Will Grass Fed Beef Save the Planet?

By Ted

grass-fed-cattleIf you’ve ever driven through parts of the Southwest USA, cattle farms there are shocking!

1000’s of animals crammed under man-made awnings trying to escape the harsh desert heat and not a blade of green grass in sight.

Unfortunately, these poor animals make up the bulk of our beef supply.

Luckily, the grass fed beef movement is gaining market share and hopefully those corn fed desert cattle lots will soon be a thing of the past.

What’s Wrong with Corn Fed Beef?

corn-fed-beefThe simple answer is that cattle were not designed to eat corn, but grasses.  When cattle eat a diet rich in corn some nasty things happen to their bodies.

  • Their meat is higher in fat and cholesterol.
  • Their intestines produce harmful strains of E. coli bacteria.
  • Corn fed beef are prone to disease, so they must be treated with antibiotics.

Additionally, most commercial corn fed beef cattle are fed hormones to make them ready for slaughter sooner. These hormones are passed along to the consumer in the meat.

What’s the advantage of corn fed beef? 

The meat is cheaper and faster to produce, so therefore, cheaper for the consumer.

Grass Fed Beef On the Other Hand….

grass-fed-beef12 years ago there were about 50 grass fed beef ranches in the USA, but today there are 1000’s and growing. So, the movement is catching on and here’s why.

Earlier I described an awful desert cattle feed lot, now picture this.

In the rolling green hills of Montana you drive by La Cense Ranch an 88,000 acre space where cattle are free to graze on grass with plenty of room to walk and enjoy the countryside. These happy cows grow at their natural rate, don’t ingest pesticides, and are for the most part disease free.

La Cense Grass Fed Beef is…

Lower in Calories

An 85% lean grass fed burger (60oz/170 g) has 240 calories, while the same type/amount of corn fed beef has 408 calories.

Lower in fat than traditional beef.

An 85% lean grass fed burger (60oz/170 g) has 10 grams of fat (4.5 grams saturated), while the same type/amount of corn fed beef has  24 grams of fat. (10 grams saturated)

Higher in omega 3

Grass fed beef typically has twice the amount of omega 3 fatty acids than corn fed beef (some even more). This is only about 35mg/serving, but still a dramatic improvement.

Less at risk for E. coli contamination

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma studied this and found that grass fed cattle do not contain harmful strains of acid resistant E. coli in their stomachs and intestines. (see video)

The Ethical Dilema

Of course, there are so many other issues here besides the nutritional aspect.

  1. How should human’s treat the animals in their meat supply?
  2. What environmental impact does corn fed beef have on the planet?
  3. Is saving money really worth everything involved with producing commercial corn fed beef?

I personally believe that if humans want to eat beef, they should do so in a manner that is the most respectful to the animal and best for their health.

What do you think about the grass fed beef movement? 



  1. Ian

    I live in England and buy Scottish grass fed beef. Grain fed beef is not so common in UK.

    On a recent visit to the US I wend shopping and was really revolted at the appearance of grass fed beef – absolutely oozing fat. Gross!

  2. Daniel Zatkovich

    I raise grass-fed beef in a sustainable, organic fashion. One’s decision to eat meat or not is a personal one, and I agree that it’s not for everyone. If you have decided to eschew meat from your diet, kudos to you – there are many health benefits to a vegan diet, as you are aware. HOWEVER – when I made the decision to remain a carnivore, I had to justify it to myself by raising my own animals and taking first-hand responsibility for maintaining the highest ethical standards, maximizing the ‘happiness’ of the animal, feeding them nothing but what they were evolved to eat (in the case of cattle, grass), and ensuring that our ecological impact on the planet was positive, not negative. We are actually building topsoil on our family farm, trapping more carbon everyday and enhancing the fertility of the many varieties of grasses, reeds, legumes and sedges that make up our pasture. This is all done with no artificial fertilizers, no antibiotics, no steroids, no chemicals of any kind.

    My point is that it really is possible to choose to eat meat and not support the planet-destroying, farmer-bankrupting, animal horror show that is the current industrial model. Seek out your local grass-based farmers. Meet them, shake their hand, see how they do things. Make your own judgment on the integrity of their operation, and if it passes muster, support them with your business. Thanks for your time.

