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The difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef

Will Harris, a farmer and fourth-generation cattleman at White Oak Pastures, explains the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef.

“The term grass-fed has been defined many different ways by many different people,” says Harris. “To me, it means the animals are never fed grain and never confined in a feed lot.  We also don’t use any performance-enhancing drugs.”

Grass-fed cows vs. grain-fed cows

Grass-fed cows are allowed to graze in pastures, where they eat a variety of grasses and clover.  And because these cows only eat grass, they tend to be leaner.

“There isn’t nearly as much fat in grass-fed beef,” says Harris.  “And the fat that it contains has a different fatty acid profile, or lipid profile.”

Grain-fed cows are placed in pens and fed a diet of soy and corn based grains. They are also given drugs, hormones and antibiotics. This diet helps to accelerate their growth.  

“The grain-fed animal at slaughter is an unnaturally obese creature that would never exist in nature,” says Harris. “When you eat those animals, you’re eating a creature that’s dying of the same diseases of sedentary lifestyle and obesity that kill most people anyway. And I just don’t intuitively believe that eating the flesh of a dying animal is good for me.”

Choosing the right beef for you

Choosing the right type of beef for your family is a personal choice. Harris says it’s important to stay informed and learn more about the food production system.

“Know your farmer and where your farmer is raising your food to be sure you are getting what you think you are getting,” says Harris.

For more food and nutrition stories, click here.

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