Grass-Fed vs Factory-Farmed Beef (The Ultimate Guide)

Quick Summary of Grass-Fed vs Factory-Farmed Beef
1. What do factory-farmed cattle eat and why does it matter?
2. What effect do animal antibiotics have on their meat?
3. The negative effects of feeding cattle too much grain
4. What is the environmental impact of factory-farmed cattle?
5. What’s the difference between grass-fed and pasture-raised?
6. What about grass-fed pork?
7. How trustworthy is packaging that says “grass-fed”?
8. What’s the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed?
9. What’s healthier: Grass-fed or grain-fed?

Today, more people than ever are showing genuine concern for where their food comes from. Farming and food processing practices are under more scrutiny as people educate themselves with the help of the internet, not to mention modern scientific advances regarding the effects of unnatural food. The beef industry, in particular, has become home to one of the most highly-publicized debates: grass-fed beef vs factory-farmed beef.

Is one healthier than the other? Is one more humane than the other? Some consider it a non-issue, while others have dedicated their lives advocating a particular side. This article will discuss both practices by answering some of the most commonly asked questions surrounding grass-fed vs factory-farmed cattle.

One thing is certain

There’s no denying that the food a cow eats has a verifiable effect on its beef. The nutrient composition is markedly different depending on a cow’s diet. Let’s look a bit deeper into why this is the case and how this information should affect our choices.

What do factory-farmed cattle eat and why does it matter?

Factory-farmed cows are typically fed some combination of the following: hooves, skin, blood, hair, feathers, plastics, chemicals, drugs, manure, diseased animals, same-species (rendered) meat, copious amounts of grain, euthanized dogs and cats, dead horses, roadkill, and other animal waste.

In recent decades, the processes surrounding how cattle and other animals are raised and fed have changed a lot. The advent of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) has lead to a sharp decrease in the number of farms nationwide. These “animal factories” have also resulted in the adoption of questionable, yet unfortunately legal, practices.

These feedlots are always devising ways to save money. With almost no consideration for the health of animals or humans, they’re constantly revising the definition of animal feed. Everything is becoming more and more unnatural and inhumane at the expense of the bottom line. These decidedly low standards affect not only the cows but also the humans who consume their meat.

What effect do animal antibiotics have on their meat?

Antibiotics are constantly being pumped into factory-farmed animals. These chemicals are designed to promote growth and provide artificial compensation for less-than-ideal living conditions (unsanitary, stressful, crowded). The millions of pounds of non-therapeutic medicine administered to feedlot animals every year have a concerning effect on humans who consume this meat, lowering our antibiotic resistance.

Many of the antimicrobials given to cattle (designed for parasite control) have arsenic in them. Traces of arsenic are consistently found in the meat of these animals and often contaminate water supplies near these feedlots.

The negative effects of feeding cattle too much grain

Cattle are natural grass eaters. Factory-farmed cattle, however, are forced (for lack of a better word) to eat grain – and a lot of it. This dense grain diet is rich in corn and goes against the natural design of a cow’s digestive system. This often results in liver abscesses, highly acidic digestive systems, and other health problems directly caused by over-consumption of grain. In turn, more drugs are administered to quell these problems.

What is the environmental impact of factory-farmed cattle?

Studies over many years have confirmed the negative effects that factory-farmed cattle have on the environment. These include increased soil erosion, decreased water quality, higher fossil fuel costs, and lower natural diversity.

Cattle raised on feedlots consume lots of fossil fuel energy. Factory-farmed cattle are almost always fed grain made of up corn and soy. The amount of chemical fertilizer used to grow this corn is immense, which also takes huge amounts of oil. Not only that but if you consider all the trucking and waste removal involved with feedlots, the total fossil fuel consumption is raised even higher.

