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August 6, 2010
Have You Heard?
By Randy Pryor
GRASS FINISHED BEEF VS CORN FED
Nebraska is the “Golden Triangle” state. We have the advantage of the three corners of a triangle or corn, cattle and feeding distillers grains from ethanol production. It’s currently our cattle industry advantage over other states. The website http://beef.unl.edu, is the best source in the nation on beef facts. Recently an article in a Lincoln Journal Star newspaper highlighted a story about eating more grass finished beef vs corn fed beef. The opinion article was missing important information about the current agricultural beef industry concerning nutrition, carbon footprint and taste preference of the public. No better place than the University of Nebraska Animal Science Department to get some third party facts that are scientifically based. Here is a summary of some facts on issues raised in the article.
Past research indicates grass-fed, finished beef is less tender and lower in flavor and acceptability than grain-fed beef. Nebraska grass fed beef producers in this niche market know this and are responding by genetic selection. Source: beef.unl.edu/beefreports/200327.shtml.
Concerning carbon footprint, there was an implication in the Lincoln Journal Star grass fed beef was “greener” to society. Methane, an implicated greenhouse gas, accounts for a 3 to 12% loss of feed gross energy in cattle. This loss is greatest for cattle consuming forage-based diets and decreases with increasing amounts of concentrate included in the diet. A quick search on methane in the Nebraska Beef Cattle Report explains that replacement of forage with dried distillers grains reduces ruminal methane production. A 2010 report mentions how distillers grains and livestock are important to ethanol energy and greenhouse gas balance compared to the gasoline industry. Sources: beef.unl.edu/beefreports/200707.shtml and beef.unl.edu/beefreports/201023.shtml
The opinion article mentioned natural was better. Media reports and activist rhetoric would lead beef consumers to believe that the use of antibiotics and antimicrobials can spur the development of resistance genes in humans making it more difficult to fight human illnesses. Several layers of protection are in place today in the beef industry that gives us a safe food supply. Source: http://beef.unl.edu/stories/200909280.shtml
Grass finished beef takes longer to market and costs the consumer more. Nutritionally grass finished beef has more vitamin A and E, has a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and has 2-3 times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA a good thing). It is important to note, however, that an average 3.5 oz. serving of beef, whether it be grain-fed or grass-fed, contains only a fraction of the omega-3 fatty acids (8% vs. 13%) or CLA (10% vs. 25%) recommended in the human diet.
We are fortunate to have excellent meat lockers in Saline County and producers that can meet what local consumers want. For now, most select corn fed or distillers grain fed beef.