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Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Healthier?

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As a rebuttal to an article and documentary that slams conventionally raised beef, here are the facts on beef and the environment and nutrition.

Bashing conventionally raised beef in lieu of organic or grass-fed beef isn’t new. I have nothing against any of the production methods that are out there. I’ve long said what makes America great is the abundance of food choices we have when we walk into a grocery store.

I do get frustrated, however, when one segment of the beef industry slams another in order to sell its product. I believe each steak can stand on its own merit, no matter how it was raised. This statement might raise a few eyebrows from some of you, but that is my stance as I preface the article I’m about to comment on today.

A documentary entitled, “American Meat -- An Inside Look At Sustainable Farming In America,” was recently released, and Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, best-selling author and alternative medicine proponent, is promoting the documentary on his website. Mercola is respected in many circles, particularly by the paleo crowd, for his commonsense nutrition advice. He stands firmly behind animal fats and proteins as a solid basis of any healthy diet regimen, which I appreciate and agree with wholeheartedly. However, his protein recommendations come with one caveat -- it must be grass-fed beef.

Mercola writes, “If you put good old-fashioned organically raised, pasture-fed and finished meat in a nutrition analyzer, you’d find it’s one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. However, many are still in the dark about the vast differences between Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and organically raised, grass-fed meats, in terms of nutrient content and contamination with veterinary drugs, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms, and disease-causing pathogens. Differences in the animals’ diets and living conditions create vastly different end products. For example, most CAFO cows are fed grains (oftentimes genetically engineered grains, which make matters even worse), when their natural diet consists of plain grass.

“If you’re under the age of 40 or so, and have never spent time on a real farm, chances are you have a rather dim concept of just how different today’s food production is from traditional, time-tested farming practices. These differences have monumental ramifications for our environment, for the health and wellbeing of the animals being raised, and for your own health.”

This fear-mongering comes without any substantial evidence of the claims, and for those of us who have seen beef raised in pastures and in a feedlot, I don’t see the dark and treacherous dangers he describes in his article.

My rebuttal to Mercola and this “American Meat” documentary is two-fold.

First, let me address the nutrition side:

According to Meat Myth Crushers, “Grass-fed beef has slightly lower levels of saturated fat than corn-fed beef. While grass-fed beef does have slightly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than cattle finished on corn and grain, neither type of beef is a rich source of omega 3s compared to fish. Salmon, for example, contains 35 times more omega 3s than beef. Whether these differences translate to a truly meaningful health benefit in the context of a varied diet has not been established. “Interestingly, new research from Texas A&M University found that men who consumed corn-fed beef improved their cholesterol levels, while men who consumed grass-fed beef experienced no change.”

Second, my thoughts on the environmental impact Mercola describes:

According to Jude Capper, if the entire U.S. beef industry was converted to grass-finished beef, we would need an additional 131 million acres of land, and 468 billion gals. of water to produce 26.1 billion lbs. of beef, which would generate an additional 135 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Think of the extra resources that such a production scheme would entail to feed the estimated 9 billion people projected as the world population for the year 2050.

Additionally, all beef is grass-fed, but some is grain-finished. Yet, cattle still spend the majority of their lives on grass.

Here is a video from explorebeef.org to learn more about the grass-to-grain beef production process.

What do you think about Mercola's statements? Do you think it's positive for the beef industry to be divided based on production methods? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 53

Jordan (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

A point you might find interesting is that a couple of University of Nebraska-Lincoln cattle nutrition professors calculated that over the lifetime of a feeder animal, around 85% of their diet is forage based. The point you make on Omega-3s is a good one as well. Grass fed beef is higher in Omega-3s than grain fed, but neither of them is a good source

While I don't like the antagonism that can arise in the grass vs grain fed debate, it has been very exciting to watch the grass fed industry develop as it has. I belong to a Crossfit gym where a lot of the people are Paleo and interested in grass fed beef. When people find out that I grew up on a ranch they have a lot of questions and it provides an excellent opportunity for consumer outreach.

Ultimately, I view the grass fed beef industry segment as a huge blessing for our industry as it gets people really excited about beef, something that our industry hasn't had in decades. I've found that being able to share the points I made in the first paragraph eases a lot of minds about eating grain fed beef when their preferred product isn't available, and that leads to increases in demand for beef from both of the industry sectors.

on Dec 3, 2013

Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Healthier?

