The debate between whether grass-fed meat is really better than grain-fed is heating up. Is it really any better? What’s the difference really?
Looking at this from a health perspective for humans, grass-fed is better. Too many grains (no matter their source) cause inflammation and eventually metabolic syndrome.
Looking at this from an animal welfare perspective, I think it goes without saying, grass-fed animals have a much better life with their welfare in front of the farmer’s mind.
This post will primarily be discussing ruminant animals such as beef and sheep.
In Australia, two-thirds of beef and sheep stock are pasture-raised. They feed on different types of grasses depending on their location and climate. They eat grass for their entire life.
Grass Fed, Grain Finished
Sometimes cattle can graze on pastures for most of their life and then be grain finished in the last 6-8 months of their life to fatten them up for slaughter.
To be classified as grain-fed, cattle are fed a grain-based diet for more than 60 days. In Australia, these grains include wheat, barley, and sorghum. The grains are combined with by-products of cottonseed, canola, silage, and hay. In the United States, the predominant grains used are corn and soy.
Grains are cheap and fatten the animals up quickly and reliably. Grain-fed animals are often kept in feedlots for mass-produced farming.
Cattle that have been fed grains have whiter fat and more marbling through the flesh.
Is Grass Fed Meat Organic?
Not necessarily. Organic means the paddocks the animals graze in or the feed they are given need to be pesticide and chemical-free. It’s not about the animals.
Grain-fed animals can still be organic if the grains they are fed are organic and free from chemicals and man-made substances.
Is Grass Fed Meat More Expensive?
Yes, generally it is. This is due to the responsible way in which the animals are raised – on pastures and not being fed cheap grains and confined to small spaces in feedlots.
Health Benefits of Grass Fed Meat over Grain-Fed Meat
– Grass-fed cattle are free to roam in pastures for their entire life
– Grain-fed cattle begin in pastures then move to feedlots
– Grass-fed cattle eat grass and hay
– Grain-fed cattle eat grains like wheat, barley, corn, and soy
– Grass-fed cattle have more beneficial essential fatty acid (Omega 3), vitamins, and minerals
– Grain-fed cattle are higher in fat, lower in nutrients
– Grass-fed have no growth hormones or antibiotics
– Grain-fed are given antibiotics to prevent disease from spreading in feedlots.
It’s your personal preference which one you choose to eat. You may have concerns around animal welfare or your own health.
Remember, whatever the animal has eaten, transfers to the person eating it.
So, if an animal is grain-fed, you will also be taking on the effects the grains have had on that animal.
This is important if you are eating a low-carb diet and trying to avoid grains to manage your weight.
It can be difficult to source grass-fed meat. Sometimes meat is labelled as grass-fed but has lived in a pasture most of its life and then been grain-finished. Talk to your butcher about their farm sources.
What About the Planet?
Many people get concerned about eating meat, thinking doing so is causing great harm to our environment. Cows are mass producers of methane, right? Well, no.
Despite common beliefs driven by climate activists and vegetarians, beef cattle are not primarily responsible for the climate crisis. In fact, the methane effect on our climate is negligible.
The truth is, mass agriculture is causing much more damage to the environment.
There is a groundswell movement advocating how important meat is for human health and avoiding it is not actually contributing to our climate crisis.
The answer is regenerative farming. Moving cows and other ruminants through paddocks. Rotating stock and allowing paddocks to lie fallow.
Farmers around the world are adopting regenerative farming methods, healing the land, and providing vital nutrition for humans.
If you would like to find out more, Sacred Cow is an excellent book (and movie).
Or check out Dr. Beaney’s thoughts on the Carnivore Diet.