Article by Raphael Freedman - 23/8/14
Why your meat IS NOT actually grass fed.
The definitive guide to “is it grass fed?” in Australia.
You are what you eat.
What your beef or lamb ate matters, and it goes beyond just omega 3s.
Do you truly know if your organic beef is any different to a quarter pounder?
This article will answer that question definitively and arm you with the knowledge to make the best choice when shopping for your catch.
If you don’t care and just want to eat the best meat possible, skip straight to ‘What to do’.
Why Does it matter?
This article is brimming with information on why grass-fed is better than grain fed, so the question is not really up for debate any more. Here is a refresher of why its so important.
Higher levels of omega-3’s in grass fed beef.
Grass-fed beef is a fantastic source of CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid), which has been shown to protect against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Grain fed meat pales in comparison to its grass-fed counterpart in terms of antioxidant, vitamin and mineral content.
So you know its better for you... but are you eating it?
Most Beef in Australia is Grain Fed.
The sad reality is that 80% of beef sold in butchers and supermarkets are finished on grain not grass; as estimated by the Meat & Livestock Association.
However only 3% of cattle are in feedlots out of our national cattle herd of 28.5 million. So your gut instinct when you drive through the country is correct, most of our cows are eating grass.
The issue is that 3% continue to get replaced until they are sold. So while almost all livestock do eat grass, they are finished (fed primarily) for a certain period of time on grain to fatten them up before slaughter!
DID YOU KNOW meat can still be labelled as ‘grass fed’ even if it has been finished on grain for less than 70 days. So what you might correctly think is grass-fed meat, could in fact be a grain finished cow.
Is grain finished still ok?
If you don’t care about the science, the short answer is no, and feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.
Grass fed and finished cattle have healthy PH levels in the “rumen” (a rumen is one of four chambers in the Cow’s stomach). This high level allows fermentation to take place and the animal to produce high levels of Omega 3, CLA, Vitamins and minerals. Grain feeding leads to PH levels falling, producing different fermentation bacteria. The end result is the disruption in production of Omega 3 and CLA and increases Omega 6 fatty acid.
This happens after 7 days on a grain diet!
Remember what I mentioned earlier?
Cattle can be labeled 'grass fed' despite being on a grain diet for up to 69 days. Omega 3 begins at about 3% of fat and is at less than 0.5% after about 120 days. This is having a major impact on the cow and essentially your health.
What about Organic?
To put it simply, organic does not guarantee grass fed and finished.
Organic meat’s benefits are claimed to be that less chemicals and ‘unnatural’ methods are used. In particular less animal medicines, herbicides and pesticides are used.
The national standard for Organic Livestock nutrition requires a cow to be fed their natural diet to be labelled organic. However, some leeway remains. Grain can still be be used to fatten up the animals when the natural environment is not suited to it, as long as it is ‘organic’ grain.
What about Lamb?
Again the truth is not so simple. While lamb is more likely to be grass fed, still around 15% of Australian Lambs are ‘finished’ in feedlots. This means spending up to 8 weeks (56 days) in a feedlot facility feeding on a grain based diet.
'Grass fed' and 'Grass finished' animals may still be sick.
Wild animals have ‘nutritional wisdom’, they know what and when to eat food to provide their bodies with nutrition for optimum health. It has been shown that this wisdom is genetic and cultural. It operates through a complex neural network between brain and stomach. This is why they don’t spend long in one place as they constantly look to graze in new and different environments.
If stock is confined to paddocks, which are ploughed yearly and sown to annual grasses, this is an unnatural environment for them. The end result is that their nutritional value may diminish to a point closer to grain-fed beef.
Put simply, the best meat available will come from animals whose lives have been impacted the least by human intervention and are kept as ‘wild’ as sustainably possible.
What to Do?
If you skipped the last 500 words, welcome back.
Time for some good news.
2013 saw the start of the ‘voluntary certification program’ for beef producers to market their produce as ‘grass fed’. Launched by the ‘Cattle Council of Australia’, it is known as the PCAS or Pasture-fed Cattle Assurance System. Under this system, cattle can be certified as
P-F+ HGP-free (Human Growth Proponents)
- P-F + Antibiotic-free + HGP free
So is the certified meat REALLY grass fed?
It seems so. The requirements for it to be labeled as pasture (grass) fed include
Open access to graze pasture for the animals entire lif
Not confined to intensive feeding lots
Fully traceable for entire life
When consigned to slaughter, the meat must be handled according to the requirements of ‘Meat Standards Australia’.
Additionally detailed management records must be kept as evidence
What are they eating?
They are not allowed to eat ANY cereal grain or by-products. You can now breath a sigh of relief.
They CAN graze grain crops in pre-grain state and crop residue post-harvest. However they can not deliberately be spilt to encourage purposeful consumption. The general consensus is that if controlled tightly, this will not significantly affect the nutritional composition of the meat.
Where do I find it?
Woolworths has recently announced it will offer grass fed beef. For the Australian Public this is a breakthrough decision.
The meat will sit alongside the Macro Certified Organic and Premium Angus 100-day grain fed varieties.
So go to your supermarket or butcher and look out for the ‘Certified Pasture-fed’ logo. And remember to look at the colour of the fat. The more yellow it is, the more likely it is to be grass fed! It is also a sign of high nutrient density!
Now that you have the knowledge its time to make a change.
Eat smart and feel the difference.
Coach & owner at CrossFit Creature