Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grass Fed Beef

I stumbled upon this article about athletes eating more grass fed beef, and it caused me to reflect on the debate over grass-fed vs. feedlot fed beef.

For me, the biggest con of grass fed beef is the price.  In my local market, to buy half of a grass fed steer (approximately 210 pounds), it would cost me $6.29 per pound, or $1,320.  A half of a feedlot steer would cost me $2.79 per pound, or $586.  So, is the price difference worth it?  Read on.

Benefits of 100% grass fed beef (all of this comes from "stuff" I found on the Internet; I have very little personal experience with grass fed meat).
·         Cows are ruminants, meaning they have four stomachs to efficiently process the cellulose in grass.  Cows are not evolved to eat large quantities of grain and grain can cause cows to become sick, requiring them to get antibiotic injections.  All of this stuff winds up on your plate when you eat grain fed beef.
·         Just exactly what do they feed feedlot cattle?  It’s not just grains, but a lot of other stuff, including food processing by-products (e.g., sugar beet waste, molasses, animal by-products, potatoes, cottonseed meal, etc.) and antibiotics.  Grass fed cattle eat none of the above.  They eat grass.
·         Grass fed cows live better lives.  They are not put in CAFOs (“confined animal feeding operations”) but freely wander over pasture land, returning essential nutrients to the soil through their urine and manure.  They do not get the diseases common to feedlots, nor the sickness that comes from feeding them grain (grains mess up the pH balance in the rumens and their livers last just long enough for slaughter).
·         Grass fed beef is more nutritious for you.  It has higher concentrations of vitamins, and more omega 3 fatty acids than salmon.  Also, it has a lot less of the fat producing omega 6 fatty acids.  There are no artificial antibiotics, growth hormones, steroids or other chemicals added to the meat. 
·         You can sock it to your vegetarian nemesis.  When she/he tells you it takes 16 pounds of grains to grow one pound of meat, you give them the raspberry. (This “16 pounds of grain” fantasy is false, by the way). No grain is used in the production of your grass fed beef, and raising grass fed cattle is actually quite environmentally friendly and sustainable, which is something your vegetarian friends usually think about.

It must be 100% grass fed, not “grass finished” (after initial grain feeding) or organic (which may simply mean it was fed organicly grown grains).

So why is it so expensive?  It takes longer to “finish” the animal.  Feedlot cattle are ready for slaughter in 12-13 months, but grass fed cattle take 18 to 24 months.  As with humans, grain is fattening and it is used to quickly fatten up cattle.  Also, most grass fed cattle are raised on small farms without access to the economies of scale that come from large, feedlot operations.

So is it worth it?  Probably.  Can I afford it?  Ah, that is a different question entirely.

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