The difference between grass-fed and normal beef (or ‘conventional beef’) is a popular debate among health-conscious consumers.
For years, nutritionists have wondered how their differing production methods and nutrition profiles affect human health. Does the way cows are fed really affect their nutrient composition? Does consuming mass-produced beef make a difference?
Today, Meatse is here to shed light on what sets them apart. We’ll cover all aspects of the debate, from the benefits of grass-fed beef to the definition of concentrated animal feeding operations,
So stick around to discover the true difference between grass-fed and normal beef.
What is grass-fed beef?
Although the term ‘grass-fed’ sounds fairly self-explanatory, it has multiple meanings depending on the animal-rearing system and country.
In the UK, for example, ‘grass-fed beef’ refers to cattle grazed on natural pasture for most of their lives. However, some farmers may feed their cattle other less natural feeds (such as cereals or the by-products of human food manufacturing) closer to slaughter.
This differs from normal or ‘conventional’ beef fed on a grain-based diet.
What is normal beef?
Normal beef, also called conventional beef, comes from cows that are initially grass-fed but then transitioned to a grain-based diet in feedlots. These concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are designed to fatten the animals quickly before slaughter.
Grain-fed cows are typically given a diet primarily of corn and soy to expedite growth. Particularly in the USA, these cows are also given antibiotics, hormones and drugs for at least 60 days before slaughter to maximise weight gain.
Why are CAFOs bad?
Several scientific studies have detailed the negative effects of this rearing process, with the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health (SCV MPH) determining that at least one of the six hormones used in grain-fed beef production is a cancer-causing carcinogenic.
Luckily, the UK has some of the most stringent regulations on animal production. It varies on a farm-to-farm basis, but growth hormones have been banned since 1989 in Europe.
Despite this, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there are over 789 mega-farms (or CAFOs) in the UK, with at least three units used to rear beef.
The use of CAFOs is strongly discouraged by animal welfare activists, who say that muddy conditions, poor handling and heat stress can distress the animal, breed disease among livestock and have a disastrous effect on the environment.
What are the benefits of grass-fed beef?
As well as being more ethical than grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef is also more nutritious: but how?
1. Fewer Calories
Grass-fed or ‘forage-feeding’ cattle have fewer calories on a gram-for-gram basis. (Elswyk and McNeil, 2014)
2. Less Monounsaturated Fat
Grass-fed beef results in a leaner product with less monounsaturated fat than conventional beef. While monounsaturated fat is healthy in small amounts, too much can lead to weight gain. (Elswyk and McNeil, 2014)
3. More Omega-3
Research from Harvard University has shown that Omega-3 is a fatty acid thought to prevent heart disease, strokes and play a protective role against cancer.
Luckily, grass-fed beef contains much more Omega-3 than conventional beef due to its presence in the grass. (McAfee et al., 2011)
4. Higher in Vitamins
Vitamin A is important for the immune system, growth and development, and Vitamin B helps you release energy from proteins and fats.
Studies suggest that grass-fed beef elevates levels of Vitamin A and B, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants such as glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD). (Dayley et al., 2010)
5. Richer in Antioxidants
Grass-fed beef has higher levels of antioxidants than grain-fed beef. (Descalzo et al., 2007)