As industrialisation has forever changed the way we produce food, generations of farmers have tried to boost livestock production through breeding and feeds to shorten growth cycles, getting more meat to the market to feed the increasing population. Unfortunately, there is little room for sensitivity in commercial farming.
Selective breeding techniques have led to these genetically superior beef cattle that have incredible muscles and strength known as “Belgian Blue” (Race de la Moyenne et Haute Belgique). Modern breeds of Belgian Blue cattle are the creation of genetic engineering, with the specific goal of expanding the muscular content of the animals as much as possible. Each cattle weighs over a tonne.
The Belgian Blue’s sculpted, heavily double-muscled physique is the result of a mutation in a myostatin gene that prevents control of muscular growth. This mutation causes extreme over-development of muscle in the cattle, which provides great benefits to producers and consumers, but causes harm to the animals.
Feed is converted into lean muscles, which causes this particular breed’s meat to have a reduced fat content. Since the Belgian Blue’s bone structure is the same as normal cattle, however holding a greater amount of muscle, causes them to have a greater meat to bone ratio, a muscle yield of about 20% more on average than other cattle breeds. Because of this breed’s increased muscle yield, a diet containing higher protein i.e. high-energy (concentrated) feeds, is required to compensate for the altered mode of weight gain. They will not yield the same results if put on a high-fiber diet.
The price of this double-muscle physique is not cheap. These cattle are susceptible to many medical complications, including macroglossia which causes a swelling of the tongue that may interfere with a calf’s ability to nurse and cause premature death; congenital articular rigidity, a chronic ailment that affects a calf’s ability to stand on its legs, also affecting its ability to nurse; cardio-respiratory problems which can cause death in calves within two days of birth due to insufficient oxygen intake; and dystocia. These birthing complications necessitate operative assistance, specifically caesarian sections, which occur in double-muscled cattle as often as 89.5% of the time.
This need to undergo constant operations is a topic highly open to ethical criticism. These animals have been bred for specific characteristics which include the inability to safely give birth to healthy offspring. So, in a sense, unhealthy and unnatural breeds are being created for the benefit of commercial producers, with no thought to the discomfort and pain of the animals. It is assumed that caesareans cause a lot of suffering to the animals, but also that their high incidence is an indication of the excessive instrumentalisation of these animals.
Having spent some time living in Australia as a kid, happy cows wandering peacefully through rolling grassland was not an uncommon sight in the Outback. And I would rather eat beef from naturally-reared cattle than any genetically enhanced breeds. Therefore I jumped at the oppportunity to learn more about organic cattle rearing and beef production by the invitation of OBE Organic and Plug PR.
OBE, a family-run farm, has been practising pastoral rearing of cattles for generation, where the cows are free to roam on many acres of natural, pesticides-free grassland. It made me happy to see these animals with ample room to graze, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. It seems right and proper that farm animals, who help us nourish our families, should be given respect and a comfortable life.
Australia is blessed with large areas of flood plains full of 250+ species of native grasses and herbs, the natural diet of the cattle. Even though the traditional ‘free range’ method requires a lot more land than conventional commercial cattle farming, the cattle are allowed to roam freely over large areas, grazing their preferred choice of native pasture. The daily exercise results in lean meat and even fat distribution, and the diverse grass-and-herb diet gives the meat a lot of nutrients such as Vitamins B & D, Iron, Zinc, Protein and Omega 3.A self-confessed carnivore, I was delighted to be invited to a tasting of the prized tenderloin last week by OBE Organic. The organic beef supplier is currently partnering with a few old favourites of mine, but for this particular tasting it was held at the popular Soho osteria Posto Pubblico.
The tenderloin is an oblong shape spanning two primal cuts: the short loin and the sirloin. The tenderloin sits beneath the ribs, next to the backbone. This muscle does very little work, so it is the tenderest part of the beef. I have always preferred a good rib eye for the beefy flavour and marbling. Just a personal preference for a little bit more flavour at a slight expense of tenderness.
I have been assured that the grass-fed tenderloin will change my mind as it is so flavourful. It started off as a ‘Chef’s special’ but due to overwhelming demand it is now on the regular menu too.
The tenderloin was cooked to a perfect medium rare, still delightfully pink in the middle and only lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. You really do not need anything else on such a tender piece of beef. And this was completely different from any other tenderloin I have tried before. This was very tender, lean and clean, with a distinct beefy flavour, thanks to the natural grass and herb diet and the daily roaming on the beautiful flood plains.
The salad was a fresh, low key but naturally sweet complement to the beef, just as one would expect from Homegrown Foods, the organic produce arm of IHM. Chef Jay may have been a little bit too generous with the salt on the salad but nonetheless it did not overwhelm the natural goodness of the rocket and tomatoes. Those who know me would know that I am not a fan of potatoes, but this roasted version was earthy and a natural companion to the beef.
Vinny, the Executive Chef of the IHM Group, and Head Chef Jay are passionate about sourcing the best ingredients for the customers. They believe in the philosophy of respect and following traditions of rearing cattles organically, especially when the meat quality and nutritional value are superior versus commercially farmed beef.
There is no life without energy, and food is the energy that fuels us as human beings. It makes sense to me that the purer the energy we put into our bodies, the healthier we become. Happy cows definitely made some very happy steaks via OBE, and once you have tasted the beefy tender goodness of organic beef, there is no return.
Add: G/F, 28 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2577 7160
OBE Organic beef is also available for retail purchase. Feel free to contact me for a list of stockist
Some photos courtesy of OBE Organic