No

on Dec 4, 2013

"I do get frustrated, however, when one segment of the beef industry slams another in order to sell its product."

Wow, this is exciting! I'm going to finally find that elusive creature, the grass-finished rancher who is bashing the grain-finished industry.

Oh wait a minute, no such person actually exists.

I guess we'll just have to find some osteopath and call him a rancher. Well good enough. Probably no one will notice.

Cowlouie (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Due to cost differences grass feed beef has to market itself on it's superior merits, unfortunately that means bashing conventionally raised beef to attract the anti modern farming crowd.
Another thing I try to get across to people is that the amount of conventionally beef raised that is available keeps a lid on what they pay for grass fed beef. I believe Dr. Capper's numbers are correct but the reality is we aren't going to find any more grass for cattle, so if all cattle were to be grass finished we would have a fraction of the beef available that we have today; supply and demand kicks in and only the wealthiest will be able to afford beef.

W.E. (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Midwesterners who depend upon corn to feed their cattle, sending them to the big packers and the feedlots that supply them, rarely consider the grassroots consequences in other locales. Most corn around here goes to chicken houses, hog feeding, ethanol and a little to local cattle feeding. Most calves travel a thousand miles or more to be finished in feedlots. We are the only farmers in three counties marketing grassfed beef. Most years, we don’t need irrigation, (although we sure could have used some in 2012.) The cattle provide the fertilizer for our pastures. Grassfed cattle provide a way of using land that should not be growing corn and soybeans.
In our county alone, thousands of acres of highly erodible land have been taken out of pasture over the past few years to grow high-priced corn. Last year during the extreme drought, the very best corn around here made 20 bu. per acre. Government subsidies and insurance made sure the seed companies were paid for seed. This year, local corn made 100 to 190 bu., but much corn was piled on the ground waiting for transport, and the price is about half what it was last year. Even with no-till farming methods, gullies now gouge too many slopes and hillsides where fescue, clover and trees had protected the soil for decades. It's very sad. This land needs to be taken out of corn and put back into grass, but many fencerows have been bulldozed, and a number of the old cattlemen have retired. If not for grass farmers, who will do the daily work of stewarding this land, when so many farmers are used to working seasonally in their crops, without the daily burden of livestock care? By contrast, we have taken some land out of crops and planted grass, which our cattle graze. Using the "small technology" of solar electric fencing, we can grow more calves and finish steers without adding land, big machinery, or high-priced fertilizers, using careful and attentive management-intensive grazing techniques like strip grazing and mob grazing.

on Dec 4, 2013

WE' has a very well stated opinion - factual and personal - I applaude you for your efforts to protect your land and your livlihood.

on Dec 5, 2013

WOW!!! W.E. In this statement you have suggested that grass farmers are the the only stewards of the land. I take it you think row crop farmers or those who do both are not. Your statement is absolutely assinine. Then you go on to state this land should be used for this and not that, I guess you don't believe in private property rights either. Did you not have as much right to buy or lease said property as it's current tenant did? I have never thought of caring for our cattle as a "daily burden" as you say, and I don't believe any crop farmer who doesn't have livestock to be lazy as your statement suggests. I hope you have the good sense to stay on your side of the fence, and thank GOD your not our neighbor!

W.E. (not verified)
on Dec 9, 2013

We also grow corn and soybeans, but not on hill land that should be growing grass. Our cattle graze crop residues. I don't know of many farmers who live and work on their land who knowingly mistreat it, but I have seen a great deal of land owned by absentee owners and leased to people who farm from 15,000 to 30,000 acres with larger and larger machines. That's far too much for consistently good stewardship. Some of that land hasn't had a human foot on it in decades. Machines tend to be oblivious stewards. I didn't say that row crop farmers are lazy, just that their work is seasonal and they like it that way. Most of our friends who row crop are willing to work sixteen or even twenty hour days to bring in their harvest. But face it, getting out in a blizzard or 107 degree heat to tend to pastures and cattle, never getting more than a day off, can get to be a burden if you can't find reliable help. We have had only one four-day vacation since 1997.

Gene Schriefer (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

The answer is - it depends. There is a wide variation currently in grass fed beef. Comparing something off pasture with little to no marbling with something off the feedlot will provide different results than a choice finished steer off pasture. The fat contents are very different. The Texas study used lean, low select type critters.