Most factory-farmed cattle locations contribute severely to water pollution. Instead of manure nutrients having a positive effect on the pastures, living conditions allow these nutrients to escape and become water pollutants. This also negatively affects the fertility and organic matter of the soil. And because feedlots typically do not have a permute system of pasture maintenance or grazing management, soil erosion becomes a problem.

What’s the difference between grass-fed and pasture-raised?

These two terms are often confused for one another, but they do not mean the same thing. One refers to WHAT the cow eats (grass-fed) and the other refers to WHERE the cow eats (pasture-raised). Knowing this, you can then make your decision on what type of beef you prefer to consume. For example, choose grass-fed steak if it’s important to you that the cow ate little or no grain. Choose pasture-raised if you prioritize knowing the cow was free to wander and graze freely.

Now comes the question everyone asks: “Doesn’t the pasture have grass on it? How, then, is grass-fed different from pasture-raised? No, it’s still not the same. This is because a farmer in a cold climate may have his pasture covered in snow for large portions of the year, during which time he may feed his cows grain.

There can be instances where a grass-fed cow is, in fact, also a pasture-raised cow. In this instance, however, the cow would’ve had to eat grass for most of its life, which is unlikely. Technically, it’s also possible that a cow could be fed hay (grass) all its life and still be housed exclusively indoors. But again, that’s highly unlikely. It’s best to assume a resolute difference between grass-fed and pasture-raised.

What about grass-fed pork?

There’s no such thing. Pigs have to eat some grain to survive. They can’t live on grass alone. This is why you won’t see pork (or chicken) at the supermarket labeled as grass-fed. On the other hand, goats, lambs, and cows do just fine on grass alone. You’ll definitely see those meats labeled as grass-fed.

How trustworthy is packaging that says “grass-fed”?

Make sure that when purchasing grass-fed meat, the packaging says “100% grass-fed”. Do not overlook this important detail. Packaging is often ambiguous regarding grass-fed vs factory-farmed. If it doesn’t say “100%”, this means it’s possible that the cow was “finished” on grain. This means the farmer fed it grain during its last 60-90 days. Again, make sure the packaging says “100% grass-fed”.

What’s the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed?

Generally speaking, cows that are grain-fed eat mostly soy and corn at the end of their lives. Cows that are grass-fed have eaten mostly grass for their entire lives. That’s the difference. A grain-fed diet is considered unnatural and a grass-fed diet is considered natural.

It’s important to note that what is considered grass-fed in the US may be different in other countries; say, Australia. In some countries, grass-fed doesn’t always mean that the cows grazed outdoors, for example.

What’s healthier: Grass-fed or grain-fed?

The fat content of grass-fed beef is lower compared to grain-fed, which means, among other things, fewer calories. Grass-fed beef also contains more CLA and omega-3 fatty acids; both good things. Other nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and various antioxidants are more abundant in grass-fed. Overall, there’s a slightly higher nutrient count in it compared to grain-fed.

However, grain-fed beef contains many nutrients and is certainly healthy. Plus, depending on your location, grass-fed beef may be inconvenient to find and expensive. Despite what you may read or hear, the evidence claiming that grass-fed is considerably more healthy than grain-fed is not compelling, at least in the context of a balanced diet.

When it comes down to it, your meat choice is really it’s up to your personal convictions and preferences. Everyone knows that eating real food is healthier than eating processed foods. And some people go further, consuming only animals that ate real food. Let your principles determine your choices.

Grass-Fed vs Factory-Farmed: What to do?

When it comes to grass-fed vs factory-farmed beef, consider supporting producers and systems that feed their cattle grass – their natural food. Consider purchasing and eating meat only from these sources. Look for meat and dairy products with labels that say “100% grass-fed”. Products that are “Certified Organic” means the cows were fed vegetarian feed only. Consume these rather than the alternative. Purchasing dairy products, eggs, and meats from local farmers is also a great idea. These are called CSA programs (Community Supported Agriculture).

grass-fed vs factory-farmed

Grass-Fed vs. Factory-Farmed Beef (The Ultimate Guide)

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