High on Grass: The Meat We Eat

“Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn. The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.” Stop and think why Little Boy Blue was called to keep the cows out of the corn. Any farmer or rancher will tell you: If a cow eats its fill of corn, it dies. Because a cow, like all ruminant animals, was not designed by nature to eat corn — or any grain, for that matter. Corn will kill a cow as surely as Roundup kills plants. We’ve brought this topic to the table many times in the past and recently published research brings it to our attention again. Good for you. The 2011 British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 105, just published a study finding that healthy volunteers who ate grass-fed meat instead of grain-fed for only four weeks, a total of 12 meals, increased their blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and decreased their level of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. These changes are linked with a lower risk of a host of disorders, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression and inflammatory disease. Researchers have long suspected that, because the meat from an animal fed on grass had a better nutritional profile, it would translate to human health markers. This research confirms that. They are what they eat. In the standard American diet, SAD, meat can simplistically be categorized as industrial versus boutique, if you will. The typical commercial supply of beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork and even fish are from producers that are large corporate entities raising thousands of animals in confined animal feed operations or CAFOs. These large producers use every means possible to maximize profits. Those means may include chemicals, hormones, confinement, light manipulation, genetic manipulation and more. The most common manipulation is that of diet. Industrial livestock may be fed anything from bubblegum and cardboard to chicken feces and antibiotics to speed up the growing process and get the meat to market as quickly as possible. In the case of beef, the industry realized a long time ago that feeding starch- and protein-rich corn to a cow will fatten the animal quicker than letting it graze on its natural diet of grasses. In the words of one cattleman, “Corn-fed is all about carve ‘em up quick.” Fortunately, we can still find meat produced by small, family farmers using chemical-free, natural methods as an option to the industrial meat put out by mega-corporations. Often that livestock is grass-fed or pastured. Common sense would tell us (well, most of us) that a cow that eats what nature intended would be healthier and produce healthier meat than one that eats junk food. That premise is at the heart of the trend toward grass-fed beef. Good for them. Much of the past research focused on what the benefits are to the beef product when it is grass-fed instead of grain-fed. Dating back decades, researchers found that the nutritional profile of meat from grass-fed cattle was different from grain-fed. Author and researcher Jo Robinson summarizes on her website, eatwild.com: “Compared with commercial products, [pastured animals] offer you more ‘good’ fats, and fewer ‘bad’ fats. They are richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene and vitamin C. Further, they do not contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs.” That observation is based on the analysis of meat from grass-fed animals. So we know that the meat of grass-fed beef has more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. The twist on the new research is that it was done on humans who eat grass-fed beef. Is there actually a proven benefit to us? Turns out the researchers say, “Yes.” Well-defined. Be sure that when you are shopping for “grass-fed” that the term means that the animal ate only grass over its lifetime. Unscrupulous purveyors have been known to claim, “Hey, all cows eat grass,” and not admit their cattle are finished on grain to fatten them at the end. Grass-fed benefits are lost almost immediately when a cow switches to corn. Also, another useful term to look for is “pastured.” It should mean that the animal lived primarily outdoors in a natural environment, grazing. It is not unreasonable to suspect that some livestock producers feed grass to cattle living in confined quarters. The term “pastured” should clear that up. Ten Reasons to Eat Grass-Fed 1) Your food dollar becomes a vote against CAFOs. They are not a good idea for a variety of reasons. 2) Grass-fed meat gives you all the benefits that Nature designed. 3) It costs a little more. You’ll eat less meat and that means more fruits and veggies. 4) It’s environmentally sound. Cars, trucks, trains and airplanes produce greenhouse gases. But the facts are that the livestock sector produces far more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. Livestock production worldwide is the largest producer of greenhouse gases. Pastured livestock can help lower that footprint. 5) Less antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The livestock industry is the largest consumer of antibiotics. Indiscriminate use creates drug resistant strains, causes runoff that puts drugs in our water supply and means the meat you eat can have antibiotics in it, too. Grass-fed cows ordinarily never get antibiotics. 6) Grass-fed beef means less E. coli. The dangerous strain O157:H7 was unheard of before we started mass feeding corn to cows. Feeding corn increases the population of O157:H7 in a cow’s stomach. Research shows that feeding a cow grass virtually eliminates the presence of E. coli compared to grain-fed. The reason is that corn changes the terrain of the cow’s stomach and promotes an unnatural increase in E. coli growth. 7) You’re supporting more pastureland and that’s good for soil sustainability. 8) Pastured animals are treated more humanely. 9) Research says it’s healthier for you. 10) It’s the right thing to do. Be well.

posted at 12:33 pm
on Wednesday, February 02nd, 2011

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