Research and nutritionists think there are positive health results linked to consuming CLA, Vaccenic Acid, and the RATIO of Omega 3: Omega 6. These are present in the fat of all animals. The are highest in grass finished animals with good marbling. When the levels of fat in the meat are low in lean pasture beef, then levels of these healthy fats are also low.

In situations when the animal is finished to an appropriate end point, it has higher levels of healthy fats. Does that translate into better health for the consumer, we don't know that yet. Does it make conventional beef unhealthy? No, it's still a wonderful source of nutrients.

Capper's studies are flawed.

on Dec 4, 2013

The whole "paleo" marketing gimmick is just that. There are substantial scientific studies which prove the basic tenets - which are that grain products (and by-products) tend to inhibit mineral and nutrient absorption in mammals.

Todd Churchill reports that grassfed beef can be raised on 1/2 acre per year. This contrasts with feedlot cattle which require one acre of ground to raise their food. He apparently used mob grazing which will actually improve the soil's forage production over time. Universities won't study mob grazing, and bash it as well. They do get funding to study CAFO's, though.

There is also a balance of Omega 3 and 6 which is key. Apparently, like too many good things, you can get an imbalance of too much of one or the other. Fish raised on corn do not have the same high Omega 3 levels - which come from eating grass (algae.) There is no known equivalent of "grass fed fish" except those in the wild, which are also subject to pollutants such as iodine.

While I don't like the bashing which goes on, raising grass fed beef and direct marketing allow the small cattle farmer to get more profit from the same amount of land and cattle.

Sustainable farming is the key, regardless of what you raise or how.

The old saw, recently became itself a study - that of all scientific studies, 50% refute the other 50%. Bringing up isolated reports and findings just brings up more isolated reports and findings.

Each farmer or rancher needs to play the cards they are dealt - and build a sustainable (profitable) operation that provides valuable services and products.

Ben Campbell (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Well put Robert!
I love being able to market beef both ways. I'd also agree with what someone said earlier. There is a fresh new buzz with the beef industry and it's called grass finished beef.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Where are you at that a calf can be raised, let alone finished, on 1/2 acre?????

on Dec 4, 2013

I'd like to get that kind of production out of my grass!

W.E. (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Many parts of many states in the upper southeast and lower midwest can finish calves on a half-acre of non-irrigated land with proper pasture subdivision and management. It does take decent rainfall and careful stewardship, and it works better when the land has been grazed and fertilized with manure for a number of years. The plateau and river valley areas of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Indiana can do this. With the right genetics and the right forages, parts of the deep south and eastern states can also grow beef more efficiently than they can grow grain. Each area offers different possibilities according to soil type, climate, topography and especially management.
.

on Dec 5, 2013

If we consider the finishing phase to be putting the final 400 lbs on a steer or heifer, say from 800 to 1200 lbs, there are many regions that can finish an animal on 1/2 acre in a 150-180 day grazing season. Remember the claim in the conventional feedlot scenario per Dr. Capper was 1/2 acre for the finishing phase only, not the entire life cycle of the animal. Up to the 700-800 lb level, the steer entering the feedlot or going to a pasture-finishing program may have been handled identically, so it only the finishing phase that is being compared.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

1/2 acre? I don't know anywhere that would be true. It takes about 10 acres in western NE. A half acre would be like a confinement operation outdoors.

H Schrock (not verified)
on Dec 6, 2013

Given decent rainfall 1/2 acre will be plenty for the finishing phase in much of the Midwest and Northeast. Practically any ground that will grow 200 bushels per acre of corn Will grow grass and other forages that will equal or exceed the meat output of that corn if the grazing is properly managed.

Charlie Kraus (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Was not a large portion of comsumer beef finished on grass once upon a time? Did not grain finishers use the claim that white fat from grain feeding was a sign of a better product than grass finishers were producing at the time?

The problem with any negative marketing is it shows a lack of transparency. The product being criticized doesn't get equal time for rebuttal. These days, consumers want and are able to get more transparency about the things they buy.

