Raising Cows The Old-Fashioned Way

Worry about mad cow disease is driving some beef-loving consumers deep into the country.

Jennifer Reese and Alvin Paez came all the way to the Chileno Valley Ranch in northern California, searching for safer beef.

As CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports, they haven't eaten red meat since December when that one mad cow was discovered in Washington.

"We could not bring ourselves to eat the prime rib on Christmas so we threw the whole thing away," says Reese.

At the Chileno Valley Ranch, cows are raised the old fashioned way, roaming through open pastures, eating only grass.

A far cry from the huge feedlots, where most beef cattle get growth hormones and antibiotics and grow fat quickly on a diet of high protein feed and supplements often made from the remains of slaughtered animals.

"It's cannibalism, it's not natural," says rancher Sally Gale. "They're ruminants. They were designed to eat grass, not meat."

The owners of Chileno Valley, Sally and Mike Gale, say the mad cow scare has been good for business.

But most consumers have to make their decisions not at the farm gate but at the meat counter, and here the array of labels can be baffling: natural, organic, grass fed.

"Today, labels can be very confusing, and it's important that consumers look behind the label," says Caroline Smith Dewaal, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The label "natural" is loosely defined by the Department of Agriculture as meat that contains no artificial ingredients and goes through "minimal" processing.

The label "organic," though, sets strict standards for what a cow is fed: no growth hormones or antibiotics. Even its pastures must be certified by the federal government.

The Gales are working toward organic certification for Chileno Valley. For now the label they use is "grass fed."

"So what we are really are grass farmers, and incidentally, we produce beef from it," says Mike Gale.

And beef that is either grass fed or certified organic is virtually certain not to carry mad cow disease. While agriculture officials insist the entire beef supply is safe, ranchers like the Gales believe cows are what they eat.
  • Jaime Holguin

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