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Cheap Meat’s Cost on Food Quality


Although food produced in factory farms is more plentiful and cheaper, studies show its nutritional and health benefits are less than nutrient levels of meat, dairy, and egg products of animals raised on pasture. In some cases, factory farm foods can even be harmful.

(The following brief summary includes footnote references to the actual studies in an annotated bibliography at the end of this report.)

You Are What You Eat

Depending on their breed, animals raised on pasture eat a simple and natural diet of grass, roots, leaves, grubs, nuts, berries, fruit and/or insects.

Factory farmed animals, however, typically eat feed composed primarily of high-energy grains, primarily corn and soybeans. However, feeds in factory farms may also contains a wide range of additional ingredients including animal products such as meat meal (ground up animals), blood, feather, and eggshell meal; animal waste (including dried poultry litter and undried processed waste); restaurant food waste including food with rodent, roach and bird excrement treated to destroy pathogens; urea; preservatives; antibiotics; heavy metals; and plastics for roughage. A more extensive list can be found here.1

In an effort to reduce costs and fatten or finishing cattle, some commercial producers feed their livestock discarded food products with high starch and sugar content including gummy bears, milk chocolate, candy (sometimes even with their wrappers), lemon drops, marshmallows, and cookies.2 

Hogs are often fed dried distiller grains (DDG’s), the byproduct of ethanol production. The hogs don’t digest the DDG’s as well and excrete increased amounts of methane and hydrogen sulfide gases.

As a result, the nutritional value of factory farmed products is inferior to pastured meat, dairy and eggs especially when it comes to the fat content of these foods. Total fats and calories are higher in factory farmed meat than pastured products. But of particular significance, meat from factory farmed animals is higher in Omega-6 and lower in Omega-3 fatty acids when the just the opposite is healthier for human health.

About Those Fats

The human body is designed to make the fats it needs with the exception of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids that must be obtained from food. These are called essential fats, and both are necessary for the body to grow and repair itself.3 However studies show it’s important to consume a much higher ratio of Omega 3 than Omega-6’s to maintain one’s health.

Omega-3 fatty acids are foundational to good health. They play an important role in producing hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation.4 A diet rich in Omega-3’s helps to prevent heart disease and stroke, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and may prevent cancer. Other benefits include reducing depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity, insulin resistance, age-related mental decline, asthma risk in children, arthritis, and more.5

But only 40% of the American public get enough Omega-3’s in their diet and for 20% of the population, the levels are so low as to be undetectable.6

Food produced by agribusiness and factory farming, though, contain high levels of Omega-6’s. Eating too many Omega-6’s can increase the risk of, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and cancer and they substantially contribute to the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the US.7,8 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that people suffering from obesity are at a higher risk for many serious diseases including hypertension, coronary disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, and some cancers including breast and colon cancer.9

Fats in Factory Farmed Meat Are Less Healthy


Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s are both found in meat, but the amounts of each depend on how an animal is raised.

Grain-fed factory farm animals have 10 times more Omega-6’s than livestock raised on pasture.8 On the other hand, grassfed livestock have two to four times more of the healthier Omega-3 fatty acids.10 Studies also show shifting grassfed animals with health levels of Omega-3’s to a grain-fed diet diminishes their Omega-3 levels.11

The connection between an animal’s levels of fatty acids and human health was illustrated in a British study. Researchers found that individuals who ate grassfed meat increased their Omega-3 levels and decreased their Omega-6 levels. However, those that ate factory farmed meat lost Omega-3 levels and increased their Omega-6 levels.12

Many other studies demonstrate the impacts of factory farming on food quality as well as the health benefits of eating pasture-raised meat products:


  • Factory farmed beef has one quarter of the amount of vitamin E as grassfed beef.13

  • Mice fed a diet high in Omega-6’s developed obesity.8

  • Factory farmed beef is higher in total fat and calories, lower in Vitamin E, some B vitamins, and calcium, magnesium and potassium; lower in Omega-3’s, and higher in saturated fats.11, 12

