New Study Finds Grass-Fed Beef Reduces Carbon Footprint

By Elizabeth Murphy – Small Farms Program, Oregon State University

Food security and climate change are two of the most pressing global issues for people and the environment. Livestock production is considered a net greenhouse gas emitter, since the potent greenhouse gas, methane, is produced from ruminant digestion. Animal science studies have found reduced methane emissions with grain-based diets. Combined with the reduced land requirement of feedlot-type systems, this has led to the commonly-held suggestion that intensive cattle production systems, such as feedlots, are better than grass-based production in reducing agricultural carbon footprint and improving food security.

A new modeling study released last month in the report, What’s Your Beef?, found evidence to support the environmental benefits of traditional grass-based beef production and finishing. The National Trust, a conservation non-profit in the United Kingdom, determined that grass-based beef production actually had reduced greenhouse gas emissions when the carbon sequestration and storage of grassland pasture was considered. Furthermore, as grass-fed pastures are often not suitable to intensive crop production, grass farmers make use of marginal land to actually increase food security.

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The Health Benefits of Grass Farming

Consumers have been led to believe that meat is meat is meat. In other words, no matter what an animal is fed, the nutritional value of its products remains the same. This is not true. An animal’s diet can have a profound influence on the nutrient content of its products.

The difference between grainfed and grassfed animal products is dramatic.

First of all, grassfed products tend to be much lower in total fat than grainfed products. For example, a sirloin steak from a grassfed steer has about one half to one third the amount of fat as a similar cut from a grainfed steer.

In fact, grassfed meat has about the same amount of fat as skinless chicken or wild deer or elk.  When meat is this lean, it actually lowers your LDL cholesterol levels.

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The Health Benefits of Grass Farming. Author: Jo Johnson “Why Grassfed is Best!”

Beef’s Raw Edges

a.k.a. yet another reason to buy local beef from trusted small producers:

The Kansas City Star, in a yearlong investigation, found that the beef industry is increasingly relying on a mechanical process to tenderize meat, exposing Americans to higher risk of E. coli poisoning. The industry then resists labeling such products, leaving consumers in the dark.
The result: Beef in America is plentiful and affordable, spun out in enormous quantities at high speeds, but it’s a bonanza with hidden dangers. Industry officials contend beef is safer than it’s ever been.

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Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products

There are a number of nutritional differences between the meat of pasture-raised and feedlot-raised animals. To begin with, meat from grass-fed cattle, sheep, and bison is lower in total fat. If the meat is very lean, it can have one third as much fat as a similar cut from a grain-fed animal.

Because meat from grass-fed animals is lower in fat than meat from grain-fed animals, it is also lower in calories. (Fat has 9 calories per gram, compared with only 4 calories for protein and carbohydrates. The greater the fat content, the greater the number of calories.) As an example, a 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished steer can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer. If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grassfed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year—without requiring any willpower or change in your eating habits. If everything else in your diet remains constant, you’ll lose about six pounds a year. If all Americans switched to grassfed meat, our national epidemic of obesity might diminish.

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