Do you find yourself wondering why we constantly talk about ‘Grass Fed’ when it comes to our produce? Does it make any difference if the meat you put into your body is grass fed or not? Do you know what Grass Fed means?
We know how much our customers care about the quality of meat they are eating and this quality essentially comes from the animal’s diet. We imagine a large amount of you reading this article will already know the majority of what we are about to say but if this article helps one person to understand why we feel so passionate about grass fed meat and why ours is different to the meat you are buying from the supermarket we will be happy people!
Let us start by saying that Athleat beef is reared on grass throughout the cattles life. In a nut shell this means that our cows eat grass for their entire lifetime. No hormones, antibiotics (unless required) or pesticides.
Talking of grass...
We know that essentially the human digestive tract cannot cope with grass, you very rarely see people wandering out to a field for a munch, but the meat we eat should come from animals that did.
Truth be told, we do eat a little bit of grass. Three-quarters of all human nutrition comes from wheat, rice and corn, all of which are grasses. But what we eat is actually their seeds, the dense package of complex carbohydrates that is the specialty of annual grasses.
Perennial grasses, which are more common, pack a larger proportion of their energy in their roots, stems and leaves; the building block for these is cellulose. Humans cannot convert cellulose to protein, but cows, sheep and other ruminants can, thanks to the resident bacteria in their highly specialized fermentation tank of a stomach, known as a rumen.
Grass fed beef comes from animals that eat perennial grasses all their lives. In contrast, "Grain-fed" beef is what is most commonly sold in supermarkets. While all cattle are grass fed at some point in their lives, conventionally raised cows spend the majority of their lives feeding on corn and other grains, typically in a confined feedlot. You will see that meat is often labelled grass fed, this is not a lie, however many are then fed grain to fatten them up at the end of their life.
Fattening animals on grain produces meat that that is lower in vitamins and minerals, omega 3 essential fatty acids and CLA (a type of naturally occurring trans-fatty acid that improves brain function, causes weight loss, and reduces your risk of cancer), while being higher in the highly inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.
Grass Fed Beef that is allowed to grow and develop naturally is much higher in fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K, contains much more omega 3 fatty acids and is a valuable source of CLA.
There are other underlying factors of why grass fed is good and here we have summarised the key points mentioned and added in those that are less likely to be in the forefront of our mind when buying our meat.
- Animals that are grass-fed their entire life are healthier and their meat safer for us.
A ruminant's gut is normally a pH-neutral environment, best suited to a diet of cellulosic grasses. It is not well suited to a diet of corn and other grains, the primary fare of feedlot cattle. High in starch, low in roughage and a poor source of calcium and magnesium, corn upsets the cow's stomach, making it unnaturally acidic. Not only is this harmful to the cow--giving it a sort of bovine heartburn or, worse, making it very sick--but it allows a whole range of parasites and diseases to gain a foothold, including the pathogenic E. coli 0157:H7 bacterium.
Making its first appearance a little over 25 years ago, E. coli is now found in the intestines of most U.S. feedlot cattle. By acidifying a cow's gut with corn, we have broken down one of our food chain's barriers to infections.
Interestingly, this process can be reversed, switching a cow's diet from corn to hay in the final days before slaughter reduces the population of E. coli in its manure by as much as 70 percent.
- Grass-fed animals produce the right kind of fat.
Many people think of red meat as being "bad" for you and refuse to eat it at all, but it isn't. A well hung, grass fed steak develops well-marbled flesh, and the fat within that marbling is packed full of good quality saturated fats because of the nature of their feed....Grass. Fresh grass contains a high proportion (50-75 %) of total fatty acids. There are approximately 10 major fatty acids in grasses. Therefore, grass is the best choice of feed for most cows as well as other animals.
Grass-fed meat provides more omega-3 fats than some oily fish and in addition to being higher in healthy omega-3s, meat from pastured cattle is also up to four times higher in vitamin E than meat from feedlot cattle, and much higher in CLA, a nutrient that is lacking in our diets.
- Perennial grasses are better for soil
Healthy topsoil is a biological matrix, a housing complex for an incredibly diverse community of organisms. In every handful are billions of beneficial microbes, nitrogen-fixing fungi, nutrients and earthworms whose digestive tracts transform fine grains of sterile rock and plant detritus into fertile excrement.
We are using up topsoil much more quickly than earth's natural processes can restore it. According to the National Academy of Sciences, cropland is being eroded at least 10 times faster than the rate at which lost soil can be replaced by natural processes. Tillage, by moving topsoil with high levels of organic matter into the moist depressions, releases not only carbon dioxide but also nitrous oxide and methane (both global-warming gases) by triggering decay and erosion. Shallow-rooted annual grasses, such as corn, wheat and soy, further deplete the soil of critical trace minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iodine.
In contrast, the deep roots of perennials, often extending more than 10 feet below the surface, act like elevators, lifting nutrients back into the system and making them available to plants and everything else up the food chain. What's left of the soils where corn and soy now grow typically contains less than half the amount of organic matter. Perennial pastures can restore the richness of the soil in a decade or so.
