For a time, I believed that grass-fed beef was the best environmental choice I could make. I learned in painful detail about CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations. I didn’t like what I read.
But then I realized that I only knew one side of the story. As I’ve later learned, fallacies run rampant in eco-zealot causes. I pride myself on following the science. This is what I learned.
Environmental Costs of Grass-Fed Beef
On the surface, one would have to choose grass-fed beef over conventional meat. After all, thinking of cattle grazing in meadows provides a nicer picture than animals in a crowded stockyard.
However, if the environmental costs are your concern, it behooves you to explore them more closely. To raise livestock on grass is more energy intensive. It’s not a huge logical leap to say that animals fed corn for a part of their lives stay on feed for a shorter period of time. That means less resources and energy to sustain them.
A study by Capper et al. (2009) found that grass-fed cattle required four times as much land to produce a pound of beef and nearly three times as much energy versus corn-fed cattle. They also demanded over seven times as much water resources, while producing nearly three times more methane. Methane is one of the four major greenhouse gases. The difference lies with the digestibility of grass versus corn.
Myths about Beef Production
One point needs mention. All cattle feed on grass. Corn-fed beef production switches the food source when finishing the production process. And regardless of the food source, they all end up slaughtered.
The federal government regulates all slaughter, except slaughter done for religious purposes. It is mandated by the 1978 Humane Slaughter Act. Sorry, but eating grass-fed beef doesn’t sugar coat the truth on this course. And, all slaughter is humane not just grass-fed or family-farm raised beef.
Sustainability of Beef Production
Next, there is the issue of food security. Grass-fed beef does not match the production of corn-fed beef. That’s a problem given the growing population and changing diet. How much beef a person should or shouldn’t eat is another matter altogether.
From a dietary perspective, grass-fed beef isn’t as juicy or tender as corn-fed beef. For some people, that’s a big deal. It’s not much better from a health perspective either. One of the talking points about grass-fed beef is its higher omega 3 fatty acid content. Unfortunately, neither is a good source. If you want to increase your intake, you’re better off eating salmon which has 35 times more per serving than either one.
I believe that people who make green choices show how much they care about the environment even if they incur added costs. That’s a good thing. Selling the abstract and intangible is difficult. The fact remains that grass-fed beef is more a feel-good choice than a practical one.
It’s more energy and resource intensive with less output and no change in the ultimate fate of the cattle. The debate between choosing one over the other is just another of the conflicting choices we have to make when considering the environment and sustainability.
exploring.weborglodge/By Chris DR