grass-fed-pastureWhat does grass-fed mean anyway?

In a day where nearly everything is labeled as “All Natural” or “Green” it can be hard to distinguish genuine descriptions from clever marketing. In truth, all beef cattle spend at least some part of their lives on pasture. So what separates grass-fed beef from everything else?

The difference between commercial beef and purely pastured beef is what happens during ‘finishing’ – the final weeks of life. Industrial beef cattle in the United States are moved from their lush pasturelands to Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs) where they are crammed nose-to-tail far away from the green pastures they once roamed.

The CAFO process is not only inhumane but also unhealthy. CAFO cows are fed a steady diet of grains like corn and soybean-based mixtures, products that cows do not digest well. Suffering from digestive problems and confined tightly in unsanitary conditions, the cows are given preventative antibiotics, growth hormones, anti-reflux medications, and other foreign substances to hopefully stave off infectious diseases and to induce rapid weight gain.

The more we learn about the CAFO model, the more we understand why consumption of this meat is associated with increased incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer[1,2,3].

What makes pasture-finished beef different?

Animals that are ‘pasture-finished’ never get within sight of a feed lot. Instead, the cows remain in the fields for the entirety of their lives. As a direct result, pasture-finished beef is untainted by growth hormones and preventative antibiotics. Without the stress and unsanitary conditions of CAFOs, pasture-finished cattle live a longer and healthier life.

Even the finished product from pasture-finished beef is different. Beef from cows not fed grains have higher levels of many important vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium4! Pasture-finished beef also contains as much as four times more omega-3 fatty acids than its grain-fed counterpart5!

The take-home message

Just because you’re buying ‘grass-fed’ beef doesn’t mean it’s the healthier, more ethical choice! Ask your beef provider these important questions!

  • Have your cows solely been finished on grasses, planted legumes, or hay?
  • Do you use any preventative antibiotics or hormones on your cows?
  • Are your cows allowed to live their lives free of excessive confinement?

 

1 http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf
2 http://iowa.sierraclub.org/CAFO_impacts.pdf
3 http://www.ncifap.org/_images/212-4_EnvImpact_tc_Final.pdf
4 http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/87/9/2961.full.pdf+html
5 http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/71/8/2079.full.pdf

"Grass-Fed Beef Is Better for You, Better for the Planet and Better for the Cows" - Dr. Mercola, www.mercola.com