Grass or Grain, Beef is Beef
In the summertime there is truly nothing more delicious than a fresh, juicy cheeseburger. It is barbecue season after all! Regardless of the type of beef, you are probably throwing something on your grill this time of year. But, whether your meat was fed a grain based meal or foraged for grass, it is still a nutritious source of protein, B-complex vitamins, zinc, iron and phosphorus.
So, what is a grass fed cow?
All cattle are grass-fed to some degree. The difference lies in whether they are grass finished.
Only about 1% of beef sales today are “grass finished”. However the grass-fed market is growing by roughly 20% a year.
Is there a nutritional advantage to eating grass fed beef?
The primary nutritional difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef lies in the saturated and unsaturated fat content. You may remember from our previous post, Fat: Our New Friend, we should get approximately 27% of our daily calories from fat. Fat protects our brain, maintains our cell membranes, and helps us absorb vitamins.
Why? Because grass has high levels of alpha-linolenic acid and corn has very little.
Well, you would certainly have to eat a lot of beef! Comparatively, salmon has 35x more omega-3’s than grass-fed beef. Other fatty fish, such as anchovies, herring, mackerel. trout, and tuna, are also a great way to provide your body with a high dose of omega-3. Even a tablespoon of canola oil, say in your salad dressing, would meet your omega-3 daily requirement of 1.1 grams for women and reach 87% of the 1.6 grams for men.
If you, like us at Dirt to Dinner, love a good steak or hamburger, you can get some of your important saturated fats, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat from any kind of beef.
Where are grass fed cows grown?
NFL footballs are made of cowhide. About 3,000 cowhides are required to make footballs for one season.
Beef Tongue is a Japanese delicacy. About 50% of US cattle tongues are shipped to Japan every year. Try one – thinly sliced and grilled!
Disneyland sells over 4 million hamburgers each year and McDonalds sells approximately 75 hamburgers a second – 225 million burghers worldwide every year.
Thus, grass-fed beef is harder to grow in the U.S. Australia and Uruguay, on the other hand, have acres of land which can support grass-fed cattle throughout the year making their grass-fed farming more cost effective.
Do grass-fed cattle have a happier life?
According to Dr. Temple Grandin, the animal welfare expert of cattle,
“It doesn’t matter whether a cow is in a feedlot or on the ‘range’. What is important is whether the animal has shelter, proper drainage for the rain, consistent food, and is not put in stressful situations.”
Sure, it is nice to think of a cow having access to a beautiful grassy field, but keep in mind, not all pastures are grassy! Some are dry, some have no water, and some are terribly arid. Some farmers indicate that their cows are fed only grass – but they are contained in a feedlot and fed grass pellets! All feedlot owners are not the same either. Some feedlot owners pay attention to every single cow and some do not. What the cattle are fed or their ability to roam are not the determining factors for good animal welfare. What really matters is the quality of care and attention given by the farmer, and each farmer is different.
Are grass fed cattle better for the environment?
One can say that cattle are the perfect “crop” for those grassy areas that don’t have great soil for grains and oilseeds. Their hooves aerate and their manure fertilizes the soil which enables the grass to grow better than it would otherwise. For example, parts of western Nebraska have 50,000 acre ranches which are perfect for the grass-fed cattle.
However, when most people think of the environment, with respect to cattle, they think of methane emissions. And, in fact, cattle are often blamed for global warming! Yes, the media and Hollywood have convinced people that cows produce more pollution than cars or trucks – check out Cowspiracy. This is based on the UN Food and Agriculture Organizations 2006 report, Livestock’s Long Shadow.
While there is a difference in cow methane production in the developed world versus the developing world, Dr. Frank Mitloehner, Associate Professor and air quality extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, disputes the FAO report and explains that the difference is in the animal’s nutrition. In the developed world, we have very good veterinary care, excellent cow nutrition, and strong genetics. This combination plus a well-managed ranch reduces the parasites that compete for nutrients in the cows’ digestive system. The better the digestion – which you have when the cattle eat a good diet full of nutrients – the less the greenhouse gas production. In fact, because grass-fed cows live eight months longer – combined with their grassy diet – their emissions are higher.
According to the EPA, in the United States, agriculture as a whole contributes 9% to greenhouse gas emissions compared to electricity which weighs in at 30%. Animal agriculture, which has increased its meat production by almost 50% since 1990, has remained constant at about 3% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that emissions from U.S. animal agriculture have remained relatively constant while protein production has increased dramatically reflects improved feed efficiencies, better manure management strategies, and efficient use of cropland.
What about E. coli and mad cow disease?
Today, all cattle are carefully processed without any brain or spinal tissue. In addition, they are all harvested well before 36 months, the incubation period for the disease.
What are the certifications for grass fed beef?
The Bottom Line:
Red meat is good for you regardless of how the cattle were fed. Grass-fed beef can provide you with more omega-3 than grain fed beef, but it doesn’t compare to the levels you get in healthy, fatty fish! Whether your taste buds like grass- or grain-fed beef is entirely up to you – but either one will provide you with essential nutrients.
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“Conference Call on Withdrawal of Our Grass (Forage) Fed Marketing Claim Standard and Naturally Raised Marketing Claim Standard.” USDA. AMS, 14 Jan. 2016. Web.
Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D. Professor and Air Quality Extension Specialist n.d.: n. pag. Print.
Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed Beef – What’s The Difference?” RSS 20. N.p., 2013. Web. 27 July 2016.
Grass-Fed Beef Production- A Summary.” Grass-Fed Beef Production- A Summary. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
Grass-Fed Vs. Grain-Fed Ground Beef — No Difference In Healthfulness.” BEEF Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
Health and Wellness | Healthy Living | Toronto Star.” Thestar.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
Johnson, Jo. “The Health Benefits of Grass Farming.” Rain Crow Ranch. American Grass Fed Beef, n.d. Web.
Loneragan, Ph.D., Guy, and Frank Mitloeher, Ph.D. “Corn Fed versus Grass Fed Beef.” North American Meat Institute. N.p., n.d. Web.