Grass Fed Vs. Not, What’s the Difference?

December 20, 2013

We’ve heard it in passing or seen it on some restaurant menus and in our supermarkets, but what does grass fed really mean and is it worth the price?

We’ve heard it in passing or seen it on some high end or farm to table restaurant menus, but what exactly does it mean to be grass fed or pasture raised. And does it matter?

Humane-certified Grass-fed Beef comes from cattle that roam freely in open pastures and eat natural grasses (and no grains). The meat is also free from growth hormones and antibiotics. Grass-fed beef has a different nutritional profile than conventional beef. It has been found to contain half as much fat, twice as many omega-3 fatty acids and a higher level of vitamin E that grain fed or conventional beef.

Agriculturally speaking, the feeding period in cattle relevant to the grass-fed debate can be divided into 3 phases:

Phase one extends from birth, when the animal lives solely on milk, until 7-9 months of age, when some grass is consumed in the pasture.

Phase two comprises about half of the grass-fed debate and extends from phase 1 until shortly before harvest. The cattle spend most of their life in this period feeding on either grains or grass.

Phase three, the finishing period – this is the whole other half of the grass-fed debate. It is a period of rapid growth immediately prior to harvest; some animals are grass-fed but finished on grains. 

When shopping, your options can be broken down into 4 categories according to the amount of time your cattle was exposed to grains. Here’s the list, ordered from least to most grain exposure:

Veal: this beef comes from calves that were never intentionally fed grains; it’s usually males because they don’t produce milk.

100% grass-fed: these animals spent their whole life in the pasture.

Grass-fed & grain-finished.

Conventional, grain-fed beef.

In terms of price, the list above generally goes from most to least expensive.  If your looking for the most nutritious, grass fed meat has been found to contain more anti inflammatory omega 3s than grain fed as well as increases in the other vitamins mentioned above.

For more on Animal Welfare, and how to read the labels at your local market click here