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The vast majority of U.S. beef are Feed-Lot cattle that eat grain, antibiotics or other high-calorie feeds for several months at a confined feedlot before being processed. Cattle gain weight much more quickly and by eating such concentrated feed fattens the animals quickly and produces fat-marbled meat. Most of the beef consumed today comes from relatively young animals that are between two and three years old. The animal is most likely either a steer (a castrated bull) or a “feed heifer,” a cow that is raised for meat rather than dairy or breeding purposes. In general, the youngest meat is of the highest quality, with a fine texture and a light grayish red color. Older carcasses are coarser and darker red.

In recent decades, the beef industry has undergone a radical transformation — the small cattle farmer has been all but replaced by beef-processing companies that own huge feedlots and industrial meatpacking plants. One result of this concentration has been inexpensive and readily available meat; beef now costs half of what it did in 1970. Critics have charged, however, that the new system is inhumane to the animals and may have created new health risks.

You can read more about “Industrial Beef” on PBS’s website