    • Ted

      Nice work Daniel and great comment. It’s so great to see farmers such as yourself making a difference. The tide is turning!

  3. Boohoo

    A saved planet’s not much comfort for a population riddled with bowel cancer, diabetes, hypertension and stroke from the red meat. Pass.

  4. RM

    Has anyone ever driven by or visited a dairy farm or beef farm? The smell is so awful, one can only wonder how anyone could eat anything coming from one of those places.

    Personally, I love cows so much that I have been off red meat for almost 4 years, but I don’t expect everyone to be this way.

    But in response to the title of this article, no, I don’t believe grass fed beef will save the planet in any way shape or form.

    • Jim F

      Yes I have, and quite frankly beef/dairy farmers have a lot to answer for with regards to the environment – particularly discharge of effluent straight into waterways. However there some farms that do undertake better practices than others, and if you shop carefully you can find products from more sustainable farms.

      Thanks for your comment.

  5. Hatetosayit

    While I’m a huge proponent of grass-fed beef, your math on 85% ground beef is simply wrong. 85% lean (i.e. 15% fat) ground beef has the same amount of lean and fat, by definition, between grain-fed and grass-fed. Of course, you could argue that that the fats in grass-fed are of a higher quality, but you can’t argue with the math. For whole muscle cuts, yes , grass-fed will typically be lower in fat–you can see it visually by the reduction in marbling. Just want to make sure people don’t mistakenly believe that 85% lean grass-fed beef has less total fat than 85% lean grain-fed beef, because it simply can’t by definition. Hope this helps!

    • Jim

      It’s not quite that simple – even a quick glance at the FDA Database for Australian Grass Fed Beef shows that 85% lean actually has 18.1g fat per 100g of meat http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/7174

      So I’m not quite sure how they come up with the 85% reading.

      • Hatetosayit

        So, how much fat does 85% lean grain-fed have? My guess is just about 18.1 grams/100 grams, which is really 82% lean by definition.

    • Ted

      I was only comparing what the USDA says is the fat content (grams) of 85% lean burger and what LaCense reports as the fat content (grams) of their grass fed 85% lean burger. Obviously there is more involved in that labeling than what it would appear. It obviously doesn’t mean that there is 15% fat since the amounts of fat of clearly different.

  6. Dan

    I personally will not eat meat at all. However, I think if a person feels compelled to eat meat, that it is far more humane to eat this kind of meat. Also, there is no way that factory farmed animal products could be healthy because of the pathogens, hormones, pesticides and antibiotics, but it is more debatable when one is talking about free range animal products. Personally, I don’t believe there is any humane way to slaughter an animal, but at least the animals didn’t live in hell before they are slaughtered in this version. Perhaps grass fed eggs and dairy might be humane enough for me, but often animals are killed in these kinds of farming as well.

    • SmoledMan

      Our Ice Age ancestors couldn’t survive without slaughtering animals.

      • Jim

        Which explains why most megafauna disappeared fairly quickly post-ice age.

        The amount of water required to raise beef is huge – I think this will become the issue going into the future. Now, pass me that gourmet burger…

  7. Spectra

    I buy my meat from a local butcher. The cows and hogs are naturally raised and usually they are grass-fed for most of their lives and only finished on corn to help them gain weight. I suppose that isn’t as good as 100% grass-fed, but since the animals are from farms near me, the price can’t be beat.

    • SmoledMan

      Not everyone lives near a farm.

      • Spectra

        I don’t live really, really close to one, but I do live in Wisconsin and farms are fairly prevalent. I think most of the animals are from within about 50 miles of my city.

  8. David Maren

    Good stuff, Ted. What’s your personal experience with La Cense? There are a couple of different sources for grass fed beef online and I’ve never tries La Cense myself. I happen to by a farmer here in Virginia and we sell our grass fed beef via Tendergrass Farms.

    • Ted

      Hi David. I personally eat very little beef, so I really don’t know how La Cense would compare to others as far as taste etc. I would imagine that there are now many good sources of grass fed beef both online and in stores. I think the online sources are nice in that you get to learn more about the farm/company before purchasing it.