A review of The Omnivore's Dilemma

 

Michael Pollan is first and foremost a writer, and second, he is an activist.

These aspects of his opinion radiate throughout the entire book. For the first few chapters he had me

thinking differently about a topic that I didn't know a lot about. I'll admit, I was behind his "we are corn"

movement every step of the way, and I accepted every word as true fact. Until, I reached chapter four titled

"the feedlot". I paused for a moment. Not knowing much about Pollan, I had no idea in which direction he

would take his views about feedlots and cattle operations. I’m someone who knows a great deal about this

part of the cattle business, having been through my father's pristine feedlot many times. 

From this point on, I began reading very critically compared to how I had been before.

 

In this section of the book Pollan truly appeals to the reader’s emotions, and tries to make the reader feel in danger for consuming beef. As a reader, you should keep in mind that this book is based off of American food and safety standards. Canada is similar but I can assure you that the regulations put in place by the CFIA and the OSPCA are incredibly strict.

 

Here is my best attempt at refuting the “risk factors” to human health.

 

He makes it clear that antibiotics are given to cattle, specifically Rumensin and Tylosin. However, he leads the reader to believe that these products are given to all of the cattle, for the entire time that they are in the feedlot; this is completely false. It would have been worthwhile for Pollan to ask a veterinarian to read this book before publication. Rumensin is not an antibiotic as he suggests. If cattle have already been started on a feed ration that included corn, then there is no need to give them Rumensin. If that is not the case, then the Rumensin is given only at the beginning of the feedlot period. It is also given when necessary to promote bacteria growth in the rumen. As well, occasionally it is given to prevent coccidiosis, which is caused by the coccidia protozoa (not bacteria).

 

Pollan suggests that the E. coli O157:H7 strain lives only on/in feedlot cattle, despite a variety of scientific literatures that indicates that this strain of bacteria is about as prevalent in grass-fed cattle as corn fed. Fortunately, you can get through an entire lifetime without contracting E. coli by simply ensuring proper handling and cooking of meat (consumer level, not just producer). He makes it seem as if this is a common problem. But this is something that food safety experts control very carefully.

 

The most arduous of all of his arguments is about cannibalism. For those of you who have not read this portion, Pollan accuses feedlot operators of feeding cattle to cattle. It’s completely irrelevant to the modern cattle industry, so explaining the problem with eating one's own species is a distraction from his already flawed argument.

 

Furthermore, anyone familiar with agriculture will not accept this book as nonfiction. It's the extreme play on words and appeal to the reader's emotions that makes people naively rally with him at every turn of the page. I would like to take this opportunity to personally invite anyone reading this to come and tour our family’s feedlot any day of the year. There’s no dust, no stench, and it’s climate controlled for any weather condition that you could imagine. Our family was given the honour of educating inspectors of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on what to look for in a proper cattle-feeding operation. Finally, I promise that there will always be someone there that I personally know, ensuring that the cattle are properly cared for. 

 

Here are some photos of our feedlot. 

 

 

 

 

Feedlot barn with cattle on grass

Feedlot barn with cattle on grass

Schaus Land & Cattle

The inside of the barn

The inside of the barn

Schaus Land & Cattle

Learning about cattle feed

Learning about cattle feed

Schaus Land & Cattle

Our veterinarian talking with media

Our veterinarian talking with media

Schaus Land & Cattle

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