If there’s one thing livestock farmers worry about, it’s “undercover” animal rights activists who lie on their job applications so they can shoot film that their real employers later splice into nasty shock films. It’s a favorite tactic of groups like the so-called “Humane Society” of the United States, even though the heavily edited videos seldom show an accurate picture of anything. That’s why we were surprised and intrigued to come across this account of an open-minded vegan who visited a cattle feedlot in Colorado.

Dietitian Ryan Andrews, who doesn’t eat meat, decided to find out for himself how beef cattle are “finished” prior to slaughter. He had heard consistently that feedlots were “horrible, dismal places where thousands of sick cows are crammed in tiny pens, being force-fed corn while standing in steaming piles of their own feces.” But after his visit, Andrews walked away impressed and with a new perspective:

I was tired of talking about, reading about, and hearing about feedlots. Especially when many of the accounts were from people who had never been to a feedlot in their lives. So, when I was given this sort of rare access, I jumped at the chance to check one out for myself.

And, I have to say it.  If my experience at Magnum is representative of other cattle farms, all those accounts of the dismal, depressing, disastrous cattle conditions seem to be exaggerated….[I]f I did eat meat, my visit to Magnum would have made me feel great about eating non-organic, non-grass-fed beef. Seriously. I can’t imagine the quality of meat would be substantially better with organic and grass-fed. Nor can I imagine the living conditions would be substantially better for the cattle.

Following his visit, Andrews chose to stay meat-free, and there’s nothing wrong with his decision. The take-away lesson is the most important: He recognized that different people have different value systems, and that there’s actually an awful lot that modern livestock farmers do right. It’s too bad the professional tofu evangelists at PETA and HSUS aren't as open-minded. Read the whole piece for pictures and details of daily life on a feedlot—things you’ll never see or hear about in an animal activist’s undercover video.