Grass Fed Beef, Pt. IV: Our Conclusion – The Battle Between Grass-fed and Grain Fed Beef
This is the final part in a 4-part series relating to grass-fed beef – we already presented an introduction to grass-fed beef ( Pt. I)and an introduction to the pros (Pt. II) and cons (Pt. III) of grass-fed beef. Now… we are proud to present our conclusion… which is really better?
Well, we made it! We got through the basic introduction to grass-fed beef, a list of its pros, a list of its cons, and each point was researched and justified. Sometimes with an attached link, sometimes not… but either way, we gave you a lot of information to dig through.
That being said, before we go deep into our analysis, some key points that should be remembered:
1. The views expressed here are the views of Wayside Market, and in no way do these provide the general popular opinion.
2. The research has been collected from different sources that argue different points to show that there are definitely pros and cons to grass-fed and grain-fed meats.
3. Our goal is simply to provide information that helps you make informed decisions. Yes, we hope that you find our research and presentation valid and valuable, even if you do not agree with the final assessment, learning more is what this has been all about.
That is basically it when it comes to what we want you to remember about what we talked about with grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef. These points being considered, you should remember that a lot of information was pointed out throughout these articles. Bearing this in mind, we will offer a very brief recap of each key element, and then present you with a winner or a loser in each category, and we will then determine the final winner – grass-fed or grain-fed.
Now without further ado… and we actually mean it this time… ( a drum roll would be nice right about now…)
Yes! It is finally upon us. Let’s just run through each category, its pros, its cons, and finally determine a solid winner in the ongoing battle between grass fed and grain fed beef.
Labeling requirements. This first point goes back to our very first article, Part I in the Grass-fed Series. This went into the points that go into the labeling requirements of grass-fed beef.
Grass-fed beef means that, from an advertising standpoint, that this has to be fed mostly grass for its lifespan… so if a steer is fed a diet that is 51% grass throughout its life, then this steer could be considered grass-fed. We spoke about this before, and I think what we can agree on is that that no one in their right mind would consider a steer that only had half of its diet as grass should be considered grass-fed.
There is the American Grassfed Association, but this organization has proven to be expensive when providing a third-party certification for grass-fed, so many places are not option to use grass-fed certifications since the USDA has no defined standard.
This is one category where we have no pros and no cons… with the lax rules behind the labelling requirements for grass-fed, there can be only one winner in this area:
Winner: Grain-Fed Beef
Your health. The health of grass-fed beef has been shown to be better than grain-fed in some studies.
Notice, we are careful to mention that this is “some studies”… and this brings this point up for debate.
Some reports show that grass fed contains more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, decreased omega-6 inflammatory fatty acids, decreased cholesterol, and decreased saturated fat, and it is higher in protein. Other reports claim that not enough research has been conducted, and that these claims are not yet proven.
Alright… even if that was the case most of us can agree that it cannot be worse for you than regular beef, as the steers are simply eating less of the corn, alfalfa, and grain that ensure that they get the heavy marbling that many of us look for in beef… and that marbling is where the high fat comes from.
However, before we call the grass-fed a winner over its grain-fed counterpart, we have to remember that the biological value of grass-fed might be lower than that of grain-fed beef, and this would mean that the higher protein level in the grass-fed beef might not make it into your bloodstream, or it might not be wholly digestible. If you get grass fed with 20 grams of protein, and grain fed with 15, but your body can only digest half of the protein in grass-fed… then the grain-fed cut will win out.
At this stage, with the number of conflicting studies, it is clear that the studies regarding the healthiness of grain-fed and grass-fed meats need to be more carefully examined. At this point, due to the conflicts and the biological value issue we are not convinced that there is evidence that one is better than the other from a health standpoint.
The environment and sustainability. When we took the time to examine the studies that related to the pros and cons of sustainability and environmental safety regarding both grain-fed and grass-fed beef, we came up with some interesting arguments.
Grass-fed beef does not require processed grains and higher quantities of antibiotics, which reduces gas emissions from making these drugs and processing grains. Essentially, going more natural reduces the need for machinery, and this need for machinery causes pollution. Reduce the machinery, reduce the pollution.
