Most of the beef we eat today comes from grain-fed cows. But cows don’t natively eat grain. They eat grass.
So, why are they eating grain? Right now, feeding cattle corn and soybeans (and animal protein) in industrial feedlots is cheaper than letting them out to graze in the field. Cattle also grow faster on grains, which have more energy than grasses, and so there is more meat to sell to customers, more quickly.
What do we care?
Well, the beef you are eating from a grain-fed cow is not the same as the beef we used to eat from grass-fed cows.
(1) Saturated fat. It can make up over 50% of the fat content of your grain-fed beef. What about grass fed beef? Saturated fat makes up about 10% of its fat content.
(2) Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Studies suggest that a ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 in excess of 4 to 1 may contribute to heart disease, cancer and other “Western” diseases. Grain-fed beef can have a ratio as high as 20 to 1. Grass fed beef can be as low as .16 to 1.
What’s striking to me about these figures is not so much what they say about saturated fat and Omega 6 and 4 fatty acid content themselves: Scientists notoriously disagree over the correlation between specific nutrients and the diseases they may cause. It may be that something other than saturated fat or Omega 6 fatty acids is contributing to heart disease. We still are not certain.
But what what cannot be contested is that feeding our cows grain changes them. Our beef today simply is not what our beef was yesterday. (Or the pastured beef we still can buy at some supermarkets and farmers’ markets today.)
What also cannot be contested is that the “Western” diseases of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity are on the rise. And scientists are finding more and more evidence that changes in the way we grow our food may have much to do with it. Given statistics like these, this should come as little surprise.
Are the cost savings worth the higher levels of saturated fat and Omega 6?