Jim Deal (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

He's absolutely right. i'd rather see corn fields turned to pasture...less use of fertilizer, machinery, labor & fuel. And the nutritional benefit of grass-fed over grain finished is indisputable.

on Dec 4, 2013

Indesputable?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Shouldn't the beef industry as a whole be celebrating the recruitment of new consumers who would normally avoid beef? Whether grass fed beef is more healthy than grain fed is irrelevant. What matters is that we are selling beef to families that might otherwise be eating poultry or perhaps even vegetarian diet. Forget the marketing tactics of a physician and embrace that we are selling beef (and at a premium price) to a broader audience. Shouldn't THAT be our goal as an industry? I seriously doubt this documentary impacted the sale of conventional beef by one ounce, but it has sold tons of forage fed beef. Ignore the outside noise- focus on the good of the industry as a whole.

on Dec 4, 2013

All beef is forage fed.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Shouldn't the beef industry as a whole be celebrating the recruitment of new consumers who would normally avoid beef? Whether grass fed beef is more healthy than grain fed is irrelevant. What matters is that we are selling beef to families that might otherwise be eating poultry or perhaps even vegetarian diet. Forget the marketing tactics of a physician and embrace that we are selling beef (and at a premium price) to a broader audience. Shouldn't THAT be our goal as an industry? I seriously doubt this documentary and physician comments impacted the sale of conventional beef by one ounce, but it might have sold tons of grass fed beef. Ignore the outside noise- focus on the good of the industry as a whole. Marketing more beef- regardless of the method of finishing- should be our goal.

Victoria (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

This article is very timely as I am doing a speech for a class about grass fed beef. There are a lot of people in my class that want to know where their food comes from so I am taking it from the side of eating locally. I felt that this would be a good topic because a lot of past speeches from class mates were bashing beef in general and saying that it was causing increased heart disease, diabetes, and cancer risks. Also many are against feedlot raised beef because of their lack of knowledge of the process. They see it and think that the animals are mistreated, same with dairy productions, and don't understand why antibiotics are administered.

I am hoping that my speech serves as an eye opener that if they don't like how grain fed beef is raised that they have another option if they decide to choose it. Certainly not doing it to bash the other side, just to show that there is another option before people cut beef out of their lives completely.

Because becoming a vegetarian is a huge missed steak!

on Dec 4, 2013

The nutritional benefit of grass-fed over grain finished is NOT indisputable.

Even the Mecca of grass fed beef, Argentina, is moving to more and more grain finished beef to meet demand.

Steve C. (not verified)
on Dec 5, 2013

Well, moving to grainfed seems to be working to reduce per capita beef consumption in Argentina. They don't like the taste or loss of healthiness of grainfed beef but, by God, their government, Cactus Feeder, DowAgroScience, and Monsanto are going to produce it regardless of consumers' preferences.

W.E. (not verified)
on Dec 9, 2013

As for the Argentine grainfed beef development, take a look at this detailed report of the results that grain feeding has had on the Argentine beef industry:
http://www.argentinaindependent.com/socialissues/environment/the-hidden-...

on Dec 4, 2013

Comparing fish to beef? Mercola evades the argument but does correctly state, “Grass-fed beef has slightly lower levels of saturated fat than corn-fed beef. While grass-fed beef does have slightly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than cattle finished on corn and grain..." +1 for grass-fed beef.

Regarding the environmental impact: an additional "468 billion gals. of water" - - what were the grain finished beef drinking? Beer?

Anyway, please revisit your argument and make a better case comparing grass-fed vs. grain-fed. I look forward to your further postings.

- a grass-fed suitcase rancher

Steve C. (not verified)
on Dec 5, 2013

Regarding the increased water use, I wondered that myself, and isn't most of that passed right through and filtered by a healthy sod? Try filtering crop production water with a healthy sod, there isn't one.

on Dec 4, 2013

On re-reading, my rebuttal should be addressed to Amanda Radke. My small herd feeds on grass, buffer strips, and organic farm post harvest field residue in Western Nebraska - - so new acreage required there. Best, Steve

on Dec 4, 2013

I find the term "conventionally raised beef" used for feed-lots interesting. To me conventionally raised beef is grass fed as that was the way beef has been produced for centuries. I understand that land size is an issue in the USA, however grain is not the best sauce of nutrients for cattle and that is why most feed-lots add additives to their cows diet. Of course the hormones are what most people complain about. I have spent most of my life on a grass fed cattle ranch so I guess I am biased, however I do know that we have had less health issues than our neighbors who feed-lot their cattle.

