100% Grass fed meat – why does it matter?
Many people are now being sold ‘grass-fed meat’ – it’s the new food jargon. But before you spend your extra pennies on a juicy grass-fed steak there are a few questions you need to ask.
Here’s the rub. Meat marketed as ‘grass fed’ isn’t all it’s made out to be and is in fact misleading. The important missing factor here is ‘100%’ or ‘grass finished.’
Firstly, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about fats. Much of our health and nutrition advice seems to have been based on questionable studies and have a surprising amount of political agenda attached.
For example, recent comprehensive, large population studies show that saturated fats have little or no adverse effects on cardiovascular disease.
It seems that the more important health factor when watching our fat is the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Throughout human evolution, we have spent millions of years eating a diet rich in fish and wild game and these foods are an abundant source of omega-3 long-chain fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Our consumption of omega-6 seed oils was by comparison very small.
Anthropological research suggests that our hunter-gatherer forefathers ate a diet that had a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3. It also appears that these same forefathers were free from the diseases that plague our modern society. As the industrial revolution unfolded over the last century and a half, cereals and vegetable oils became a more prominent part of people’s diet; also animals began to be fed grains which reduced the omega-3 content of meat.
Plants contain Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) an omaga-3 which can be converted by our bodies into DHA and EPA but the conversion rates are very poor. If we eat too many omega-6 fatty acids this will interfere with the successful conversion of ALA into DHA and EPA.
As Nora explains in her wonderful article there’s a very special fat out there that is found only in the fat of grass-fed and finished animals. CLA or ‘conjugated linoleic acid’ could be one of the most healthful and potent cancer-fighting substances in our diet. It has been proven to – even in small amounts – can block all three stages of Cancer unlike most “anticancer nutrients” which only help on one stage.
Ok, so what the heck has that got to do with my steak?
Our meat is raised in a very different way nowadays and this may be contributing to your high intake of omega-6. We should be getting our omega-3 and CLA from fish and meat, however, due to more industrialised farming methods, most animals are now grain fed for some or all of their life – and yes, this goes for animals reared in the UK too, If you ask your local farmer what his annual grain bill is you may be surprised!
For an animal to produce meat that is healthful for human consumption and rich in omega 3 and CLA, the animal’s digestion needs to be working properly. When eating their natural forage diet of grass, beef animals have a healthy pH of 7. This creates the perfect environment for the fermentation of bacteria which in turn produce high levels of CLA, omega -3, branch chain amino acids, vitamins and digestive enzymes. Just 30 days of feeding a bovine grain can throw the pH downwards towards pH4 and undo the chemistry of 200 days of munching grass.
In an acidic environment, the healthy bacteria are replaced by a fermentation bacteria that impedes the healthy by-products and increases the levels of omega -6. The cattle become sick as their liver cannot cope. The result – farmers have to battle with a range of diseases in their animals and may rely on preventative and reactive drug use.
Most ancestral health and functional health followers are buying grass fed meat because they believe that it will be rich in omega – 3 and CLA.
In the UK it is very unusual to find animals that are not grain fed – especially towards their slaughter, the vast majority of Farmers ‘finish’ their animals on cereals in order to get them to the desired weight and conformation required by the buyers, butchers and supermarkets. Sometimes animals are ‘grass finished’ alongside grain feeding, this still has an undesirable result on the quality of nutrients in the meat.
As well as amazing fats, 100% grass fed meat is also naturally high in a wide range of nutrients including zinc, iron, phosphorus, sodium and potassium. 100% grass fed beef is high in beta-carotene, vitamin E, glutathione, superoxide dismutase, and catalase, all of which play a role in preventing harmful oxidisation.
Grain feeding is not only bad for animal and human health it also supports the import of grains from across the world. Cereal feed merchants work hard to keep costs low and the sheep or cattle feed that UK farmers are buying will have a broad composition of macronutrients covered but the actual source of the cereals to supply this nutrition is mainly influenced by price.
Some of the cheapest grains can be supplied by companies in Countries who are destroying rainforests to mine the rich top soils or those using GM crops with high levels of fertilisers and pesticides. Global transportation and industrialised agriculture contribute are responsible for over 3/4 of agricultural emissions; it’s inefficient and unsustainable.
GM foods have to be labelled in the UK but we do not have any such assurances for meat and milk products – most non-organically reared animals in the UK will have been fed GM cereal.
So the next time you buy some meat or talk to a farmer directly ask these questions to build a picture of where they are on the spectrum of sustainable and healthy meat production:
We need to build pressure and awareness around these hidden practices; it’s YOUR job as consumers to care enough about this issue to ask and it is OUR job as retailers and farmers to know this information provide you with honest answers.
