Increasing numbers of U.S. consumers are turning away from factory-farmed, grain-fed beef in favor of healthier and more humane grass-fed beef -- and ranchers are paying attention.
More than 1,000 U.S. ranchers have transitioned their herds to an all-grass diet -- which cattle are naturally designed to eat -- in the last five years. Sales grew to $120 million in 2005 and are estimated to increase over 20 percent a year for the next decade.
Much of the allure comes from the health benefits associated with grass-fed beef. Compared with grain-fed beef, cattle raised strictly on pasture provide beef that is:
- Lower in saturated fats
- Slightly higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- Higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may prevent breast cancer, diabetes and more
- Higher in antioxidant vitamins A and E
Still, purely grass-fed beef represents under 1 percent of the U.S. beef supply, and can cost from 20 percent to 100 percent more than grain-fed beef, due partly to its longer growth cycle.
It was great to read in Time magazine that more Americans are beginning to appreciate the value of grass-fed beef. There is a growing revolt against industrial agriculture and factory farming cattle for food.
If you aren't familiar with the problems surrounding this practice, I would encourage you to review the excellent piece that Michael Pollan wrote on How Your Beef is Really Raised. You will get quite an education on how most cattle are raised for food in the United States -- by giving them large amounts of grain, antibiotics, and hormones to maximize their value with patent disregard to the health consequences to the consumers that will eat the meat.
Many vegetarians correctly oppose the use of meat based on the practices Pollan describes in his article; I couldn't agree with them more that they are making an appropriate choice.
However, many throw out the baby with the bathwater and choose to ignore that there is a healthier option: cattle that are raised humanely, not fed grains nor given antibiotics and are allowed to pasture on grasses that are not sprayed with chemicals.
Grass-fed beef is lower in chemicals that can harm you and higher in beneficial fats like CLA, which can even help you lose weight and defeat cancer.
An important point to understand when purchasing your beef is that certified organic beef is not necessarily as healthy as grass-fed, non-factory-farmed beef. Most of the organic beef I have seen are fed organic corn, which still causes most of the negative problems that have traditionally been associated with eating beef.
Typically, most grass-fed beef are fed crops that are not sprayed with pesticides -- it is just that the ranchers could not afford the expensive organic certification process.
I seek to limit my beef intake whenever possible to grass-fed sources. The best way to purchase it is through the farmer who raised the animal. This allows you to avoid potentially expensive overnight shipping charges. Many times local health food stores will have this in their store or can direct you to local farmers that can supply you with this type of meat.
If you can't find it locally, we do have a source on our site that you can use for your convenience.