I’m sure you see the advertisements at your local supermarket, farmers market, and online offering “Healthy Grass-fed Beef” and “Sustainable Grass-fed Beef”. When I see “Grass-fed“, it invokes images of happy cows eating grass on lush pastures. Animals that are healthy, well treated, and chemical free. If you’re like me, you probably picture a similar scenario as well. The other thing I notice is that “Grass-fed” also comes with a higher price tag and that begs the question;
“Is grass-fed beef better for you than conventionally raised beef?”
To answer that question you first have to define grass-fed. The USDA regulates this term and you must obtain approval from them to label your beef as grass-fed. The USDA relies on third party inspectors to verify the claim grass-fed. Then, based on the third party findings (or just a convincing letter), gives approval for a company or farmer to use the term “grass-fed” on a label. At Longbottom Farm, grass-fed means our animals are on pasture (not in confinement). They eat the grass and forage that grow on that pasture until time for processing. No grains, hormones, or antibiotics at any point. Grass-fed and grass-finished is a phrase we use to drive home the point. This is what we consider grass-fed along with most small farms we work with. This criteria is also echoed by certification bodies such as the American Grassfed Association (AGA).
With an understanding of what grass-fed beef is, how does it differ from conventional beef you buy at the supermarket? Beef that you find in the supermarket is typically commercially raised, or referred to as conventional beef. These cattle typically start their life out on pasture, but don’t finish there. They typically move to a CAFO or feedlot system, and are given feed mixtures consisting mostly of grain (corn) among other ingredients. This is done as it’s much faster to get to slaughter weight, typically in 14 to 18 months (vs 20-30 months it takes for grass-fed). So you basically have 2 cows that start their life similarly, but with two very different endpoints. We believe this results in two very different products.
So back to the question, is grass-fed beef better for you? Is it worth the expense versus conventional beef?
We think so and here is why.
Grass-fed beef has been shown to have more omega-3 fatty acids yielding a better omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratio (1,2,3). You’re probably thinking, “What in the world does that mean?” These are two fatty acids essential to human health. The diet of grass-fed cattle is higher in omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent atherosclerosis (cause of heart attacks) and cancer (1). Too much Omega 6 or not enough omega-3 to achieve the right balance is believed contribute to high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, and a lot of the inflammatory disorders we see today.
Grass-fed beef has also been shown to have more antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin A (1) and vitamin E (1,2,3). Vitamin A has numerous functions including maintaining skin, vision, and mucous membranes. It also helps with bone growth and cell division / differentiation. Vitamin A has many roles. Vitamin E act as protectors for our body in that they neutralize harmful chemicals (free radicals) that are known to cause cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Grass-fed beef has also been shown to be safer. A consumer reports study from 2015 showed that conventional beef was twice as likely to contain antibiotic resistant “Superbugs” than sustainably produced beef (no antibiotics, organic, or grass-fed). This is because conventionally raised beef requires consistent antibiotic use due to the poor conditions the cattle are housed in. Some operations also routinely use antibiotics to promote weight gain. I’ll take my grass-fed steak medium rare, hold the Superbugs!
We think the choice is clear.
In summary, grass-fed beef yields higher amounts of omega-3s, more antioxidants, it’s leaner, and less likely to to be infected with deadly pathogens. This collectively adds up to a more nutritious (and tasty) product. It’s also better for the environment. Our cattle eat the grass and their manure fertilizes the grass. This promotes more grass growth and a cycle that reduces carbon and improves fertility of the land. In short, we convert sunlight to a healthy and delicious grass-fed beef, by simply following the template Mother Nature provides us.
At Longbottom Farm, we raise our beef in line with how these animals evolved. On pasture, constantly on the move (rotating), and without antibiotics / hormones. We strive for efficiency, but won’t take shortcuts that sacrifice health or welfare of the animal in the name of efficiency. We take great pride in the 2-3 year time frame it takes to produce our grass-fed beef and you can taste the difference. Our aim is to be open and transparent and that is what we offer to you. You deserve to know whats in your food, where it comes from, and how it’s made. We’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment here and thanks for reading this weeks Food For Thought.