Grain fed vs. Grass fed

Grain Fed vs. Grass Fed vs. Grass Finished.. What’s the difference? 

The term grass fed, referring mostly to red meat, has been floating around a lot lately. What does it actually mean and is it worth the extra cost? Let’s break down the difference between grain fed, grass fed, grass finished and the effects they have on the animals we consume and on humans after ingested.  

Grain fed animals are fed mostly grain until slaughter, which is not what cows are supposed to eat. Grain feed typically consists of corn and soy, which has been genetically modified to withstand pesticides. Yes, you read that correctly, grain fed cows are consuming feed with pesticides which can accumulate in the fat and muscle meat of the animal. There are water soluble pesticides, like glyphosate (roundup) and 2-4,D, and fat soluble compounds like atrazine. Atrazine can act as a xenoestrogen, a molecule that mimics estrogen in the human body by binding to the 17-Beta estradiol receptor. When you consume said meat and fat, you are also consuming the pesticide residue. Chronic exposure to pesticides has a whole list of negative effects on human health, including but not limited to, cancer, tumors, brain and nervous system damage, birth defects, infertility, damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and other organs. Pesticides have been linked to leukemia, lymphoma and cancers of the brain, breasts, prostate, testis and ovaries. Some pesticides even act as endocrine disruptors which are chemicals that, often at extremely low doses, interfere with important bodily functions by mimicking or blocking hormones.  This can disrupt many functions of the body including metabolism, brain development, sleep cycle and stress response.  

Grain fed and grain finished animals live in feed lots for the last portion of their lives. Large feedlots, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are where cows are rapidly fattened up, gaining roughly 4lbs a day. There, the cows are kept in confined stalls, often with limited space, which can easily spread infection. The grain feed is also known to cause liver abscesses in cattle. To maximize growth and reduce spreading infection, the cows are often given drugs, such as antibiotics and growth hormones. Antibiotics in animals we consume not only leads to antibiotic resistance in humans, but can potentially alter gut flora leading to gut dysbiosis, the imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Growth hormones given to cattle are often synthetic steroids, which have been linked to infertility, reproductive issues and stunted development in humans.  

Grass fed animals are able to roam and eat grass before being taken to feedlots, where they are kept for a shorter amount of time than grain fed. However, the last few months of their lives, they are still finished with grain. This is a better option than conventional grain fed because the amount of pesticide exposure, antibiotics and growth hormone use is reduced.

Grass finished animals are fed grass up until slaughter, no grain. These animals are often pasture raised, meaning they are able to freely roam and eat a species appropriate diet, significantly reducing the need for antibiotics. No growth hormones are used, meaning that pasture raised animals live longer, typically 6 months to a year longer, and can consume more vitamins and minerals leading to overall healthier meat which is also leaner. The pasture raised life is a calmer life for the animal. Think of how stress effects our human body. Stress can have the same negative effects on animals, especially ones in feedlots. The meat produced from healthy, grass finished animals is more nutrient dense than conventionally raised animals. Grass finished beef, for example, has almost twice the amount of omega-3s than conventional grain fed. It also has a higher level of many vitamins including C, E and A. A difference you can not only feel, but can also see and taste.  


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