Is Grass-Finished Meat Halthier?

What does grass-fed really mean?

The answer is… nobody knows. The problem is that the USDA will not regulate the word “grass-fed”. All cows do in fact graze on grass for the first 5-7 months of their life before being shipped off to a feedlot where they are finished on grain. In most cases, “grass-fed” beef is simply fed grass in addition to the conventional grain and/or corn diet. Therefore, the term “grass-fed” is often used deceptively in the marketplace; the same exact thing goes for the term “grass-finished” as well. True grass-fed farmer’s are constantly looking for new terms to differentiate themselves from the grain-fed industry. Packaging laws have also been modified to allow imported meat to be labeled as a “Product of the USA” as long as the meat passes inspection in a USDA inspected plant. Do you trust an international meat company to source truly grass-fed beef that lives up to your expectations?  So when you buy grass-fed beef from the store, you really don’t know what you’re getting.

This is why we give our customers a detailed description of the husbandry and diet our livestock consumes so you know precisely what you are putting into your body. We encourage our customers to visit our farm so you can see for yourself how our cows live and pick our brains about how we do things. Our cows forage our pastures from the day they are born until the day they are harvested. We do not supplement our livestock diets with grain, corn, or hay sprayed with fertilizers, herbicides, or fungicides. But, for sake of simplicity throughout the remainder of article, I will use the term “grass-fed” to refer to livestock that has never eaten anything other than grass forages.

You Are What You Eat

“You are what you eat” is a very true statement. Humans are a direct example of this. We can all see just how devastating the modern diet is on our health and well being. I couldn’t imagine eating a cow or sheep in similar condition. Unfortunately grain & corn fed cows/sheep are exactly that… an over-weight, unhealthy animal. Cows and sheep cannot subsist long term on grain/corn fed diets used to fatten them for slaughter. Not to mention, grain and corn fed diets are grown in crop fields saturated in herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides.

Did you also know that American beef calves are implanted with growth hormones behind their ears to increase growth rates? Our farm is surrounded by very friendly neighbors who are beef cattle producers, and hormone implants are simply standard practice to them. I bet your meat packaging didn’t mention that at the store! These implants are outlawed throughout Europe and for good reason. Studies found that meat retains high concentrations of these lab-made hormones which were causing early-onset puberty. The import of American beef into Europe was banned until the early 2000’s when America began implementing tariffs and claiming World Trade Organization violations, thereby forcing the EU to lift its American beef ban. While American beef is now being imported into Europe, it is heavily labeled to ensure public awareness of the hormone contents. America is still levying tariffs to remove these labels since American beef has performed poorly in the European market.

Many online articles claim grass-fed beef is nutritionally comparable to grain fed beef. They concentrate their criticisms on the level Omega 3 fatty acids, claiming the lean nature of grass-fed beef makes the Omega 3 levels a trivial benefit. While grass-fed beef may not be your sole source of Omega 3 fatty acids, the levels of Omega 3 are not insignificant in grass-fed. A single serving of grass-fed beef can contain between 65 to 100 mg of Omega 3. An average recommended daily intake of Omega 3 is approximately 500mg. What really matters most is the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. The human body cannot synthesize these fatty acids, so instead we must consume them. The National Institute of Health cites high levels of Omega 6 fatty acids being responsible for many chronic auto-immune, inflammatory, cancerous and vascular diseases widely found in the American population. Store bought grain/corn fed beef exhibits an average Omega 6 to 3 ratios of 7.65:1 while grass finished beef is an average ratio of 1.53:1.  An overall healthy diet contains a 4:1 ratio with the optimal being between 2:1 and 1:1. The modern American diet is 15:1! The major culprit of Omega 6 over-consumption in America comes from soybean, corn, and safflower oils….Guess what cows eat when being fed grain in a feedlot…You guessed it: soybean, corn, and safflower based grains & silage. Grass finished beef is also a great source of powerful precursors, antioxidants and other micro nutrients that can be purchased in pill form at a premium prices [ SOD (superoxide dismutase), CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid),  β-carotenes/carotenoids, glutathione, α-tocopherol, trans-vaccenic acid (TVA)]

Since we have reservations concerning the use of herbicides and fertilizers in grain and corn-fed systems, we also make sure to avoid it in hay. We rarely supplement our cattle with hay but when we do, we source our hay from a “hay guy” in our community who does not use chemicals of any kind. While our hay guy forgoes herbicides and fertilizers from a cost savings standpoint rather than a health stand point, it perfectly serves our needs. We truly do subscribe to the motto “You are what you eat”, so we make a conscious effort to avoid any inputs that don’t live up to this standard.