’s not natural or sustainable, it’s simply how things are done in Iowa, a state built on big agriculture:

Corn allows cows to get fatter faster and be ready for slaughter sooner. But there are downsides, including the fact that cows have trouble digesting corn and must be fed antibiotics to prevent them from becoming ill. What’s more, the beef from corn-fed cows tends to have more fat.

The danger of the truth is so great that the Chronicle couldn’t even get Wendy Wintersteen, the dean of Iowa State’s agriculture school, to go anywhere near it. When asked whether cows evolved to eat grass, she replied, “I don’t have an opinion on that statement.”

Sheesh. Consider, for a moment, the man that the Leopold Center is named for, famed conservationist Aldo Leopold. In 1939, in the essay “A Biotic View of Land,” he wrote:

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1/31/2011 6:21:42 PM

Also corn feed beef is unhealthier for the end consumer. It has an unhealthier ratio of Omega-3:Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 is the good stuff in fish oils and comes from things like seaweed, broccoli and green grasses. Using corn as a feed produces beef with less Omega-3 and more Omega-6. @plawton, true corn in a grass, but I'm unaware of a variety of it being breed as a green feed for grazing. Sorghum has varieties breed for either grain or feed production. Oats and barley are grain crops that are routines grown for green feeds too.

Nunya Bidness
1/18/2011 4:44:02 PM

Those who were involved in this atrocity against science should be fired, as well as any and all of their scientific credentials removed or otherwise invalidated. Whoever they are, they are not scientists. Let them be employed directly and openly by the corporations they shill for, while attempts are made to ascertain just how much damage they did to science, and the reputation of this school during their tenure there. This smacks of the influence of some well-known manipulative corporation like Monsanto. And then folks wonder why so many conspiracy theories abound concerning the safety of our food supply, and/or the validity of any and all science associated with it? The problem is, the conspiracies keep turning out to not be just theory...

Fred Butters
1/17/2011 11:50:34 AM

@plawton You're kind of right, but this may be an issue of semantics. the "Corn" plant is a grass, but when we think of a yellow corn kernel, we're talking about the dry seed of that grass - which makes it a grain. And technically if it's harvested early like sweet corn, it can be considered a vegetable. In the realm of "what cows eat" though, a corn kernel and a blade of grass are very different. So whether you call it a grass, vegetable or a grain, it's not the natural diet for cows. Another reason why buying "grass finished" meat is important: ALL cows are grass-fed in the beginning. Otherwise an all corn/grain diet would kill them.

Matt Rodman
1/16/2011 2:07:54 PM

Mr. Salvador would best use his expertise at an institution run by science rather than politics. If the dean of Iowa's school of agriculture doesn't have an opinion on a subject that a high school biology student understands - then you can imagine the quality of their work. It's actually humorous.

1/16/2011 12:25:47 PM

Corn IS a grass! Who in agriculture doesn't know this?

Karen Pendergrass
1/16/2011 12:08:08 AM

Ricardo Salvador is my hero!!!! I totally applaud you for stating the obvious, no matter how inflammatory.

Ralph Marshall
8/11/2010 11:32:57 AM

Money as the metric of happiness and the hypocrisy it takes to get enough of it to like yourself will be the death of this civilization.