Grass Fed v.s. Grain Fed

Lately, there has been a controversy on social media between supporters of grass finished and grain finished beef. While research shows that grass-finished beef has its benefits over grain finished beef, the difference is not as prominent as people may think. People seem to be making it a much bigger deal than it is. Grass-finished beef is shown to contain higher levels of some vitamins and fatty acids like omega 3s, which are all very healthy. According to Berkeley Wellness under the University of California, "Moreover, the omega-3s in grass-fed beef are predominantly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), not the types found in fish (EPA and DHA). ALA may have some health benefits of its own, and our bodies convert small amounts of it into EPA and DHA—but it can’t replace the omega-3s from fish. In any case, other foods, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, and canola oil, contain much more ALA than grass-fed beef." When consumers have other alternatives such as these, the question may turn to the health of the cattle.

All beef cattle are started on a grass field, but grain finished beef may be moved to a feedlot after some time. When we think of a feedlot, we don't necessarily think of cattle being happy and content, but do cattle see things the same way as we do? Temple Grandin, a remarkable woman who has revolutionized the animal industry for the well-being of the animals, shared her explanation of the issues of feedlots with The Washington Post in their search for answers. They wrote, "If the feedlot is dry, roomy and shaded, cattle are perfectly content. If it’s muddy, crowded or hot, they’re not. One of the keys to cattle happiness, it turns out, is drainage. 'The feed yard should have a 2 to 3 percent slope to keep it dry,' says Grandin."

Another argument of the cattle's health is the content of grain finished beef's diet and whether it makes them sick. Monica Reinagel describes her unexpected discoveries in her article "3 Myths (and 1 Truth) About Grain-Fed Beef, "In reality, corn or other cereal grains make up only a fraction of a grain-finished cow’s diet. In addition, their feed contains a mix of dried hay, alfalfa, as well as a lot of other parts of the corn plant, including leaves, husks, and stalks. In fact, grain accounts for only about 10% of a grain-finished cow’s total intake. The rest is plant material that is inedible to humans." In the argument that grain finished beef's diet makes them sick, a lot of people point out that they are given antibiotics when in actuality, both grass finished and grain finished beef are given antibiotics if they are sick.

The environment also plays a huge part in this media controversy. Although all beef produce carbon, Judith L. Capper wrote about a study performed to answer the question: Is grass-finished beef better for the environment than grain finished beef? In her simple summary of the article, Capper wrote, "Conventional beef production (finished in feedlots with growth-enhancing technology) required the fewest animals, and least land, water, and fossil fuels to produce a set quantity of beef. The carbon footprint of conventional beef production was lower than that of either natural (feedlot finished with no growth-enhancing technology) or grass-fed (forage-fed, no growth-enhancing technology) systems." 

Despite the media bias, in the end, it depends on the consumer’s preference. It's up to them to decide what the best alternative is. In the end, what matters is all beef, whether its grass finished or grain finished, is beneficial to the body and its health.

 

Citations

Capper, Judith L. “Is the Grass Always Greener? Comparing the Environmental Impact of Conventional, Natural and Grass-Fed Beef Production Systems.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 10 Apr. 2012, 

“Grass-Fed Beef for Omega-3s?” @Berkeleywellness, 7 Jan. 2015, 

Reinagel, Monica. “3 Myths (and 1 Truth) About Grain-Fed Beef.” Quick and Dirty Tips, 24 Jan. 2018, 

Haspel, Tamar. “Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Better for You, the Animal and the Planet?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 Feb. 2015, 

 -Rachel Smart

Writer for Everything Agriculture

Cover photo credit: Jessie LeJune