The recent growing popularity of organic products has sparked a debate about grass-fed beef benefits versus the price you pay for it. Is the 2 – 3x supermarket price markup worth it? The bigger issue is more likely the overall health benefits of eating grass fed beef over the conventional grain or corn fed beef. This article will discuss the differences in how the grass fed and grain fed meats are grass fed beef created, processed and ultimately affect your health.
How cattle are raised will determine the quality and specific makeup of the meat. There are three phases to the process:
Phase 1. This is the infant stage – the calf is born, consumes only milk from its mother and eventually eats grass for the first time in a pasture at 7 – 9 months of age.
Phase 2. This stage is where the type of feeding methods change in the process. This phase will last from the end of phase 1 to just before the slaughter to yield the meat. grass fed beef eat grass from the ground while grain fed will eat a variety or different grains in a lot of cases in an enclosed environment.
Phase 3. This finishing stage is just before harvest which involves rapid growth. Some producers will use grain at this stage even though the cattle have been fed exclusively grass up to this point. This is the time when the cattle increase in weight faster than any other time frame. How they are fed will drastically change the finished product in both weight and quality of meat.
Your local supermarket or butcher shop will offer four types of meat which will vary in exposure to grain.
1. Veal – this is calf meat from phase 1 above. It has never been fed grain and will be predominantly males as they do not produce milk so are of lower value as adults.
2. Organic or 100% grass fed – cattle that have spent their whole lives in a pasture.
3. Initially grass fed beef but finished in phase 3 with grain.
4. Grain fed beef that have been raised in the conventional manner and have not eaten grass in a pasture at all.
This list (not surprisingly) is also in order of most expensive to least expensive.
Unfortunately the research on this topic is fairly limited as it is not a really popular concern to the public. With limited data, we will compare only the two extremes – 100% grass fed and 100% grain fed beef.
One research group did a comparison of grass fed and grain fed beef using samples from different farms in the continental USA. Having samples collected in this way takes into account the different regions of the country with differing quality of both grass and grains as feed. The meat tested is the same beef that you would find in a supermarket. All of the farms are the suppliers of meat to the local grocery stores, restaurants, burger joints, etc.