  • Eggs from confined hens had half the Omega-3’s, three to six times less Vitamin D, one third more cholesterol, one quarter more saturated fat, two-thirds less vitamin A and threes time less Vitamin E than chickens raised on pasture.14

  • Milk from confined dairy cows contains less vitamins, especially vitamin E and the antioxidant beta-carotene, than pastured cows. Factory farmed cows are bred and fed for high volume milk production. The result is that the higher volume dilutes the vitamin content.15

  • Pasture-raised meat produces 3-5 times more conjugated lineolic acid (CLA), another healthy fat that may reduce the risk of cancer. Laboratory studies on animals reduced tumor growth significantly with just a small amount of CLA in the diet. Another study of Finnish women with the greatest levels of CLA in their diet had a 60% lower risk of breast cancer as compared to women with low dietary CLA levels.16.

What it the cost? Poor nutrition contributes to a host of illnesses such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and more. The costs of any of these conditions has a detrimental impact on both finances as well as to the quality of life of individuals, their families, and their communities.

For example, heart disease, much of which is preventable, takes a huge toll on individuals, communities, and the US at large. The physical suffering itself is staggering. Approximately 800,000 Americans die every year from heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular disease, a full third of all deaths reported in the US.

1.5 million people suffer heart attacks and strokes each year, costing over $320 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity.17One sixth of all health care spending goes towards heart diseases. Individual costs averaged $4,279 in 2009.18

There is no price to put on the physical incapacitation and misery of patients; the emotional and physical stress from caring for loved ones; the stressful burden of medical bills, lost wages, and financial strain; or the heartbreaking loss of friends and family members to heart disease.

Who pays: Anyone who consumes a diet that is less healthy and nutritious may pay the price with impaired health, loss of vitality, and suffering; high medical bills; rising insurance premiums; and increased emotional turmoil. Businesses pay with higher insurance premiums and lost productivity when employees are sick, caretaking patients, or if there is a loss of life. Families and friends pay with emotional suffering or grief from which they may never recover.

Society suffers greatly from a food system that does not provide a high enough quality of food for its citizenry.

These are some of the costs cheap meat imposes on Iowa’s food quality.


Learn What You Can Do Here.


  1. What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health.” Environmental Health Perspectives. May 2007.

  2. Sweet Times for Cows as Gummy Worms Replace Costly Corn Feed.” Reuters. September 23, 2012.

  3. The Importance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids.” European Food Information Council. December 2008.

  4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution.” Harvard School of Public Health.

  5. 17 Science-Based Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Authority Nutrition.

  6. "Dietary Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Mortality in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT)." World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics.1991.

  7. An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-03 Fatty Acid Radio Increases the Risk for Obesity.” Nutrients. March 2016.

  8. A Western-like Fat Diet Is Sufficient to Induce a Gradual Enhancement in Fat Mass Over Generations.” Journal of Lipid Research. August 2010. Volume 51, pages 2352-2361.

  9. The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  10. Simopolous, A. P. and Jo Robinson. The Omega Diet. New York, HarperCollins. 1999.

  11. "Effects of Time on Feed on Beef Nutrient Composition." Journal of Animal Science. August 1993.

  12. Red Meat from Animals Offered a Grass Diet Increases Plasma and Platelet N-3 PUFA in Healthy Consumers.” British Journal of Nutrition. 2011.

  13. Smith, G.C. "Dietary Supplementation of Vitamin E to Cattle to Improve Shelf Life and Case Life of Beef for Domestic and International Markets." Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1171.

  14. More Great News About Free-Range Eggs.” Mother Earth News. February/March 2009.

  15. "Quantitative Secretion and Maximal Secretion Capacity of Retinol, Beta-Carotene And Alpha-Tocopherol into Cows' Milk." Journal of Dairy Research. 1999.)

  16. The Nutritional Superiority of Pasture Raised Animals.” The Huffington Post. May 29, 2010.

  17. Heart Disease and Stroke Cost America Nearly $1 Billion a Day in Medical Costs, Lost Productivity.” CDC Foundation. April 28, 2015.

  18. Expenditures for Heart Disease Among Adults Age 18 and Older: Estimates for the U.S. Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population, 2009.” Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. November 2012.

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