Is grass-fed beef better than grain-fed beef?
In terms of climate impact, the answer is almost always no… here’s why.
Travelling through the countryside, it often looks as though cows have pretty good lives – wandering around huge, green fields, happily grazing.
But most beef doesn’t come from these cows: it comes from cows in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).
In these CAFOs, cows are kept in close quarters, and they eat food brought to them.
But is it better if they eat grass or grains?
Cows didn’t evolve to eat food like we eat: they evolved to eat grass.
Also, the process of digesting grass releases a huge amount of methane. The more grass a cow eats, the more methane it produces.
Methane is 86x more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (over 20 years).
For hundreds of years, people have been trying to accelerate the growth of cows, by feeding them more energy-rich, easily digestible foods, like the grains that we eat.
It speeds up their growth a little bit… but because cows didn’t evolve to eat grains, they don’t digest them well, and loads of the energy is wasted.
About 80% of the protein cows are fed is lost in their manure.
This means that we still need to use a large amount of land to grow a lot of food for them.
Also, to keep the cows healthy, we still need to feed them at least 30% grass (or similar), which means they’re still producing a lot of methane!
The Bottom Line
Feeding cows grain reduces the land demand roughly tenfold.
Also, by feeding the cows grains, we’re reducing the amount of methane they produce.
If your main aim is to combat climate change, then the idea that grass-fed beef is better is wrong.
Overall though, it’s better to eat no beef at all…