Meat Mythcrushers tackle myths about conventionally fed cattleWritten by Saige Albert
In it’s Meat Mythcrushers video series, the America Meat Institute (AMI) and American Meat Science Association tackle tough questions that consumers have and myths that are propagated about meat production and consumption.
Grass-fed versus grain-fed beef is a big question for many consumers on several fronts. First consumers are concerned about the health of cattle. Secondly, they are concerned if the meat from grain-fed cattle is nutritionally as healthy to consumer.
Natural feed source
Texas A&M University Beef Carcass Research Center Assistant Professor Ty Lawrence says, “Feeding cattle corn is very natural.”
“Some people mistakenly believe that corn- or grain-fed cattle never eat grass,” AMI says. “That’s just not true.”
Lawrence notes that all cattle eat some form of roughage, often grass, for a least some point in their life, and most often, cattle are on a grass-based diet until they enter the feedlot.
“In the feeding period, cattle are fed primarily a corn- or cereal grain-based diet,” he continues. “Consumers should understand that feeding cereal grains is just a form of feeding grass.”
Lawrence explains, “Corn is the seed of that grass. They are continuing to get the roughage-based, forage-fed diet, albeit in a cereal grain form, near the end of the finishing period.”
Further, Lawrence emphasized that cattle nutrition is very important to producers, and in the feedyard, cattle have a nutritionist who oversees their diet.
“Nutritionists in the feedyard provide a well-balanced diet for cattle, with all the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals they need to grow and maintain a healthy lifestyle during finishing,” he said, noting that the nutrition of corn is beneficial to cattle. “Cattle that aren’t in the feedlot very rarely have nutritionists watching over their intake.”
Pasture-raised cattle consume what they choose, rather than a formulated diet, which makes it much more difficult to control. In a feedlot, rations are carefully regulated.
“These cattle are eating a much more balanced diet than most Americans,” Lawrence added.
A study at a west Texas panhandle feedlot also proved that cattle actually prefer a corn-based diet.
In the study, the feedyard took a group of cattle from the same location and split them in two. The first group was confined to a pen and fed a corn-based diet, as is traditional in the feedyard. The second group was placed in a pen on the edge of the feedlot with the gate open. They had free access to a grass pasture through the open gate.
“When the feed truck came by, the cattle went immediately to the bunk and ate their corn-based, well-balanced diet to give them what they needed,” Lawrence summarized. “At the end of their consumption, they’d go lay in the grass.”
“Consumers can rest assured that feeding corn to cattle is natural,” Lawrence stated, “and corn is something they prefer when given the opportunity.”
Researchers have also addressed the healthfulness of beef from grass-fed as compared to that from grain-fed cattle, finding no nutritional difference between the two in several studies.
William Benjy Mikel, a professor and head of food science, nutrition and health promotion at Mississippi State University, mentions, “Both grass-fed and grain-fed beef are great sources of protein, they are packed with vitamins. Either one is a great product to be consuming. There are really no nutritional differences.”
Two research studies from Texas A&M University’s Department of Animal Sciences have compared the products, and the results have found no difference in the two.
Omega-3s and cholesterol
While it’s true that beef from grass-fed cattle does have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, the same product is higher in saturated fat and transfat.
Additionally, Mikel said that if omega-3 fatty acids are what consumers desire, the amounts in beef are significantly smaller than other proteins.
“If consumers want omega-3s, they should be going to fish,” he explained, adding that salmon, for example, has 35 times the amount of omega-3s than beef. “If they want good B vitamins, iron and protein, that is where beef comes in. Both are very good sources.”
A Texas Tech University study also found that there is no difference in cholesterol in ground beef from grass-fed and grain-fed cattle if the fat content is similar.
“Both grass-fed and corn-finished beef are among the most nutrient dense foods available, and both are good choices,” says AMI.
Texas A&M University Professor and Meat Scientist Stephen B. Smith says, “At this point, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that ground beef from grass-fed cattle is a healthier alternative to ground beef from conventionally raised, grain-fed cattle.”
Meat Mythcrushers strives to provide information to consumers that is correct and based on expert research. They also look to provide referenced facts to consumers and producers to help each person make an informed decision regarding meat and meat consumption.