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What is Grass-Fed Meat?

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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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Grass-fed meat is meat that comes from a grazing animal, typically a cow, which has ingested only grass in its lifetime. The grass may grow wild or be planted specifically to feed the animal. Cows that do not consume grass for survival are normally fed corn, soy and other grains and supplements.

Organic meat is commonly confused with grass-fed meat. Organic meat normally comes from cows or sheep that were fed organically grown grain. What traditionally classifies the meat from these animals as organic is the absence of antibiotics and hormones in their diet.

Similarly, grass-fed meat does not necessarily mean the meat is organic. The grass used for grazing has frequently been treated with synthetic supplements and fertilizers. Non-organic herbicides are also commonly used to grow healthy pasture grasses. Most regions require that labeling on meat products accurately reflect what the animal was fed, including the grass and its additives.

Proponents of grass-fed meat regularly cite several reasons this variety should be preferred. Their reasons commonly mention the digestive benefits grass provides to the animal. Other supporters of grass-fed meat note the lower natural fat content in this meat as compared to that of corn- and grain-fed animals.

Grazing animals typically have a very large organ called a rumen. This organ, which has an approximate 45-gallon capacity in cows, produces bacteria that transforms the cellulose of grasses into digestible fats and proteins. Animals that are fed grains instead of grass have little use for this organ. If their diet is suddenly switched from grass to grain, the digestive process can be so disrupted that it often results in death. Supporters of grass-fed meat claim this switch, even if done safely and gradually, is harmful and uncomfortable for the animals.

One of the main reasons to feed animals corn is normally to fatten them up more quickly and add flavor to the beef through marbling. Marbling refers to small rivulets of saturated fat that infuse the lean meat of corn-fed animals. A significant number of culinary experts assert grass-fed meat may be leaner and healthier but lacks the desirable flavor of the grain-fed counterparts.

Consumers are generally drawn to grass-fed meat based on its alleged health benefits. Besides being lower in unhealthy saturated fat, it is also typically higher in omega-3 fats. Despite its beneficial aspects, this leaner meat is frequently shunned for its generally unwelcome taste and aroma, which are commonly described as bitter, gamey or ammonia-like.

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