Grassfed Beef or Organic
Organic meat, poultry, and dairy products are now available at your supermarket, which is a change for the better. When you see the organic label, you know the food is going to be free of pesticide residues, synthetic hormones, genetically modified organisms, and a long list of questionable additives. You also have the satisfaction of knowing that raising animals organically causes less harm to the environment. But when it comes to animal production, organic is not enough. We need to be raising animals on their species-appropriate diets.
If I had to choose between organic and grassfed animal products, I'd choose grassfed every time. Why?
"The main reason is that non-organic grassfed meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are nutritionally superior to their organic but grainfed counterparts."
Few consumers realize that many producers of "organic" or "naturally raised" animal products, raise their animals in confinement and feed them grain---just like the operators of conventional feedlots. Feeding large amounts of grain to a grazing animal decreases the nutritional value of its products whether the grain is organic or conventionally raised. The reason is simple. Compared with grass, grain has far fewer omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Therefore, grainfed animals have fewer of these important nutrients in their meat and dairy products. Grain feeding also interferes with the creation of a cancer-fighting fight called conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. A test by an independent lab determined that milk from one of the largest organic grain-fed dairies had no more omega-3 fatty acids or CLA than milk from ordinary dairies. Similarly, meat from organic grain-fed beef has the same nutritional profile as meat from the largest farms.
This may come as a surprise to those people who equate "organic" with "more nutritious." Alas, this is not always true. For the most part, the term "organic" is simply a guarantee of what the food does not contain. You can be reasonably assured it will not contain any of those six syllable chemicals you can't pronounce. But organic food can still be deficient in nutrients or loaded with sugar and "bad" fat. For example, there are organic cereals on the market that are overly sweet. You may be consuming fewer pesticide residues when you choose Organic Honey Oatios over Honey Nut Cheerios, but you'll still be consuming too many refined carbohydrates. An organic label does not guarantee good nutrition.
The limitations of the "organic" designation are even more evident when it comes to animal products.
"Organic meat may be free of unwanted chemicals, but it is nutritionally inferior to grassfed meat."
When a ruminant is taken off pasture and fattened on grain, it loses a number of valuable nutrients. For example, compared with grassfed meat, grainfed meat has only one quarter as much vitamin E, one-eighth as much beta-carotene, and one-third as many omega-3 fatty acids. It doesn't matter whether the animal is fed ordinary grain, genetically modified grain, or organic grain. Feeding large amounts of any type of grain to a grazing animal will have this effect simply because grain has fewer of these nutrients than fresh pasture. For many consumers, food safety is an even bigger concern than nutrition. Once again, grass feeding offers an important advantage. It has been known for decades that grain feeding makes a cow's digestive tract more acid. Now we know that this acidic environment speeds the growth of potentially dangerous E. coli bacteria and, even worse, makes the bugs more acid-resistant. Alarmingly, these acid-resistant bacteria are much more likely to survive the cleansing acidity of our own digestive juices and make us ill.
Compared with grassfed products, organic grainfed products are also relatively deficient in a cancer-fighting fat called "CLA." When you feed a ruminant grain --- even as little as 2 pounds a day --- its production of CLA plummets. CLA may be one of the most potent cancer-fighting substances in our diet. In animal studies, as little as one half of one percent CLA in the diet has reduced tumor burden by more than 50 percent.
"A final reason to choose grassfed meat over organic grainfed meat is that most grassfarmers avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics even though they are not striving for full organic certification."
What keeps most of the farmers from attaining the official designation is that they use nitrogen fertilizers on their fields or treat their animals with relatively benign medications to rid them of parasites. Pastured poultry and pig producers face another barrier to going organic: the high price of organic grain. They find that they cannot feed their animals organically certified grain without raising their prices beyond what the traffic will bear.
"All this said, I believe that the best choice of all is buying organically certified grassfed products."
When ruminants are raised on organic pasture and when pastured pigs and poultry are supplemented with organic grain, you have the best of both worlds- food that is free of unwanted chemicals that is also highly nutritious, just the way Nature made it. If I have to pay more for the privilege, I'm willing to do it. But until more consumers come around to this point of view, there will be many grassfarmers who cannot afford to go 100 percent organic and stay in business. Until that time, I urge consumers to choose grassfed over organic every time!
Note: The NY Times best selling author, Jo Robinson, has an informative book "Pasture Perfect" on the benefits of grassfed beef. She has done a great service educating America about this healthy beef and her book is a "must have" in your library of health books. Please visit her website to purchase the book and learn more about this healthy beef.