Where's Your Beef From?
Everyday there are new reports to demonstrate the health advantages of eating grassfed beef. However, before you buy it, make sure it is truly grassfed beef. This type of beef comes from pastured cattle that forage for their lifetime solely on annual and perennial grasses and legumes. They do not receive any grain, ever.
There are an abundance of sites on the Internet that that advertise grassfed beef, but it is only when you read the fine print that you see the real story. Just because the site or package label states the product is “organic”, “free-range”, “all natural”, or “grass-grown”, does not mean it is grassfed beef.
Some beef producers take their animals off grain rations only for the last few weeks, or they may be fed a grass-based diet while continuing supplementation with high levels of grain or other materials. Other producers finish, or fatten, their animals for 90 to 120 days on grain before slaughter. None of these methods produce the health benefits of truly grass raised beef.
Traditionally, all beef was grassfed beef, but in the U.S. today most of it comes from cattle that spend their life in a confined animal feeding operation, a highly mechanized operation that provides a convenient, and often cheap, supply of food. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of all beef consumed in the U.S. has been finished in a feedlot during its last 90 to 120 days.
Years ago, a grassfed steer was 4 to 5 years old at slaughter, today, young calves are sent to feedlots where their diet is switched to high-energy grain, soy and other supplements to fatten them and marble their flesh. The animal is also given growth-promoting hormones and a continual stream of antibiotics to keep it “healthy” and alive in confinement until it is slaughtered at 14 to 18 months.
Grain – An Unnatural Diet
Cows, sheep and other grazing animals are able to convert grasses into food they can digest because they are ruminants, meaning they have a rumen, or a multi-compartmented stomach that converts high-fiber grasses into protein and fat and allows them to thrive. Switching a cow, or other ruminants, from grass to grain is so disturbing to the animal’s digestive tract that it can kill them if not done gradually. They can get feedlot bloat, caused by copious amounts of gas that forces the animal’s belly to swell against its lungs. Without immediate relief, the animal will suffocate.
Feeding corn to cattle also can cause chronic bellyaches, called acidosis. If acidosis is not treated, it makes the animal very ill, leaving their immune system vulnerable to many diseases. If acidosis remains unchecked, it can kill the animal.
Public health can also be affected. Since the 1990s there have been numerous recalls of beef for possible E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria contamination. When cattle’s digestive system becomes more acidic, it favors the growth of E. coli, which has killed and sickened people who ate undercooked ground beef. Grassfed beef may reduce your chances of illness, but people eating grassfed beef should practice all the safe handling techniques recommended for grain-fed beef.
Providing a healthy diet and good environment for grassfed beef requires skill and careful pasture management. High-quality grasses must be maintained at optimal growth for forage and pasture areas rotated to keep the soil, and herd, healthy. In addition to the type of forage used to raise beef, the beef breeding stock, types and levels of mineral and vitamin supplementation, and the length of time spent in pasture before slaughter determine the quality, leanness, juiciness and flavor of grassfed beef.
The American Grassfed Association, which audits and certifies many grassfed farms, including Hilltop Angus Farm in Mt.Gilead, NC, provides dietary protocols.
Another advantage of pasture farming is the humane treatment of animals. Unlike the factory farms where cattle are packed together or subjected to cruelty, grassfed beef farmers adhere to the most rigorous and progressive animal care standards in the nation and many are certified as Animal Welfare-approved.
If you are interested in providing healthy meat to your family’s diet, get informed. Visit websites of the producers, read their production protocols, but even better, get to know your producer and ask questions. For more information on grassfed beef and a listing of farms in this region that offer the product, visit Eatwild.com