STANFORD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF EARTH SCIENCES - EARTH SYSTEMS PROGRAM

Sustainable Choices

Grass-fed Meat

Simplicity:
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Carbon Impact:
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Money Savings:
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Health Helper:
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Overview
Grass-fed beef is a healthier, more ecologically-sound alternative to today’s conventional corn-fed beef. By nature, all cows eat grass. They are ruminants, which means that they are able to digest grasses in a series of stomachs. In today’s industrial agriculture, cows are fed corn in “concentrated animal feedlot operations” (CAFOs) where they are fattened. A corn diet is unnatural and will make cows sick unless they are given large doses of antibiotics to stave off disease. On the other hand, grass-fed cows are naturally healthier and can be managed in a more ecologically-sound manner. Regardless of how they are raised, cattle require water-use in the form of irrigation and they give off heavy doses of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. However, pasture-raised cattle waste can help to fertilize the soil and stimulate new grass growth, while CAFO waste builds up in concentrated areas that become liabilities to local water and air quality. When managed carefully—in a rotational grazing system—grass-fed beef can live lighter on the land, giving it time to regenerate and preventing heavy water runoff. Check out your grass-fed options today.

Tips & Tricks
Look for certified grass-fed meat in your supermarket. If they don’t have it, ask them to carry it.

Seek out a local cattle farmer and buy grass-fed beef directly. Try searching the Eat Well Guide (www.eatwellguide.org) for local producers.

Do it for your health. Grass-fed beef is lower in overall fat and saturated fat, and provides more of the beneficial omega-3 fats.

Web & Print Resources
Find grass-fed beef farms near you:
www.eatwellguide.org

Information about grass fed beef:
www.foodrevolution.org/grassfedbeef.htm

Book:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan

Personal Story
This material originally appeared in the Conserve Magazine article “Joel Salatin Wants your Carbon for His Farm” by Erik Curren (April 19, 2007).

Articles in National Geographic, Mother Jones, Smithsonian and Gourmet magazine and a chapter in Michael Pollan’s 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals have made Joel Salatin famous as America’s leading guru of local food and sustainable farming. One of Salatin’s key principles is that small organic farmers can produce high-quality meat, make a profit and restore the fertility of farmland if they only follow a few simple principles adapted from nature itself.

For example: let the animals feed much as they would in the wild, which means free-range. Thus, instead of cooping them up in smelly, unhealthy and inhumane confined-feeding operations, Salatin moves his cows, chickens and turkeys around a vast pasture area daily. This distributes both their eating — Salatin refers to it as their “salad bar” — and also their excretions. Grass is nibbled but not chewed totally up, so that it remains as ground cover and can quickly regenerate. And droppings are spread widely enough so as not to pollute, but instead to fertilize.

To learn more, see www.conservemag.com/2007/04/19/global-warming/joel-salatin-wants-your-carbon-for-his-farm/ and www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2006/05/no_bar_code.html

Fun Facts

Feedlot beef is slaughtered when the cows are only 14–16 months old. Source

A typical steer can consume up to 284 gallons of oil over its life (petroleum products used to raise the corn to feed the steer). Source

The USDA reports that animals in the U.S. meat industry produce 61 million tons of waste each year, which is 130 times the volume of human waste. Source