However, it is also worth noting that grass is harder to digest than grains. That being said, when cows eat more grasses, they produce more methane, and methane is also problematic for the environment. In the end, the pollution is more harmful than the methane, so the grass-fed would barely squeak out a win here…
But wait… there’s more!
The other part of environmental friendliness is the sustainability. One of the studies that we considered proved that grass-fed, with the higher quantity of land that it takes, the longer time it takes to produce meat, and the increase of the consumption of beef in the west has caused grass-fed to not be sustainable in large quantities, or even the quantities that would be considered reasonable.
In this case, the grain-fed cows and steers would be considered the winners…
This creates a conundrum, and one where we are forced to say that this is… another draw.
The taste. Now, this one is tricky. Taste is a very subjective thing, this is something that I think the majority of us will agree on.
Good… now that we have got that point out of the way, we have to consider that grass-fed and grain-fed beef have very different flavors. Grass-fed meat tends to be gamey, it tends to be tougher, and it tends to be less rich in flavor. This being said, if you prefer the flavor of venison, pheasant, wild rabbit, or the like then you might find the gamey taste of this meat preferable. However, the toughness… maybe not so much. This can be circumvented if you have a chef or a cook that is highly experienced and knowledgeable in preparing grass-fed beef, and this can therefore change the texture into something truly amazing
Grain-fed beef tends to have a rich and sweet flavor, which is what most of us have become accustomed to enjoying. It is heavier, more marbled, and it tends to be more tender, even with tougher cuts of meat.
However, like we said… taste is purely subjective. At Wayside, we personally come down firmly on the side of grain-fed tasting better… but we want to remain objective, so we are going to call this category in three separate fields, one of which is two sub-fields:
Winner, Texture: Grain-fed
Winner, Texture if you have a specialist in Grass-fed: Grass-fed
Winner, Natural Game Flavor: Grass-fed
Winner, Western Tongue: Grain-fed
Winner, Overall Taste and Texture: DRAW
Organic. We cannot stress enough that grass-fed nor grain-fed meat automatically mean that the meat is organic.
Neither grass-fed nor grain-fed is automatically an organic cut of meat!!!
OK – now that we have clearly stated that twice, we will come down off of our soapbox and move on.
Seriously, while neither cut of meat is guaranteed to be organic, with many grass-fed animals not being fed antibiotics because of the free-range idea, grass-fed beef is more likely to be organic than grain-fed beef. Does this matter?
Not for some people, but if you are someone that does care about organic meat, then in your case, there is a clear winner:
Winner: Grass-fed Beef
Pricing. Grass-fed beef almost always costs 2-3x the cost of grain-fed beef. We touched on this in our third article (See Part III), and we identified that most people cannot afford to buy high-quality meat once, let alone twice for the purpose of enjoying same meal. The pricing of grass-fed is outrageous due to the longer raising time, and it is often priced even higher to promote the idea of scarcity.
With pricing, there can be only one, and it is clearly not grass-fed beef.
Winner: Grain-fed Beef
The Final Tally
Let’s take a hard look at these categories now and see how everything managed to stack up.
We had six categories, and they tallied with the following winners:
· Grain-Fed Win Count – 2
· Grass-Fed Win Count – 1
· Draw Win Count – 3
GRAND PRIZE WINNER – GRAIN-FED BEEF
And there you have it… based on the criteria selected, there is just not enough information at this point to recommend grass-fed beef over grain-fed beef. A few of the areas, such as taste, will be debatable, and therefore may change depending upon your own personal bent on the issue.
The problem really comes down to the fact that most people are not familiar with grass-fed beef, the labelling requirements are bordering on non-existent (which means you might pay for something you are not getting), and the costs are exorbitant. There are things to like about grass-fed beef if you have someone on hand that is a specialist in its preparation, and it is possible that there will be proven health benefits in the future.
However, at this stage, due to price, taste, and overall sustainability, we do come down firmly on the side of grain-fed beef.
Regardless of where you come down on this issue, we can all agree… long live the beef-cow!
Do you agree, do you disagree? Have a conversation with us – as always, leave any comments down below, and we are happy to speak with you.
Thanks for reading, and until next time, remember…
Until next time, live well, eat well, and be well!