Well, that's a turn up for the books. I've spent years so busy focusing on the dairy industry, I kind of missed the feedlot issue.

I mean I knew they were out there, but not to the extent revealed by Checkpoint on Monday. Approximately 20,000 cattle in a mud-filled hell, being fattened like caged chooks on grain, wending their way slowly to slaughter.

A while back I spent time at a falconry meet-up in Amarillo, Texas. In the days spent in the area hunting small game with raptors, I got my first up close and personal experience with an American feedlot in a small town called Hereford.

The Five Star Beef feedlot is not New Zealand's only one but it is the biggest, home to nearly 20,000 cattle. Photo / Safe
The Five Star Beef feedlot is not New Zealand's only one but it is the biggest, home to nearly 20,000 cattle. Photo / Safe

The boot scootin' Texan showing me the "sights" tried to tell me in his best drawl: "Hurrrfud is the home of the famous cattle, you know."

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Yep, he truly believed that the famous line of red and white bovines came from his small Panhandle town. I didn't bother to shatter his whimsy.

I won't bore you with the obvious issues of size (all 140kg of them), smell (indescribable), and general horridness except to say that once I regained my ability to speak, I bragged to my stateside mates about how New Zealand beef was different.

Their eyes glazed over at the impossible notion that our cattle were purely grass-fed, on generally green fields, until their death. I explained that the taste of our meat was vastly superior and, at that point, it dawned on them that, in fact, I wasn't a vegetarian. I was only a non-meat eater while in the States hanging out with them. Or unless the hawk caught something.

They still thought their beef was the best, and that night we all decided to take a Cadillac limo with longhorns plastered across the grille to the famous Big Texan Steak Ranch on Route 66. Yes, I played the game and ordered a steak.

They oohed and aahed at how marvellous it was, while I attempted to eat my hunk of foul-tasting, grain-reeking slab of greyish meat.

When they weren't looking I wrapped it in a napkin and put it in my coat pocket. Bugger that, I thought.


A few weeks later I was in a basic but reasonable enough restaurant on the outskirts of Seattle. I thought it'd be safe to try a grass-fed steak.

So I asked the waitress if there was anything grass-fed on the menu. She looked at me like I was speaking Martian – which, as a Kiwi, some Americans think you are – and said: "What's that, honey?"

I repeated it slowly, and enunciated clearly. She said, without a word of a lie, "I don't know what that is."

I ordered the vege soup.

Now, I think you can see where I'm going with this. I have been inordinately proud of New Zealand's image regarding our meat industry overseas. But listening to Beef + Lamb NZ's CEO Sam McIvor talking to Checkpoint on the hop, and trying desperately to justify what most Kiwis have only just found out, was quite something to behold.

He trotted out the usual lines about adhering to central and local government guidelines, animal welfare guidelines – which is disingenuous, given the recent massive failures of both. He banged on about the 98 per cent being grass-fed, as if percentages make a difference to our international image. Boy, he sounded nervous too. And he should be.

The things a nation will do to ruin their branding and their reputation is quite remarkable.

If New Zealand's agricultural leaders were playing the long game, they'd see that this latest revelation is potentially disastrous. Short-term gains continue to override sanity.

We have a boom and bust culture as it is. When will these leaders finally get it through their heads that this is self-defeating?

I'll let both you, and BigAg, in on a secret. Way more revelations are coming. Wait until you hear about winter cropping, and what's going on there regarding animal welfare.

Not really any different from feedlots, and arguably even more mud and shit everywhere. Fodder beets are commonly used for high carbs and quick fattening, and also with no shelter from the elements. And, environmentally? It's all bad news.

If you're shocked now, wait until you hear about foetal blood taken from pregnant cows at slaughter. Wait until you find out how that's done, and the irony of what it's used for. The stuff about to come down the pipe will make feedlots look like a walk in the park. Your hair's gonna curl.

Before you blame animal rights groups for what's coming, think again. Sure, they're in the mix. But industry insiders are starting to open up about what they're seeing too. I applaud them.

If BigAg had any sense, they'd have changed their ways well before upcoming public pressure forces them too.