Grass Fed VS Grain Fed Beef

"We need to treat the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject"  - Sir Albert Howard

Today in the US and South Africa almost all commercial beef is finished in a grain feedlot. So rather than living on grass, forbs and legumes as evolution intended our ruminants (yes sheep and goats also) are turned into 'grainivores' in order to get them fattened up as fast as possible. The big problem with this is that not being adapted to a grain based diet they immediately start to get sick, the nutritional value of their meat starts to decline and they have to be placed on antibiotics in order to "get better" and carry on gaining weight (they are also routinely fed growth hormones and animal products).

Feedlots have significant impact on the environment, they manage to take nature's fertiliser and turn it into a waste product, poisoning water sources and the atmosphere.  Secondly, unlike grass finished beef, they are not part of a natural cycle that draws carbon out the atmosphere and stores it in the ground. Have a look at the different carbon cycles of Feedlot vs Grass finished for an insight into this environmental disaster (Feedlot Carbon Cycle).

This unnatural creation arose shortly after WW2, in the US there was an excess of oil and ammunition plants could easily be converted into fertiliser factories. The resulting cheap, synthetic fertiliser resulted in a jump in corn production and its price quickly dropped. As a consequence the farm gate price for corn was protected by government subsidies the drop in price didn't result in a drop in production, in fact the opposite resulted and overproduction became the norm. To deal with this growing mountain of cheap corn they started feeding it to animals. The cheap price, the reduced growing time and the factory like conditions in the feedlot made a smooth beef production line which, together with the profit margin, delighted industrial agriculture. The rest as they say is history and the outcome is an unnatural system that results in environmental and health disasters.

Feedlots are a crime against animal rights.  Animals have to live in cages on top of their own dung and urine and in the case of ruminants be fed food they aren't supposed to eat. In addition to grain not being their natural food the grain they get is grown using chemicals on depleted soils and is missing its own full requirement of nutrients (link to Depleted Soils). Feedlots also impact negatively on humans, they change the nutrient value of the meat they produce and expose people to the hormones and antibiotics that are fed to the animals to keep them healthy and growing fast. The saying "You are what you eat" applies equally to the plant, the cow and the human.

Changes in the Feedlot

There are some significant differences in the fats and composition of grass fed beef and grain fed beef.

Grass fed beef contains:

  1. less total fat
  2. less saturated fat
  3. more omega-3
  4. more CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid)
  5. more Vitamin E
  6. more beta-carotene
  7. more antioxidants

All of this makes grass fed beef (and lamb and goat) a wonderful sources of these nutrients especially considering that humans are unable to access any of these directly from grasses, forbs and legumes.