What's the difference between organic, grass-fed, grass-pastured and grass-finished, and why does it matter? Bottom line: you are what your food eats. Not all beef is created equal. There are significant differences including nutritional profile, quality of fats, animal welfare as well as flavour and texture.
Grass fed beef contains more antioxidants, vitamins and mineral than any other type of meats because the cows eat dark leafy greens all day. Grass fed beef also has an Omega 6:3 ratio similar to cold water fish, making it one of the highest quality sources of protein due to its high quality fat profile and the presence of cancer fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
As amazing as grass fed beef is, it is still considered a luxury item which is a shame because it's so good for us! At Farm Table we intend to work with more farmers that grass finish their beef. In order to find the best of the best we ask a lot of questions, watch carefully and listen deeply. As you shop for grass-fed, grass finished beef, be sure to ask at least these three key questions:
1. How long do your cows have access to untreated pasture? The answer should be as long as the grass is growing. Ideally the cows are out grazing at least May to Nov in Ontario. Beware that cows are tied to stalls or kept indoors, fed dried grass and called grass fed. The happiest, healthiest cows thrive by grazing outdoors all day. Also ensure the grass they are eating is not treated with any chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides which will affect their health and yours.
2. Are your animals fed anything else except grass? You are hoping for a "hard no". No routine antibiotics, no hormones or growth stimulants and no grains. Cows should not be fed corn, because 88% of all corn grown is genetically modified and heavily sprayed with chemicals such as Glyphosate aka Round Up, plus it is not their natural diet and is hard for them to digest. The same is true for soy, 93% of all soy is GMO and heavily sprayed. Cows do gain weight quickly when fed grains like corn and soy, which they will tolerate for a short period of time, but grains eventually affect ruminant digestion and overall health. Also the more grain is fed within three months prior to slaughter the more the omega 6:3 ratio is affected and CLA content reduced.
3. How do you finish your animals? Many farmers fatten their cattle by feeding grains within the last three months prior to slaughter which drastically reduces all the nutritional benefits of grass feeding. The best quality meat is produced by a beef cow such as Angus, Limousin or Hereford for example that have been fed 100% grass only.
Cows are ruminant animals and herbivores who are meant to eat grass. Their guts are literally built to digest grass most effectively. When cows are fed corn, grain, gelatin, fish meal, garbage (no joke) and other horrible substitutes too gross to mention, their health suffers. Which is why most feedlots feed antibiotics routinely to prop up animal health as the steers (castrated bulls) gain weight as quickly as possible. Antibiotics in our food enter our bodies and can make us allergic, inflamed and cause antibiotic resistant bacteria which make us really sick. Avoid sick animals, they tend to make us sick.
In summary, shop from trustworthy farms whenever possible. Eat more plants, and when you do eat animals seek out those that are fed their natural diet in their natural habitat, they are healthy and in turn promote our health and vitality.
There are more benefits to grass-fed beef than nutrition profile and animal welfare. Not only is grass-fed beef better for you than grain-fed, but it’s also better for the environment too! Many people avoid beef and meat entirely because of environmental concerns. We now know that grass-based beef production and finishing actually benefits the environment by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing biodiversity of pasture ecosystems and improving quality of run-off water from well-managed pastures. Overall, grass-fed beef has actually been shown to reduce the carbon footprint and help the environment rather than adversely affect it. So head over to the Farm Shop to find a grass fed beef to feed your family and save the planet!
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