W.E. (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

All beef is nutrient-dense, a great source of iron, protein, B-vitamins, zinc and a host of other vital nutrients. The intent of this reply is not to bash grain-fed beef but to educate with facts backed by valid documentation. For seven decades, cattlemen who had long raised quality beef on grass here in the Upper South were marketed out of business by the big central packers who fed us all a mountain of half-truths and misinformation in order to get us to ship our cattle a thousand miles or more to be fed out in Midwestern feedyards. The whole truth has saved our farm, providing a good local market for our grassfed beef for the past ten years, and a following of appreciative health-conscious customers who love our beef.
Your statement about beef and salmon doesn’t say which kind of beef or salmon, so it is misleading. Grain-fed farm-raised salmon is also lower in Omega 3s than wild salmon. And how many Americans can eat local wild salmon?
Yes, grass-fed beef is 2 to 4 times higher than grain-fed beef in Omega 3 fatty acids, the good fats. On eatwild.com, as Jo Robinson points out, with ample documentation, "The reason is simple. Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s. When cattle are taken off omega-3 rich grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on omega-3 poor grain, they begin losing their store of this beneficial fat. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of omega-3s is diminished." A graph follows. More important is the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. "This second graph shows that grain-fed beef has a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than wild game or grass-fed beef. A high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies, depression, obesity, and auto-immune disorders. (Simopoulos and Robinson, The Omega Diet, published by HarperCollins in 1999.) A ratio of four or lower is considered ideal. The ratio in grain-fed beef is more than 14 to 1. In grassfed beef, it is approximately two to one." Graphs and documentation follow both claims.
The article goes on to say "Meat and dairy products from grass-fed ruminants are the richest known source of another type of good fat called 'conjugated linoleic acid’ or CLA. When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their products contain from three to five times more CLA than products from animals fed conventional diets." Then there is vitamin E: "The meat from the pastured cattle is four times higher in vitamin E than the meat from the feedlot cattle and, interestingly, almost twice as high as the meat from the feedlot cattle given vitamin E supplements."
As for calories, "a 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished steer can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer. If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grassfed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year—without requiring any willpower or change in your eating habits. If everything else in your diet remains constant, you'll lose about six pounds a year." Grass is also rich in the antioxidant vitamin beta-carotene, which lends a healthy, creamy color to meat fat. The white color of fat in grain-fed cattle is an indication of lower levels of several vital nutrients. Again, all claims are backed up with valid documentation and scientific research.
The meat and milk from all-grassfed cattle helped to keep my farmer grandparents healthy enough to live well into their 80s and 90s. Sadly, my parents were marketed to death two decades younger; smokers with a mostly conventional modern supermarket diet during their adult lives, both died of cancer at 67.

Ben (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

In my experience, the people most interested in grass-finished beef have the least knowledge of the beef industry. To make matters worse, the knowledge they do have is from highly biased sources trying to sell their product, be it grass-finished, organic, etc. I believe the best strategy for the beef industry, in all it's forms, is to be open, honest and positive.

W.E. (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

The key word in your response, Ben, is "industry." The definition of industry is "the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories." Farmers and ranchers, especially cow-calf producers, seldom if ever manufacture anything. Their daily work is animal husbandry, land stewardship, and food production directly from the land, more specifically helping their animals turn grass and other forages that people can't eat into quality beef that people can eat. The beef industry is concerned with meat packing and retail sales.

Ben (not verified)
on Dec 5, 2013

I don't know where you're dictionary came from, but one of the three definitions in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is "a group of businesses that provide a particular product or service". Also, could you have missed my point any worse?

W.E. (not verified)
on Dec 9, 2013

I get your point. What galls me is that you said, "The people most interested in grass-finished beef have the least knowledge of the beef industry." Together, the two of us have been directly involved in the beef industry for a total of 85 years, have tried marketing our steers in every way imaginable, and finally found that grass-finishing was the best way possible for our southeastern farm, economically and ecologically. We know the beef industry. By the way, the definition of "industry" is the first and preferred one in my computer's online diction, so yes it is biased toward the modern meaning. Grassfed beef and grassfed milk helped solve some very serious health issues in our family as well, so our grassfed bias comes not only from "biased sources" (we assume you are speaking of Jo Robinson's writings, which are widely and well-documented), but also from very positive personal experience. By the way, we also occasionally order steak when we eat out at good local restaurants, so we are not close-minded about beef. We do know what works best here on our farm with our cattle and for our local customers who want the grassfed option.

