Is Your Meat Grass Finished?
Read this and it just might change how you purchase your meat for the rest of your life.
I was reciently at a conference where a topic of conversation from one of the speakers was grass finished meat. I felt a bit embarrassed as someone who is really into the food and produce, had, in actual fact, never heard that specific phrase before. Sure, when it came to livestock, i’d heard of Grass Fed, Grain Fed, Corn Fed, Free Range, Caged, Grazing Lots and so on. But i had NO IDEA that what happens to an animals last 60 days on this planet, could actually be dangerous to OUR health!
Cows are an interesting beast. I once dated a guy that had a small cattle farm in northern Victoria. They had about 140 head of cattle on approx. 260 acres. Often we would go to ‘the farm’ for our long weekends or holiday breaks and do a bit of ‘farm work’. This is where I got a closer view of what happens on a working farm. We would spend hours in the paddocks herding and ushering (with great amusement to everyone) the cows from one ‘eaten down’ paddock on to the next aka grazing rotation. (Vitally important in any sound farming practice). But the question that I was always asking when we lined them up to be transported off (beef cattle remember) was, what happened to them once they go?
I’ll break it down;
Grass Raised – a dirty marketing phrase.
Beef cattle that are grass ‘raised’ means once they are weaned off their mothers milk they are put in a paddock and feed off either grass that grows on the ground or hay (if its a bad season). Either way they eat grass while being growing. Once they are big enough to be sold for their meat they are then shipped off on to a ‘holding lot’. This is where they meet often hundreds of other cows and hang out in barren, tiny, dust covered paddocks or concrete holding stalls and fed grain or commercial cow feed pallets. This is to fatten them up- quick. They will live out their last approx. 60 days here. While here they often get sick from breathing in dust filled with their own feces or if its wet, standing in a muddy sewer. Often there is a dose of antibiotics added in the ‘grain’ to help keep them well enough, for just long enough.
Sounds bad huh? Well it gets worse…
The nutrition content of beef is rather extraordinary. High in protein, essential minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium. Great levels of energy vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 and Vitamin E. But interesting, beef also contains the fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 and polyunsaturated CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). The ration of omega 3 and 6 when they leave a grass fed environment is 1:1. When they are feed grain or a grain mix the levels can go as high as 1:25 – favouring omega 6. This is where you should be concerned. High levels of omega 6 can cause a variety of health issues associated with inflammation in the body often presenting itself as atheroscleorsis, arthritis, asthma and so on. Omega 3 on the other hand is know as the anti inflammatory helper – so once this ratio is compromised we are more susceptible to lean towards the diseases associated with inflammation. (more on the ratio later)
Grass Finished on the other hand is exactly that. The cow lives eating grass until its the right size to be sent to market for meat consumption. There is no holding lots for 60 days until they fatten up. This is how our animals should be treated.
How the heck do we tell the difference?
So if you like me and this is new news, its because they don’t have to claim it on the label. I have NEVER seen grass finished printed anywhere on my meat label if I am buying from a supermarket.
A butcher informed me that you can tell from looking at the fat. The fat is often more ‘yellow’ in colour due to the grass. Whereas a grain finished animal will have fat that is very white. Perhaps there is something in ‘you are what you eat’ saying after all.
So i urge you to ask the questions. You are the end user and you have the right to know how your produce is being raised. Besides, we expect the imported fruit and vegetable origin to be made known.
Starting at the butcher is a good first step. They love to discuss their produce, its what they do. If you are unsure or don’t use a regular butcher just begin slowly and try not to lead the conversation. Perhaps just enquire around what regional area the meat comes from, or is it grain fed? Ask how the meat was ‘finished’. If you are not convinced than thats ok, try another. Or go online, all supplies that sell grass finished are extremely proud of their produce and will want people to know about it.
The more we seek out the food we want, the retailer will have to begin to provide it. They want customer satisfaction after all – and repeat sales!
Oh, and for the record – the cattle that I helped to herd is grass finished…
See, happy cows!