- Grass-fed animals don't need the large quantities of antibiotics that feedlot cattle do
Most beef cattle spend their short life in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where a thousand or more head of steer are kept in close, concentrated conditions and fattened up for slaughter as quickly as possible. Since the 1950s it has become routine practice to add low levels of antibiotics to the feed or water of healthy poultry, cattle, and swine to promote faster growth and prevent infections that tend to occur when animals are housed in crowded, unsanitary conditions. The practice is now so common that according to the FDA, which regulates the use of antibiotics in food animals, 80 percent, or the lion share of antibiotics are used not in humans but in animals, and most of those - an estimated 83 percent -are given to healthy animals, not to treat the sick ones.
Pastured cattle don't require the drugs their CAFO'd cousins do. But again, a wise shopper should know that antibiotics are allowed for grass-fed cows, unlike their Organic cousins, who generally are not allowed medicine when they develop a tickly cough (or slightly more serious diseases!)
- Pastured animals are treated more humanely.
From a humanitarian perspective, there is yet another advantage to pastured-animal products. The cruelties of modern factory farming are severe, with livestock cooped up in cages barely larger than their own bodies, or packed together like sardines for months on end, standing knee-deep in their own manure. Pastured livestock are not forced to live in confinement and to endure the miseries of factory farming.
- The corn fed to feedlot cattle is fossil-fuel intensive and heavily subsidized.
Our energy-intensive food system uses 19 percent of all the fossil fuel consumed, more than any other sector of the economy. And it isn't all for powering tractors and farm equipment. Tons of chemical herbicides and fertilizers, all derived from fossil fuel, are used on crops in this country, Tonnes on corn alone.
You might think all that oil would make corn an expensive food source. In fact, it does cost more for the farmers to grow than the feedlot operators pay. But corn is heavily subsidized: the government has poured lots of money into the corn industry. The fertilizers plus the subsidies have led to huge surpluses. Corn is an artificially cheap foodstuff that’s plentiful, compact and portable, making it ideal for quickly feeding tens of thousands of animals on small plots of land.
As noted above, corn and soybean production depletes the soil of its natural health. This greatly diminishes its environmental value, flood control in particular. A stretch of pure grassland will absorb five to seven inches of rain an hour. But when that same land is tilled for corn and soybean production, the normal absorption rate drops to 0.5-1.5 inches an hour. This meant that when storms occur bringing a deluge of rainfall, flooding can affect towns throughout the region. Had upriver land been pasture rather than cornfield, the heavy rains might have produced no runoff.
If more cornfields were converted to perennial grasses, we could significantly reduce the devastation of aquatic life from fertilizer- and herbicide-laden runoff. Consider this: when runoff from corn-growing fields reaches the sea, it contributes to what is known as a dead zone, a seasonal area that has almost no oxygen and therefore almost no sea life. Because of the dead zone, the seafood industry can be affected every year. Elsewhere around the world, there are nearly 400 similar dead zones. It is sadly ironic that to produce one of the least healthy sources of protein--grain-fed beef--we destroy one of our leanest and healthiest--fish.
- Perennial pasture is a carbon sink.
Agriculture contributes about 30 percent of all global greenhouse-gas emissions when land conversion impacts are considered. This is much more than the amount emitted by transportation. Production of meat, particularly beef, is a very heavy emitter of heat-trapping pollutants. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2006 that current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the CO2–equivalent gases the world produces every year.
Beef and dairy production, according to the FAO, emit particularly high levels of greenhouse gases; producing a given amount of ground beef releases four times as much greenhouse gases as are released in the production of the same amount of pork, 14 times as much as chicken, and 50 to 60 times as much as fruits and vegetables. This is particularly true when the animals are raised in CAFOs where they are fed corn or soybeans. Researchers are finding that tillage systems used to grow crops release not only carbon dioxide but also nitrous oxide and methane (both global warming gases) by triggering the decay and erosion of topsoil. Without exception, all of the tillage systems examined in a recent study published in Science contributed to global warming, and the worst offenders were conventionally farmed corn, soybeans and wheat.
This is not the case for perennial grass systems. In fact, fields of perennial crops in the same study pulled both methane and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stashed them in the soil. There is even some evidence that perennial grasslands are often better at gathering carbon than forests are.
- Modern grazing methods match the efficiency of industrial-scale grain production.
Modern grass farmers almost universally rely on something called managed intensive rotational grazing. Polywire fences confine a herd of perhaps 60 cows to a small area, maybe one-quarter acre, typically for 12 hours. Then the grazier moves the fence, cycling through a series of such paddocks every month or so. This reflects a basic ecological principle. Left to their own devices in a diverse ecosystem, cows will eat just a few species, grazing again and again on the same plants. Rotational grazing forces them to eat all the available forage, including plants they would normally leave untouched. This produces much more beef or milk per acre than does laissez-faire grazing.
10. Grass-fed is more expensive.
Yes, you read it right, grass-fed beef is more expensive, but maybe as a result, we may eat a little less of it. Quality over quantity! This is a good thing, actually, both for our health and for the environment. And honestly, feedlot beef is not really cheaper, not when you add the invisible costs: of antibiotic resistance, environmental degradation, heart disease, E. coli infection, corn subsidies, imported oil and so on.
Choose grass fed and reap the nutritional benefits as well as helping to adjust the out of balance environmental factors!
Check out our Grass Fed Beef here