on Apr 15, 2014

As an Australian cattleman I find your comments both inflammatory and ignorant. In my home country 90% of beef is produced as "grass finished" and feedlots are not that common. I raised cattle until God bought me to the USA in 2002. Like most of my neighbours I have experience in cattle management. when you live in a dry climate you have to understand both your cattle, soil conditions on your ranch and the weather patterns in your area. Feed-lots have their place but don't mock or knock the grass fed beef producers.

on Dec 4, 2013

The fact that there is a debate over grass fed vs. grain fed is somewhat comical, and just goes to show how great our country is. Both methods have a market and either can play an important role in a healthy diet. Neither grass or grain will keep an obese person from being obese though, and to suggest either one will contribute to a longer life is absurd. A healthy lifestyle is a personal choice, and anything in life not done in moderation can eventually kill you, whether it's driving to fast or overeating. My grandparents both lived into their 90's, Crisco was part of every recipe, and they were both under 150 pounds. It seems the loudest proponents of grass fed beef are all environmental extremist, health nuts who if really pushed would admit to being against production agriculture as a whole. Most seem to get all their information from liberal media sources and are against GMOs, CAFOs, and "factory" family farms. My wife showed me an article posted on Facebook last night in which the author repeatedly said grass fed beef was better than farm raised grain fed beef. What the.... Apparently he or she thinks cattle roam the plains like bison. This is the kind of idiotic fairy tale mindset a lot if these people have. The fact of the matter is without GMOs and CAFOs, the world cannot produce enough food to sustain the growing population. And while the liberal environmentalist health nuts love to stand back and tell us American farmers how we should do it, I have yet to see them standing in line to do it themselves, with the forty acres and a mule they want us to do it with!!!!

on Dec 4, 2013

Selling more beef is the "key" issue; however, as ranchers we have a responsibility to provide a healthy product to the consumer. W.E. has made numerous points that should be heeded. BTW, it doesn't cost more to produce a grass-finished product when one considers the potential environmental impact that mono-cultural grain production has on the land, water, etc. Finally, in the absence of grain subsidies (which is a likely event in the future), grain-fed cattle production costs would skyrocket. Just a thought.....

Rick (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

Regarding your quote, "According to Jude Capper, if the entire U.S. beef industry was converted to grass-finished beef, we would need an additional 131 million acres of land, and 468 billion gals. of water to produce 26.1 billion lbs. of beefrding", I have to wonder how many acres of land is now being used to produce the 26.1 billion lbs. of beef and how many billion gals. of water is needed to produce the corn that feeds those feedlot cattle producing the 26.1 billion lbs. of beef that Jade Caper is talking about. It is a farce to believe that it is more efficient or environmentally friendly to finish beef in the feedlot than on pasture!

Dennis Hoyle (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

A few years ago I produced a grass fed steer and put it in my freezer. I shared some with a few people and have been selling increasing amounts of it every year. I have a waiting list of people that want to buy beef from me even though I have not advertised yet. The demand has caught me unprepared. I am not bashing anyone but nobody was calling me asking for beef before I started eating grassfed beef.

cowmandan (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

I raise grass-fed beef and I do not bash anyone else in the industry for their methods or practices. I am just another option for consumers. I have customers who like to buy their food locally.

on Dec 4, 2013

Any scientific claim, or argument against a scientific claim, without quoting scientific sources is simply spreading bullshit. Scientific studies, including nutritional analysis, have a scope and limitations. If one can say "a new study from Texas A&M" then it is just as easy to quote the source. Afraid someone might actually read the study? How about some serious reporting...not composting.

