Grass fed meat refers to animals that are fed a diet of, as you would expect, grass. However, included in this is also other forms of vegetation such as clover, herbs, flowers and legumes. Basically, grass fed refers to animals such as sheep and cows that are allowed a natural foraging diet within the fields that they are kept.
But is all grass fed meat created equally?
It is worth noting that not all grass fed meat is 100% grass fed. While farmers in Britain have the opportunity to mainly bring their animals to term durning the summer months, some may not. This means that some farmers may find that they finish their animals on alternative feed.
Although there is a high demand now for the 100% grass fed variety, this is not necessarily the best thing for the animals or the consumer.
As stated above, some farmers may need to finish their cattle on a diet that is supplemented with grains. The reason for this is to give those animals the chance to reach maturity prior to slaughter. Some grass fed animals are being slaughtered early to meet the criteria of grass fed, which in turn will affect the quality of the meat.
The fact is, most British farmers give their animals a minimum of 90% grass fed diet. But for those who finish them on sugar beet or some form of specially created formula etc will not be awarded the Pasture for Life certificate.
The Pasture for Life Certificate is the only label that guarantees the meat you are buying is 100% grass and natural vegetation fed. Organic meat doesn’t mean grass fed unless it is certified as such.
So why choose grass-fed?
Proponents for grass-fed meat say that it is better for the environment, more nutritious and better for farmers and animals.
Farmers and animals
We will start with the last point first. Obviously feeding your animals on a diet that is readily available for them to forage naturally is a lot cheaper than buying them food.
But it goes further than that. Some reports claim that grass fed animals are healthier and therefore require less vet visits and it is therefore not necessary to give them courses of antibiotics which can in turn affect the quality of the meat.
Why it may be better for your health
As plants naturally produce their own antioxidants, these are digested by the animals as they eat them. Some studies show that the nutrients then accumulate in the fat cells and are transferred to us when we eat the meat.
A study in the British Journal of Nutrition claims people who eat moderate amounts of grass fed meat receive a healthier level of essential fats. This is because it is leaner than the grain fed alternative and has higher levels of the good fats such as omega 3. Other benefits include a higher level of vitamins and minerals.
How does it help the environment
The biggest thing about pastures that are rich in clover is that they do not need to be maintained. No pesticides or fertilisers are needed to grow them, so there are less harmful nitrates causing carbon emissions. Whereas crops growing grains are widely linked to harmful emissions and deforestation causing more damage to the planet.
Plus, when cattle are allowed to graze on grasslands, this helps to maintain the balance and actually increases the nutrients in the soil. Not only does that mean more fertile soil, but it also means that more carbon is kept in the ground and not released into the atmosphere.
Is it worth the extra price tag?
At the end of the day, whether you choose grass or grain fed will come down to personal preference. It is all about the taste and quality verses the affordability.
However, as first mentioned in this article, most British farmers allow their cattle to roam on grasslands for the majority of their lives. There may be a supplement towards the finish, but this will have little impact on the taste or quality of the meat.
The omegas that you get from grass fed meat are easily and readily available in other sources, such as salmon. Eating a varied diet will provide your body with all the nutrients you need.
Eat Great Meat’s advice would be to use a butcher you trust, buy locally reared meat where possible and try different cuts and types of meat to see which you prefer.