The Grass-Fed Revolution

Onyx Park lowline beef and cattle found in Queensland Australia

Back to Pasture. There is a growing revolt against industrial agriculture. With more consumers questioning how their food is grown and organic fruits and vegetables exploding into a multibillion-dollar market, grass-finished meat and dairy look like the next food frontier.

Instead of crowding their cattle onto pasture sprayed with weed killers and fertilizers,shipping them off half-grown to huge feedlots to be stuffed with corn and soy--pesticide treated, of course--and implanted with synthetic hormones to make them grow faster and given antibiotics, farmers are keeping their animals home on the farm where they forage on pasture, their native diet. These new-age farmers have restored their farms to natural grasses, thus eliminating the need for irrigation and chemicals. They rotate their cattle every few days among different fields to allow the grass to reach its nutritional peak. Their animals lead low-stress lives and are so healthy there is no reason to treat them with antibiotics or other drugs.

More Nutritious. Grass is a low-starch, high-protein fibrous food, in contrast to carbohydrate-rich, low-fiber corn and soybeans. When animals are 100% grass-fed, their meat is not only lower in saturated fats but also slightly higher in omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats found in salmon and flaxseed, which studies indicate may help prevent heart disease and bolster the immune system. Ground beef and milk from grass-finished cattle also have more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which recent data suggest may help prevent breast cancer, diabetes and other ailments. Moreover, grass-finished meat is higher than grain-finished meat in vitamin A and vitamin E, two antioxidants thought to boost resistance to disease.

The Art and Science of Grassfarming. Raising animals on pasture requires more knowledge and skill than sending them to a feedlot. For example, in order for grass-fed beef to be succulent and tender, the cattle need to forage on high-quality grasses and legumes, especially in the months prior to slaughter. Providing this nutritious and natural diet requires healthy soil and careful pasture management so that the plants are maintained at an optimal stage of growth. Because high-quality pasture is the key to high-quality animal products, many pasture-based farmers refer to themselves as "grassfarmers." They raise great grass; the animals do all the rest.

Unnatural Diets. Feeding steers grain and supplements can create safety issues--for cattle and humans. Biologically, cattle are ruminants, exquisitely evolved to graze grass, and researchers have found that a grain diet raises the acidity in steers' guts. This breeds an acid-resistant form of E. coli that can spread from feces-contaminated carcasses to meat. According to research findings, more than half of grain-fed cattle have been found to have acid-resistant E. coli in their feces; the proportion drops to 15% if they are switched to hay. To prevent more serious and sometimes fatal reactions, the animals are given chemical additives along with a constant, low-level dose of antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics has caused more and more bacteria to become resistant to treatment. When people become infected with these new, disease-resistant bacteria, there are fewer medications available to treat them. Grass-fed steers rarely require antibiotics. Consumers seeking to avoid chemicals have turned to certified-organic beef in recent years, but often it is merely feedlot beef that is fed pesticide-free grain.

Environmental Degradation. When animals are raised in feedlots or cages, they deposit large amounts of manure in a small amount of space. The manure must be collected and transported away from the area, an expensive proposition. To cut costs, it is dumped as close to the feedlot as possible. As a result, the surrounding soil is overloaded with nutrients, which can cause ground and water pollution. When animals are raised outdoors on pasture, their manure is spread over a wide area of land, making it a welcome source of organic fertilizer, not a "waste management problem."

The Healthiest Choice. When you choose to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals raised on pasture, you are improving the welfare of the animals, helping to put an end to environmental degradation, helping small-scale farmers make a living from the land, helping to sustain rural communities, and giving your family the healthiest possible food. Itís a win-win-win-win situation.