Most of us who like a high-quality steak dig in because it's a great tasting part of a meal. But it also is a source of high-quality animal protein. Just how high-quality it is will be determined by the type of feed that the animal has been raised on, and that's where we raise the question as to just what the definition of grass-fed beef is. Grass-fed beef is an aborted term because the rules even now are somewhat unclear.
Some producers of beef will call their product “grass-fed” because at one point in the cattle's life it had actually ate grass. That can be quite misleading as all beef cattle are fed grass at some point in their existence. This is in comparison to many dairy cows that are grain-fed their own lives and may never see a blade of grass. So what we really want to know is when the cattle that we are consuming was actually fed grass. In other words grass-fed beef is of minor importance; grass-finished beef is what we want to know.
So how are we to know for certain what cattle were fed just before it was taken to the abattoir? The only way we can for certain know is to be aware of the practices of the producers that are sourcing that beef. And it is an important factor in the quality of the beef you eat. In a recent test, one group of cattle was allowed to forage on grass and the other with a dry distiller's grain. After a three-month period the dry distiller's grain group had virtually no health benefits in the finished product. On the other hand, the grass-fed cattle had those benefits that were expected.
One of the greatest benefits of beef that is finished grass-fed is the more balanced ratio of omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats. Due to our vast increase in processed foods and vegetable oils this balance has tilted far too much on the side of omega-6s. This is one reason why health for people who keep the typical Western diet has deteriorated. Our intake of omega-6 has increased by an astounding 100,000 times compared to 100 years ago, with processed foods the largest culprit. Grass-finished beef will help when we're pounding that steak.
So when can we expect this situation to change toward more grass-finished beef? The answer is when there is more call for grass-finished beef in the United States. It's certainly not that it can not be done; in fact, there is now a market for it in the United States, but the vast majority of it is imported. In Australia about 70% of their cattle are pasture-raised and grass-finished, and in many other countries such as Brazil, Uruguay and New Zealand grass-finished beef is much more common. The reason is probably that in these countries it's actually cheaper to grass-finish cattle than grain-finish. But from a health point it is something that we should always take into account whenever we eat beef.