I just recorded a podcast with an "in the know" ruminant agriculturalist who is also a forage agronomist. While recording the podcast, he dropped some knowledge dispelling some of the claimed benefits of consuming "grass fed" beef over "grain fed".
The crazy part is, you were on the podcast with me! What the fuck? What should I do with this info? Should I throw all of the grass fed beef away I have stocked up in my freezer and go for the cheaper "grain fed" variety?
Thanks in advance for your feedback,
I have to be honest, I may have bought into the hype. The debate between grass-fed and grain-fed beef is hotly contested between all parties involved.
On one side you have powerhouses like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin who believe the way cattle are being raised is both inhumane and poisoning us as a nation. On the other, you have the USDA and a vast collection of independent cattle ranchers raising cattle to feed an overpopulated planet.
When the stories of poor conditions, inhumane slaughterhouses, foreign diets and reckless use of drugs in cattle was first talked about in the media, I had to pause. As an omnivore, with a heavy dose of carnivore, I needed to examine the issues being discussed and if they were as important as many experts were claiming.
The use of drugs in cattle is one always at the forefront. Different anabolic hormones are used to stimulate growth in cattle. While this sounds problematic, it might not be, as the majority of the meat consumed is from neutered bulls. They neuter the bulls to made them manageable, then add hormones back into the animals for growth. It could be said eating an unneutered bull would offer more hormones. (1)
The other big factor is nutritional profile. Is GF (grass-fed) beef more “healthy” than CAFO (confined animal feeding operations)?
The difference in omega 3 between GF and CAFO is negligible at best. And the statement made recently by Peter Ballerstedt on Power Athlete Radio, "if you are eating beef for omega 3’s your money is better sent on wild caught salmon. 1 ounce of wild caught salmon has more omega 3’s than 48 ounces of GF beef." (2)
What about less saturated fat? Yes, GF beef has less saturated fat than CAFO beef. But that is another moot point, as dietary saturated is not the villain it was once thought to be. (3)
If you understand how the USDA grades beef, the most marbled cuts are considered the best with less than 2% being graded as USDA prime. Grass-fed meat is much leaner as it is not finished on grains like CAFO raised cattle. And therefore, will not grade out well when compared to the CAFO meat. (4)
Grass-fed beef is reported to not use antibiotics during the raising of the animals. While this is a good thing, USDA has a program to test beef for residues that could be harmful to consumers. This program is called the USDA Residue Program for Beef, Poultry and Egg. (5) It is worth noting, that smaller non-regulated farms are not subject to the USDA Residue testing protocols. A case could be made, these smaller farms could be providing meat that has been tainted with antibiotics and hormones, even though they claim otherwise.
There are no ruminants in this country exclusively raised on grain or corn. 80% of all feed used in cattle product is grass based forage. You can say with certainty, every ruminant is raised on a diet of grass and forage for the majority of its life.
Are GF animals slaughtered more humanely than CAFO animals?
The Humane Slaughter Act of 1958 requires that animals be treated in a way that is both humane and dignified. There is a program in place called the Animal Welfare Audit designed by Dr. Temple Gradin to create ways to process the animals that is both painless and humane. Most of the cattle industry uses her practices to process the animals. (6)
With all these programs in place are there cattle ranchers and slaughter houses that do not follow the rules and raise/process animals in a way that is contrary to USDA policy?
Yes, I am sure many have broken the rules and they have been rightfully exposed in undercover documentaries and movies.
The most important question is no longer "are you eating GF beef instead of CAFO beef?"
The question is, "are you eating beef?"
If you can answer yes, then you can move to the next discussion and decide if the extra coin is worth being spent on GF beef.
If the answer is no, then we need to discuss why not. Beef in this country is raised at a much higher standard than other protein sources like poultry, swine and farm raised fish.
Personally, my family and I eat grass-fed beef because I believe in supporting smaller local farms. I believe this helps create diversity in the production of food and I buy into the “buy local” movement. I have seen the effects of large scale cattle operations and I choose to purchase meat that is not finished on grain.
As for the nutritional aspect and whether GF beef will produce a healthier person than commercially raised CAFO beef, one study from Cambridge says yes. (7)
While one study is convincing, we need more research on both sides to confirm which is more beneficial and therefore cannot make a recommendation with certainty at this time.
I can only tell you what I do, what my coaches do and many of the smartest people on the planet do.
(7) McAfee, A. J., McSorley, E. M., Cuskelly, G. J., Fearon, A. M., Moss, B. W., Beattie, J. A. M., ... & Strain, J. J. (2011). Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platelet n-3 PUFA in healthy consumers.British Journal of Nutrition, 105(01), 80-89.