What is Grass Fed Meat?
Grass fed animals, specifically ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats, are now the only acceptable option for many conscious eaters. Sourcing only meat from animals that have been grass fed may sound a wee bit obvious, and seem like the only type of meat that one could buy, but food (and life) is not that straightforward anymore.
The rearing and feeding of animals is not as transparent and obvious as you might think, as the industrialisation of the food system has created practices, on some farms, not all, that focus on maximum output for minimum input. Animal feed can be one of these.
Back in the days of old, animals would have been raised outdoors in fields, or meadows, or forests and would have eaten what they could forage naturally in the great outdoors. In the Winter they would have been supplemented on silage and hay which is actually just dried or fermented grass. The animals convert grass and foliage into bioavailable protein, fats and other nutrients for the humans who raise it. The quality of nutrients however is all dependant on the life that the animals live and the quality of the organic green matter that they are fed.
Due to increasingly unrealistic and unsustainable demands for cheap meat and dairy, something had to give. In order to supply a portion of the market with cheap meat, certain agricultural institutions started to modify the feeding and rearing practices of animals to make them more effective meat and dairy producers. Some animals are now fed on a processed feed which is high in grain, especially corn and soya, as it means that the cows can be fattened up quickly and cheaply. Grain breaks down into glucose which causes the animal to quickly gain weight. For dairy cows it also means that they have sufficient nutrients to keep producing milk throughout the Winter months when grass is lacking.
Animals have evolved to efficiently eat and digest grass in order to provide them with all the nutrients they need. This can also include wildflowers, herbs, shrubs and any other natural food that can be found in nature. Modern farming practices mean that many animals, specifically cattle, are now fed diets high in grains which would not normally be a part of their natural, grazing diets. This changes the essential fatty acid profile of the animal, raising the omega-6 fatty acid profile (which is inflammatory), so then the consumer is eating more inflammatory omega-6s. Grass fed meat is naturally more abundant in omega-3s which are essential for cellular and brain health, so it’s important to be aware of what the animals are eating.
Genetically Modified Crops
Animal feed is normally genetically modified (GM) as it is much cheaper to produce and therefore cheaper to buy for the farmers. GM crops are permitted for animal feed in Europe but not for humans to eat. Whereas in the US, GM foods are permitted for both animal and human consumption. However, if an animal eats GM crops and you then eat the animal, you could still be getting some of the molecular residue of the GM food, particularly from the pesticides that are used to treat the GM crop. The government and GM companies tell us that GM foods are safe for human consumption, yet there is so much controversy and conflicting science around their safety, especially as they are often heavily sprayed in pesticides.
It has been claimed that 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions came from meat production and mainly from beef. The main cause of this emissions however come from carbon dioxide which comes from various different farming practices used in the global meat industry and specifically for intensively farmed animals. The main reason for the gas emissions however comes from the clearing of tropical deforestation for either the grazing of livestock, or to grow soya for them as feed. It’s not necessarily to do with the farming of beef in general. This highlights the need for buying meat from local, grass fed animals which are not reliant on grain production.
Some grass fed or pastured animals are actually then grain finished which means they are fed grain for the last few months before slaughter, as this fattens them up making them more profitable (remember that grains break down into glucose). This is another great reason to buy animal produce from local farms, farmers markets or butchers (as supposed to supermarkets) as you will be more likely to find out exactly how the animal was raised and on what diet.
Free range generally means that the animals have access to roam outdoors or at least more space allocated per animal than intensively farmed animals but it doesn’t mean that they are fed a purely natural diet. If not organic they will quite often be supplemented with feed from GM crops.
Organic animals aren’t even guaranteed to be grass fed as their diets can include organic grain feeds. At least this means they won’t be eating GM crops which may be heavily tainted with pesticides. Grass fed and organic is the holy grail of standards to some health food enthusiasts and is particularly promoted by the paleo and traditional foods communities. That is because it is most representative of what an animal would be eating in the wild and deemed as the healthiest of meats.
We only use the best quality meat that we can source at The Real Coconut, with our aim being to always get organic, free range and grass fed where possible. We really believe in the power of plants and the importance of a high plant based diet but also recognise the benefits of animal produce, especially for nourishing the gut and brain.