Years ago, grass-fed beef was the standard for American farmers. However, a majority of today’s commercial fed cattle are feedlot or typical beef. This trend began to meet the demands of society, but it also brought with it a devastating health risk to American beef consumers. When comparing grass-fed beef to typical beef produced from a feedlot, we must first look at why these changes were made.
Supply and Demand
When farmers were faced with a greater demand for beef, the answer came in the name of an all-grain diet. In order to produce more meat, farmers needed to beef-up their livestock quickly, and a free-range grass diet just wouldn’t cut it. Less than a century ago, steers were around 4 to 5 years of age when taken to slaughter. Today, your average steer is taken at 12 to 18 months. In a little more than a year, farmers are able to take an 80-pound calf and grow it to an enormous 1,200 pounds by constantly feeding it large quantities of corn, protein supplements, growth hormones, and other drugs.
The major problems that arises when switching the diet of an animal that can only naturally digest grasses to an all grain diet, is that the grain is detrimental the the steer’s digestive system. Without a gradual switch from grass to corn, the cattle will die. Thus, farmers must constantly feed their livestock antibiotics. In fact, if it weren’t for the use of antibiotics, feedlots would not exist.
Cows’ stomachs are natural fermenting tanks. When fed grass, cows convert the cellulose from grass into protein and fats. Though copious amounts of gas are produced, cows are able to expel this gas by belching. When on a high corn diet, cows consume far too much starch and not enough roughage, causing rumination to stop and a layer of foamy slime to build up in the cow’s gut. Corn also causes heartburn and other digestive related issues in cattle.
Grass-Fed Beef and Nutrients
Grass-fed beef is low in fat, including saturated fat, which clogs your arteries. A similar cut of grass-fed sirloin has 3 times less fat that of grain-fed beef. Not only is grass-fed beef lower in unhealthy fats, but it is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Most plentiful in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, omega-3 fatty acids are found in the grass on which cattle graze. The added benefit of omega-3 also constitutes for the distinct livery, or metallic odor and flavor associated with grass-fed beef. Many people find this displeasing, but those who eat grass-fed beef often actually prefer the taste.
Grass-fed beef is not only rich in nutrients, but also has far less impact on our environment. Grass-fed farms need minimal amounts of fossil fuel to work efficiently. Also, the dropping from the animals is used as manure to fertilize the land on which they feed.
A high-grain diet gives beef its marbling. Unfortunately, this also puts saturated fat within the muscle tissue, preventing consumers from trimming it off the beef. So, the product is high in saturated fat and low in omega-3. Grain-fed beef also introduces the risk of dangerous bacteria. Due to tremendous use of antibiotics, cattle on feedlots grow antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as super bugs. A heightened prevalence of E. coli 157:H7 has appeared on feedlots and can now be found in a majority of intestines in these cattle.