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Grass Fed versus Grain Fed: You Are What Your Food Eats

Cows are ruminants, superbly adapted to convert grass into meat or milk. Research is proving that the health concerns long associated with eating beef result not from eating beef, but rather from eating corn-fed beef.

During World War II farmers were producing more corn than the American population was consuming and so, started feeding the surplus corn to cattle. They soon found that cows eating corn fattened up much quicker than cows eating grass. Seventy-five years ago it took a cow four to five years to reach a slaughter weight of 1,200 pounds. Today it takes 13-15 months, thanks to corn, antibiotics, growth hormones and protein supplements.

But corn consumption in cattle causes many problems, because quite simply, cattle were never meant to consume corn. Cattle on pasture have Ph neutral (Ph of 7) stomachs. A corn diet dangerously raises the acid level in the cow’s stomach creating health conditions such as acidosis, necessitating medications and antibiotics which create prime conditions for the existence of E. Coli.

The very dangerous strain of E. Coli 0157:H7 was isolated in the 1980’s and arose because cattle were being fed grain and not their natural diet of grass. When we hear of the all-too-common re-calls of beef because of E. Coli contamination it is because of the animal’s diet.

Feeding cattle on corn fundamentally changes the meat they produce, greatly increasing levels of unhealthy Omega-6 fatty acids and decreasing levels of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. This change greatly impacts the healthiness of meat for human consumption. Scientists estimate that our Paleolithic ancestors consumed meat with an Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid ratio of close to 1:1, and not more than 1:5.

When cattle are grass fed or raised on pasture, the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is exactly where it should be for a healthy animal and therefore a healthy human eating that animal. Since cattle cannot properly process grains, when they are corn fed, the ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 is completely opposite of what is natural. Corn-fed cattle have 15%-50% less Omega-3 fatty acids in their meat than grass fed cattle creating meat that is much less healthy of us to consume.

In modern beef production a calf will be on pasture for the first few months of its life and then moved into a feedlot and fed corn to fatten it up quickly. We can see in the following chart how quickly the animal loses the Omega-3s in its system after its diet is changed.

Grass fed beef is also high in conjugated linolec acid (CLA). CLA is an anti-carcinogen, anti-diabetic and anti-antherosclerosis (heart disease). In 1987 Michael Pariza, the scientist who discovered CLA stated “few anti-carcinogens and certainly no other known fatty acids, are as effective as CLA in inhibiting carcenogenesis” CLA has also been proven in more than 30 studies to have body weight management properties. We can see in the following chart that grass fed cattle provide more than 5 times the CLA than grain fed cattle.

Now was can review and connect the dots. In the early decades of the 20thcentury the diet of cattle was dramatically changed to corn and grains from grass, changing the levels of Omega-3s and Omega-6s, and drastically reducing the amount of CLA in beef. This paved the way for an epidemic explosion in rates of cancer, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. This becomes obvious when comparing cause of death statistics from 1900 to those of today:

Heart disease as a cause of death rose from almost 9% of deaths per 100,000 of population in 1900 to just over 26% of death per 100,000 of population. Keep in mind; these numbers are in spite of the fact that today we have medications and surgeries to mitigate the effects of heart disease. Cancer rose from 4% to 23% (more than five times). Diabetes didn’t even register as one of the top 11 causes of death in 1900, and is one of the leading contributing factors for death today.

Granted, the consumption of beef is on the wane in developed nations, but as the public becomes more educated about what their food eats, and the effects it has on the health of the animal and themselves, grass fed beef is likely to become more popular. The trend is already occurring. In 2002 there were only 50 grass fed beef operations in the U.S. and by 2011 there were 2000. In the future, if investing in the beef industry, it might be worth considering what your investment is eating.

Editor’s Note: While this article focused on beef, the same deleterious effects on nutritional soundness occur when poultry, pork and even fish are raised on grain-fed diets.

July 16, 2012

Director, GAI Research & Insight


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