Are you planning to attend Slow Food URBAN San Diego’s mixer on February 26th? We’re having it at the Gaslamp Burger Lounge, one of a chain of Certified Green Restaurants known for their grass-fed beef. So what’s the big deal about grass-fed beef? Why is it important?
Well, aside from having a better quality of life by being able to graze for their food, grass-fed or “pasture-fed” cows are fed a diet that is made up of mostly grass and other types of forage, as opposed to the grain-fed cattle who may be fed a diet consisting of corn, soy, and supplements in more confined feedlots.
A cow’s digestive system is designed for grass, and it does not handle a diet of corn or soy very well. Because of this, cows fed on corn and soy often experience digestive problems that warrant the use of antibiotics to resolve those ailments – ailments that wouldn’t occur if the cows hadn’t been fed such a diet in the first place. The extra acid that builds in their stomachs increases flatulence (and associated polluting methane gas in the atmosphere), and also appears to encourage growth of E.coli. Grass-fed cattle have up to 80% less of the E.coli strain in their guts compared to grain-fed cattle, per a study by James Russell of Cornell University (see Rumen Microbiology and Its Role in Ruminant Nutrition).
Some have speculated that the rise of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” is attributed in part to this regular use of antibiotics in raising grain-fed cattle. Grass-fed cows, on the other hand, have the diet their bodies are designed for, and are healthier for it, as they don’t require this added antibiotic regimen.
Michael Pollan gives a nice detailed explanation about the use of antibiotics in cattle in This Steer’s Life, if you want to read more. Or you can get the same story in his fascinating book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.
If the reasons above aren’t enough for you to want to choose grass-fed over grain-fed beef, there are other reasons. Pasture-based farming also has environmental benefits: less soil erosion, greater soil fertility, and less pollution. Grass-fed beef is leaner, which translates to fewer grams of fat and fewer calories in your diet. It is also higher in certain omega-3s as well as conjugated linoleic acid, which is theorized to have anticancer benefits. For more information, you can refer to the Union of Concerned Citizens’ detailed report, Greener Pastures: How Grass-Fed Beef and Milk Contribute to Healthy Eating, which details the nutritional benefits of grass-fed beef. These benefits, in addition to a clearer conscience about how what you eat impacts the animals and the environment, are all good reasons to show your support for grass-fed beef!