Grass-fed beef sales are on the rise. But it is hard to compete with conventional producers. Grass-fed beef occupies 5% or less (depending on whose numbers you use) of the market. This means that conventional producers occupy more than 90% of the beef market. They provide a well established product at an affordable rate and in many easily accessible locations. However, the beef industry has fallen under criticism after the mad cow disease break out in 2003 and again as the rise of cardiovascular and other health issues are linked to high cholesterol, which is traced back to diets high red meat. As a result, consumers are looking closer at the relationship between their health and meat consumption, and how meat is produced, and they are shifting attention to grass-fed beef.
In regards to consumer health, when compared to feedlot meat, grass-fed beef contains more of what health conscious consumers want and less of what they don’t want. Check out the research. Grass-fed beef contains:
- less total fat
- less saturated fat
- less LDL cholesterol in ratio to HDL (the good cholesterol)
- fewer calories
- more vitamin E
- more beta carotene (a source of Vitamin A, which is good for vision/eyes, immune system, skin; an antioxidant that contributes to protecting the body against free radicals, which potentially lead to disease and cancer)
- more vitamin C
- more omega-3 fatty acids (connected to brain development and performance)
- more conjugated linoleic acid and CLA
While the health concerns are debatable – check out what Penn State Extension has to say - there are other reasons that people are turning away from the conventional beef system and towards the grass-fed producers.
- Know the farmer: Grass-fed producers typically own and operate smaller farms OR are committed to transparency regarding where the meat comes from, this means the consumer can have a direct connection to the farmer and the land where their food was raised.
- Environmental conservation: Grazing systems have been shown to reduce erosion, increase soil organic matter, and increase biodiversity.
- Producer benefits: Producers articulate the benefits when they say “I want to be in the field with my cows all day;” they appreciate a lower in-put system in which they must actively manage their soils and their grasses. In fact, many grazers consider themselves “grass farmers” instead of cattle farmers.
- Animal health: Cows are ruminant animals whose digestive systems are designed to graze and eat grass. A grass fed animal is doing what the animal does naturally – eating grass.