Grass-fed beef, "grassfed," from "pasture-raised"... New designations for beef are emerging in the market, and it's not without reason. The environmental impact of meat in our plates has led Quebecers to question the beef farming practices of this animal that emits much more carbon than other animals like pork or chicken. However, more and more studies are leading us to believe that the issue is not as straightforward as it seems... Could the popular discourse lack nuance? That's what several scientists, agronomists, and producers are trying to demystify.
Hormone-Free and Antibiotic-Free
In conventional farming, cattle are fed grain (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) for a significant part of their lives. This allows for accelerated growth and quick fattening of the animals, resulting in meat that is richer in fat.
However, cattle are designed to digest grass, not grain. Feeding them grain doesn't meet their nutritional needs. Since their nutritional needs aren't met, growth hormones are administered to make them grow quickly despite the inadequate diet. Additionally, this diet not suited to their biology weakens their immune system, necessitating the injection of antibiotics to prevent diseases.
Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, is often free of growth hormones and antibiotics. In non-conventional farming, cattle can roam freely in large green spaces, have a natural diet, and grow at a normal pace. Therefore, they generally have fewer health problems than conventionally raised animals. A Quebec study demonstrates that cows that are never sent to pasture suffer more health problems and have a higher mortality rate than cows that graze in pastures (Vaillancourt, 2021). Healthier cattle produce healthier meat.
More Nutritious Meat
Indeed, in terms of health, grass-fed beef is much more nutritious and beneficial for our well-being. This type of meat is leaner and contains up to four times more omega-3 and vitamin E than grain-fed beef. Omega-3 fatty acids are good anti-inflammatory fats known as "essential," meaning our bodies cannot produce them on their own. Therefore, we must obtain them through our diet. Conventionally raised beef, in contrast, contains a higher level of omega-6. Although omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory, they are not inherently bad. The issue lies in the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in our bodies, which is important for our health. Conventional beef has a high level of omega-6 and a low level of omega-3, resulting in an imbalanced ratio.
Helps Reduce GHG Emissions
Grass-fed beef helps sequester CO2 in the soil, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A study conducted by a sustainable agriculture specialist shows a correlation between the number of animals and carbon sequestration. In Canada, an average bovine produces 2200 kilograms of GHG per year in the form of methane. It is estimated that grazing cattle produce 800 kilograms because they sequester 1400 kilograms in the soil (Meneu, 2021). By grazing on grass, pastured animals enable the soil to store carbon and accelerate its regeneration process. If you wish to learn more about the role of grazing for the environment, you can read our blog article on regenerative agriculture.
In short, grass-fed beef is not only beneficial for human health but also for the environment and the cattle itself. Non-conventionally raised cattle are well-treated throughout the entire process, being able to live freely and eat naturally. A healthy bovine results in nutritious and beneficial meat for our diet. Beyond its nutritional value, many people prefer the taste of grass-fed beef. But it's mainly how you prepare it that makes all the difference! You can check out how to prepare grass-fed beef to discover our tips.
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Sources used for writing this article:
Meneu, G. (September 29, 2021). Le bœuf nourri à l’herbe, vraiment écologique?. Radio-Canada. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1827716/burger-boeuf-nourri-herbe-aw-nature-environnement.
Vaillancourt, J. (February 27, 2021). Le retour des vaches au pâturage serait bénéfique pour leur santé. Radio-Canada. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1773028/animaux-vaches-paturage-sante