Saturday, December 02, 2006

Grass Fed Beef or Grain Fed Beef?

You might wonder why a "hard core bbq nut" like myself cares about stuff like this, but in the interest of fair bbq reporting and in making you more aware of "healthy beef alternatives" I feel I must share some research I've been reading this week.

Studies have shown that grass fed beef is lower in fat than grain fed beef, but there are other reasons you should consider buying grass fed beef rather than grain fed beef when chosing your next brisket.

Cattle have a difficult time digesting grains. Their digestive system is much more adaptable grasses. Consider that grain fed beef can cause acidosis in cattle and produce E. coli bacteria known as E. coli 0157:H7. This particular strain of E. coli can cause severe illness, kidney damage, or even death. Not to mention that feedlots that hold the grain fed cattle create secondary contamination caused by run-off into water-ways, streams, rivers, and produce fields (i.e. lettuce, spinach, strawberries, etc.).

Cattle do not naturally eat grains. Their natural food source is grass. Real beef = grass fed beef. Grain fed beef is unnatural. In fact, there aren't many animals that eat grains as a "natural" food source. If the diet of cattle is not supplemented with antibiotics, feeding them grain can actually harm the animal.

Grass fed beef also has less saturated fat and is healthier to eat than grain fed beef. If you want to eat healthier, but love beef, grass fed beef is a viable solution.

If you'd like to read about this subject in more detail and do your own research before you make the switch to grass fed beef, here are some sources of additional information.

The Omnivores Dilemma
University of California Extension Service
Pasture Perfect
Food Revolution

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Anonymous said...

While there are many inaccuracies in this entry, I'll only address one.

"If the diet of cattle is not supplemented with antibiotics, feeding them grain can actually harm the animal."

The cattle are given antibiotics because they are overcrowded. The grain, in and of itself, does not cause harm to the animal.

Ok, two:

"Cattle have a difficult time digesting grains."

The grain is actually easier to digest than grass...i.e. the microbes in the rumen don't have to work as hard. That's one reason the cattle get fatter. Incidentally, that is why cows are fed grain...better marbling=better taste.

The BBQ Guy said...

Thanks for reading my blog about bbq and thanks for sharing your thoughts about grain fed beef.

I grew up on a farm in Missouri and my family raised grass fed cattle. My family's family raised grass fed cattle. And my father-in-law raises grass fed cattle to this day.

My knowledge of grain fed beef comes strictly from reading about it from various sources. I am not a veterinarian and have no formal training in agriculture.

Based on your comments it sounds as if you have experience raising grain fed beef and perhaps professional agricultural training.

I'd like to invite you to share your knowledge with the readers here on the bbq blog and even submit an article to help us all better understand this grain versus grass issue. Also feel free to share your professional qualifications and experience in the cattle industry to support your views.

I am aware that there are two-sides to every issue, but based on the information that was readily available to me as I researched my comments in my original post, it sounds to me like grain is not a desireable food source for cattle and there's absolutely no doubt it does pollute the environment.

I am not an environmentalist and I will continue to purchase beef that is available in the grocery stores, whether it's grain fed or grass fed is a secondary consideration for me. As a barbecuer, the more marbling and the more fat the better, but for personal consumption and from a strictly health conscious perspective--I have to admit that grass fed seems to be the more desireable and more natural beef.