on Dec 4, 2013

This subject is close to saying that we eat our young! I am a small beef producer ( under 100 head cows young stock and finishing) and a mid sized grain producer about 1400 Ac corn ,beans, oats + wheat. I utilize hay maintained for conservation (ie. strips and waterways) and I am able to use grain screenings left from our grain operation to fatten steers. Oats are used for grower rations also with corn screenings. I try to utilize all of the product I produce for a common goal Keep My Family On this Farm! I have been told my product may be unhealthy because I don't use all grass, by grass feeders who are selling 850 pound animals to there customers because that is as big as they will get unless you want to raise them for 3 years. I have never said they where wrong but how efficient is that? I am trying to raise them on what we have left over and although I have never done lab analysis of my finished beef I never hear a complaint that the meat was bad. What I don't understand is why the grass fed producers are talking the conventional producers down. Normally I would say that it seems like they are a little insecure that they can't maintain there base by acting this way. For the most part if the animal has been raise right taste will be the same. I don't really want to step on toes here but the same goes for the black hided cattle when you take the covering off and put the steak on a plate there isn't much difference if they were raised right. but I will say the Angus Asso. Has done a good job of telling everyone they think there product is the best. If you here the same story enough times eventually you will believe it is true. I think we should just concentrate on producing the best product possible and forget all the other B.S.! There are enough lie's being told in this country the farmers don't have to be apart of them!

cowmandan (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

kinze8640855, I would never tell you your beef is unhealthy because you don't feed all grass. As I said above I don't criticize anyone for their practices. As far as selling 850 pound animals or taking 3 years to finish them, we finish our animals at 1100 lbs in 20-22 months. The key is high quality grass/legume mix. What most people consider pasture is the garbage ground they don't want to use for anything else.

on Dec 4, 2013

There is no doubt that organically raised grass fed beef is a more nutritious product than conventionally finished beef. And if it takes 3 years to grow a 850 lb animal, then that producer will probably be out of business before his first sale.
Proper pasture management can produce a high quality product in a reasonable time frame with weights and quality that equal to or exceed conventional finishing. It's not easy. It takes the right type of animal, good management, and a lot of commitment.
It's not for everybody, but there is a demand, and a lot of small farmers have been able to stay in business because of that demand.
And that demand is growing for more than one reason. Many demand the superior nutritional value of organically grown products. But the concern over GMO's, which are a given with conventional animal products, has become a big influence.
Conventionally raised animal products will not be replaced with organically raised animal products, but thank goodness for those consumers who are willing to pay for what they want.

Rondo Perkins (not verified)
on Dec 4, 2013

I think the biggest thing the house wife needs to know is where it is from . If she knows that she can make her own choice .
I think both the grass fed and the grain fed are healthy . It would be nice to know where it came from .

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 5, 2013

The comments section that followed the article shows how far we get in the debate.

The issues are very politically and financially motivated. The side that gets the published research (in the USA) is very well funded, while the other side isn't very well funded; therefore its more difficult to debate with non-science based research (in the USA). So part of the question might be who has the money, funding what perceived factual research.

I do support the idea of allowing a road for both industries. Care needs to be taken not to allow the big boys to regulate one and not the other or set up rules like the USDA Grading system which benefits those making the most money from it.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 5, 2013

Is grass fed beef better?....Yes....Im from south america, my family has been involved with the cattle business for more than 100 yrs...my grandpa just turn 103 yo, he ate most of his life real beef from our grass fed herd, and fresh milk from the same source....turning 104 in couple of months...coincidence?

Ron Freeman, Freeman Bros Ranching (not verified)
on Dec 5, 2013

I wrote an editorial a year or so ago about this topic. I began with one of my previous statements in a previous article. "Don't allow the ropes of emotionlism to bind your heart and Spirit. Allow instead, the threads of Faith to cloak you in commoin sense." We all, at one point or another, become so intent on proving a point we lose sight of what is right before us. The land, our animals and the God the we worship all speak to us. It is an Holistic approach to ranching and living. It is a way to understand what is before us, around us and living within us. Some us of Ranch using techniques found in and created by Nature. We ranch with Nature and God, believing that what He has placed before us, is the right thing to use and do. All we need to do is educate ourselves and others. Grass fattening cattle in an intense pasture scenario is not a difficult concept to grasp.We simply mimic basic grazing principles found in Nature. It is labor intensive. But, it does create a partnership between you, your land and all that inhabit it. It is a partnership that does not prioritize one thing above another. The results are dramatic. Your land becomes healthy. Your species become healthy. You become healthy, both physically, mentally and Spiritually. If you desire to really understand the whole grass fed conversation, email me. I promise I will open your eyes up using only your own mind, your thought processes and your eyes. There is a way to break your dependency on giant ag. There is a way for you to regain your own power of reason.

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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