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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

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 6, 2013

Isn't America great! We are one of the few countries in the world that has so much (food, supplies, toys, etc.) available to us that we can belittle and attack each other for what we produce. We don't have people starving and our cost of food is relatively cheap in comparison to other countries. As my daughter once put it, isn't it great that we have such an abundance, that we can be food snobs! Thank God for our Agricultural communities.

Livestock Wellfare (not verified)
on Mar 17, 2014

Incidentally, vacuum-packed meat parts last longer than fresh meat. Upon opening the package can result in a more intense smell of meat that is not a sign of poor quality, however, but a sign of this is that the "locked" and compressed smell again unfolded. http://www.obeorganic.com/2014/03/welfare-of-livestock-is-paramount-to-o...

Taylor Spruill (not verified)
on Jun 23, 2014

Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me! I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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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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