What's the Deal with Grass-Fed Beef?
Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well! Today I am finally giving you a post about something agriculture-related and dear to my heart; beef! I know eating beef is not always our first choice for a variety of reasons, but I wanted to share some info regarding the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef cattle! Let's dig in!
1. All cattle are "grass-fed" at some point. That's right. Calves who are being weaned and older animals on a grain diet do typically have the opportunity to graze. The difference here is not about the early stages of production; it is based off of the way the animal is finished, or raised to slaughter. A grass-fed animal will continue to graze in the pasture for the entirety of its life while a grain-fed animal will be put on a grain diet. The feed may consist of corn, cotton-seed hulls, etc. and can usually be supplemented with forages, like hay, when necessary. Cattle naturally eat grass, even if they are being fed a specific ration of grains. The biggest priority of a cow's diet is keeping the rumen healthy! (Ruminant animals, or animals with four stomachs, are very complex!)
2. Grass-fed does not mean organic. The USDA has specific guidelines that must be met in order for a food product to be labeled as organic. Grass-fed is not equivalent to being an organic product! The pasture could have been treated with pesticides or herbicides for weed/disease control and the animal itself may have been given antibiotics at some point to be nurtured back to health.
FUN FACT: It is illegal to slaughter an animal that has been given antibiotics within a given amount of time; every drug has a withdrawal period so it can exit the system before the animal is taken to market! A new Veterinary Feed Directive change taking place in January will monitor antibiotic use more closely than it already is! (Yikes, maybe I need to do an animal antibiotic post, too!) All animals and carcasses are inspected before being sent to your local grocery stores.
3. There is no significant difference in nutritional value. All high quality beef has a high nutritional value. While grass-fed beef may seem more lean, all beef products contain important nutrients like Vitamin B12 and Zinc. I have not tried grass-fed beef myself, but many say it has a slightly different texture, simply due to the different fat content. However, in both varieties of beef, you will find healthy fats! Yes, even ground beef, the most commonly consumed beef product, contains good nutrients! Beef may not be as lean as your pork, but a high quality cut of steak is actually really good for you.
4. There is a reason for the price difference. Nope, it's not just a marketing ploy, I promise. Grass-fed beef is more expensive due to the amount of time it takes to raise that animal to market weight. On a strict grass diet, it takes longer for the animal to gain adequate nutrients in order to grow and gain weight. An animal on a grain diet is typically ready for market by 16 months while a grass-fed animal may take up to two years (24 months) to reach market weight. It takes more resources and time to raise these animals, therefore the cost increases. You must also keep in mind that one cow can only produce one calf every year, so the supply and demand, combined with time, causes a price increase!
usda.gov or beefmagazine.com! Keep an eye out for more "What's the Deal with..." posts about beef and other agricultural topics!