*This information is being provided to you for your consideration. This association does not endorse any opinions, products or processes mentioned.*
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.