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.