When you first heard the term “grass fed beef”, did you ask yourself, “Don’t All Cows Eat Grass?” Yes, all cows should eat grass, but most cows don’t get the opportunity to eat it, at least not for very long. When I was growing up, I was accustomed to seeing cows peacefully grazing on grass in wide-open pastures. That was the norm until subdivisions took over our prairie lands. Now, cows on open grass are few and far between. Similarly, today’s livestock production is becoming increasingly dominated by concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the United States and other parts of the world. 
What are the options of beef available today? Is one type better for you than the other? Or, is all beef created equal no matter what they eat?
Spoiler alert: All beef is NOT created equal–on the inside. Find out why…
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About CAFO Cattle
Instead of eating lush green grass, concentrated animal feeding operation–CAFO–cattle are forced to live in tight quarters, in their own manure. They are confined to tiny spaces with unlimited access to grain-based feeds such as corn. This continuously-available feeding practice is meant to fatten them up as quickly as possible. Despite the inhumane conditions, a major problem with CAFO feed is that cows aren’t meant to eat grain.
Grains upset the cow’s stomach which is suited for cellulosic grasses. Corn, which is very high in net carbs and low in fiber create metabolic distress similar to what happens in humans. That, along with stress from overcrowding, significantly increases a cow’s susceptibility to disease and parasites. And the disease factor causes another problem for these cows which is why they are typically given antibiotics their entire life. Antibiotics treat and prevent disease to help keep the cattle alive so they can withstand the unsanitary, stressful living conditions.
Why You Should Avoid CAFO Beef?
The cow’s unsanitary and disease promoting conditions can pose a threat to humans, not only in our drinking water and soil through run-off, but also when we eat what we thought was a harmless piece of meat. A Consumer Reports study  revealed that a few conventional beef samples showed traces of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacteria strain linked to nearly 19,000 deaths per year. Meanwhile, none of the sustainably raised beef samples, which included grass fed beef, contained this bacteria strain.
More commonly found in beef than MRSA is E.coli. The unfavorable conditions can promote the growth of bacteria like E. coli, which can actually kill someone who eats under-cooked beef like a rare hamburger, which by the way, is an absolutely delicious way to prepare a burger! But not any more if you consume this type of meat.
Let’s recap CAFO-raised beef: CAFO cattle live in tight quarters, not in an open field, on top of their own manure, while eating grains all day. Grains and stress make them susceptible to develop diseases so they are given antibiotics. Bacteria from the cows can be transferred to humans through drinking water, soil or during under-cooked consumption. Avoid CAFO beef.
Why is CAFO Beef on the Rise?
If raising cattle in a CAFO terrible for the animal and the people who eat it, then why is this farming practice growing and not shrinking? According to The Food Revolution Network:
Feedlots and other CAFOs are the result of public policies that massively favor large-scale feedlots to the detriment of family farms. The taxpayer-subsidized grain prices saved feedlots and other CAFOs about $35 billion. Traditionally, all beef was grass fed, but thanks to our misguided policies, our beef supply is almost all feedlot beef.
If we all ban together and stop buying CAFO beef in favor of healthier, more flavorful options, we can turn the table back to traditional farming. Once the number of grass fed farmers increase, the price for grass fed beef may start to decline. Perhaps, instead of growing corn to feed the cows, they can grow grass instead and let cows roam and graze.
Quality of Grass Fed Beef
Dave Asprey, the creator of the Bulletproof Diet, takes a closer look beef in this video. He describes the varieties of grass fed beef are fed…and highlights that they aren’t always fed grass. In addition, he explains that the beef ranges from the BEST to the WORST depending what it is fed. All of this information is well depicted in this Grass Fed Beef Infographic.
Let’s recap grass fed beef from the Grass Fed Beef Infographic:
- #1 Best Option: Organic, 100% grass fed beef, or pastured year-round
- This beef is the best, nutritious option due to the quality of its fat and low toxin level
- #2: Organic, 100% grass fed (plus hay and silage)
- This beef is slightly less nutritious and may contain mycotoxins from the hay/silage.
- #3: Grass fed, grain-finished
- Grain feeding depletes nutrients, increases inflammatory omega-6 fats and may contain mycotoxins
- #4: Organic, grain-fed
- Lower in nutrients than the above varieties, has higher inflammatory omega-6 fats and higher chance of mycotoxins from the grains.
- #5: Factory Farmed (ex: CAFO, feedlot)
- Lowest tier of beef you can buy
- May contain mycotoxins and pesticides from cheap grain freed
- High risk of cows developing infections
- Cows are treated with antibiotics which remain in the meat
Where to Buy Grass Fed Beef?
U.S. Grass Fed Farmer Spotlight:
- Alderspring Ranch: Growing 100% grass fed and finished, certified organic beef on their family ranch in the wild and remote mountains of Idaho.
U.S. Organizations Dedicated to Sustainable Farming:
- eatWild: #1 clearinghouse for information about pasture-based farming and features a state-by-state directory of local farmers who sell directly to consumers.
- Local Harvest: This website lists over 30,000 family farms and farmers markets, along with restaurants and grocery stores that feature local food.
- Eat Well Guide: The Eat Well Guide® is a curated directory of over 25,000 hand-picked restaurants, farms, markets and other sources of local, sustainable food throughout the US.
- Thrive Market now delivers humanely raised, 100% grass-fed cattle that feast year-round on the lush Patagonian prairies of Osorno, Chile right to your door.