Take a look at these great articles for further information on 100% grass fed meat.
See this document of the unseen consequences of the feed being fed to our animals.
Our Pinterest board has hundreds of articles and peer review studies on the benefits of grass-fed meat.
References Used for the above text 100% grass fed meat.
Fast forward to modern day and many diets have a ratio of 25:1 omega-6 to omega-3. What does this mean for health? Well omega -3 and omega-6 compete for the same conversion enzymes; this means (in very simplistic terms) that the more omega-6 you eat the less ‘room’ there is for omega-3. Massively elevated omega-6 consumption seems to correlate with an increase in all inflammatory diseases including:
What is even more alarming is the clear correlation between a rising intake of n-6 and increased mortality from heart disease. An Australian study looked at the effects on healthful fats in the meat of animals that were fed to three groups
1) 100% pasture diet 2) fed for 80 days on a grain ration 3) 120 plus days on a grain ration
The result was that only the grass fed group contained the levels of omega-3 (30mg of long chain n-3 FA/100g muscle) required by the food standards agency for the food to be considered a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
This picture illustrates how quickly animals removed from pasture and fed rations lose their valuable omega-3.
It is simply not good enough to assume that it has been 100% grass fed.
Grass fed beef is 2-3 times higher in CLA a powerful anti-oxidant
Although it is unlikely that any saturated fat is of concern to your health – please note grass fed beef contains a higher proportion of stearic acid, which even the mainstream scientific community acknowledges does not raise blood cholesterol levels.
So it is clear, unless it is stated that it is 100% Grass Fed, or it carries a label such as the ‘Pasture for Life’ that guarantees such standards, then be VERY suspicious.
It is always worth asking your meat supplier ‘do the animals that produce your meat receive ANY grain feeds?’
Don’t be a sucker and fall for the newest marketing trick. Support farmers and retailers that are selling GENUINE 100% grass fed, delicious nutritious meat.
The Sustainability issue
Unless you buy ‘100% grass fed meat’ then you can be fairly sure that the meat you eat will have been fed cereal grains – most UK animal feeds contain high volumes of soya.
Many meat companies will declare that their ‘grass fed’ products may get a small amount of ‘natural’ grain in the winter. This usually means the same thing – they are finished on cereals and fed soya!
Only if you buy 100% grass fed or ‘pasture for life‘ certified meat can you guarantee it has not been fed grains. Similarly, even buying organic means the animals may have been grain fed the only difference being they are not allowed to be given GM feeds.
The UK imports 1,075,000 tonnes of soya. 70% of this comes from South America.
The WWF says “Rapid growth in the demand for soy destined for animal feed is a key driver for clearing significant forests, savannah and grasslands, including the Amazon, Cerrado, Atlantic Forest, Chaco and Chiquitano Forest that cover most of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay and the North American prairies. The importance of these areas for diversity of species, as carbon sinks and providing essential rainfall patterns cannot be overstated.”
It is estimated that by 2050 40% of the Amazon will be destroyed.
EU law dictates that supermarkets have to declare when a product directly contains GM ingredients, however there is no requirement for disclosing if meat sold has been fed GM feed.
This year, the amount of GM Soya planted in Brazil is set to hit 89% of all soya produced according to a report from Celeres, which provides data to the Brazilian government. Although a large harvest is expected, a shrinking amount of soya is now non-GM.
The Telegraph newspaper investigated GM soya in meat and found ‘Every major supermarket in the country said it was unable to provide a guarantee that it was not selling products from animals given GM feed’.
If you are eating non organic or anything less than 100% grass fed meat, you are most likely eating GM fed meat.
Even ”high-end’’ retailers say only the more expensive organic ranges were certain to have been produced without any GM involvement.
But what effect is our growing reliance on soy having on the countries supplying Britain with this ‘invisible ingredient’?
GM soya is ‘roundup ready’ meaning it is unaffected by the use of the Glyphosate chemical used to kill all the other plants in the field. The biotech companies selling the GM soya suggest this reduces the use of herbicides and that only one application is required; the Soil associations’ recent ‘seeds of doubt’ report reveals that in reality most require several applications and that new ‘super’ weed problems have also emerged.
Land, local people and habitats are all suffering the terrible effects of increased use of this poisonous chemical. Local villagers report drifting toxic sprays and increases in birth deformities of their children. Groups of indigenous people along with small farmers who have traditionally worked the land claim they have been driven from their land by the soy farmers. In many of the soy producing countries there has been violent clashes and fights over land have led to many deaths, thousands of arrests and hundreds of injuries.
Recently the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – WHO’s cancer agency – said that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide made by agriculture company Monsanto, was “classified as probably carcinogenic to humans”.