‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Grass-Fed Beef: An Environmental No No

The always popular, always controversial discussion of beef resurfaced recently and I figured, why not chew the fat a little? Let's talk grass-fed vs conventionally raised beef, let's talk beef and nutrition. Let's steak a claim!

First off, allow me to remind readers that herein doesn't lie my opinion. If you're morally opposed to biting into Bessie the Cow, I understand, I'm purely sharing scientific findings. Feel free to moo'v along.

A new meta analysis based on 67 articles compared the nutritional composition of organic vs conventional meat. Here are the main points:
  • Organic meat has less saturated fat (the artery clogging kind) and also less monounsaturated fat (one of the "good" fats)
  • Total polyunsaturated fats ("good" fats) and omega 3 fats (also good) were estimated 23% and 47% higher in organic meat, respectively
The likely reason for the difference in fat composition is due to grazing/forage-based diets in organic animals.

So you're thinking, "we're done, that settles it, I'm only going to buy Bessie if she grew up organic and foraged". But wait, there's another aspect worth considering... The environment.
Contrary to popular belief, conventional beef has the lowest environmental impact across several parameters, and the lowest carbon footprint.
Am I crazy? Everyone and their dog says the opposite: Grass-fed is best, right? Not right, and I'm not crazy (well, maybe a little).
A pretty landmark study assessed the conventional (CON) system, compared it to the natural (NAT) system and the grass-fed (GF) system. Here's a summary of findings:
  • Days from birth to slaughter:
    • CON system - 444 days
    • NAT system - 464 days
    • GF system - 679 days (a conservative estimate on the lower end of the "finishing age" range which is actually 671-915 days)
    • See the implications of this below
  • A larger population is required in the GF system and NAT system to produce the same amount of beef as the CON system:
    • Pop size in the NAT system is 17.1% larger than CON
    • Pop size in the GF system is 77.5% larger than CON
  • More land is needed to support larger populations:
    • If all the beef produced in 2010 was by the GF system, the additional land needed would've been equivalent to 75% of Texas
  • Water consumption:
    • In the NAT system uses 17% more than the CON system
    • In the GF system uses a whopping 302% higher than the CON system
  • Carbon footprint (the big one!):
    • The NAT system's carbon footprint was 17.4% greater than the CON system
    • The GF system's carbon footprint was 67.5% higher than the CON system
So really, what the above boils down to is that the GF system and, to a lesser extent, the NAT system requires animals to live longer before being slaughtered. That means more feed, more water, more land, more grazing for those extra days. All that contributes to the greater carbon footprint seen above. To recap, the GF system is the least environmentally friendly system.
But I'm a dietitian, shouldn't I tell you to eat grass-fed beef because some research shows it's marginally healthier? I'm not that type of dietitian. There are some things that are bigger and more important than us, the environment is one of them.
Ideally westerners would eat much less meat and beef. Can I change the world? No. We need a societal/cultural shift to occur: Eat less meat, more plants, plant-based. If we all jump on that bandwagon, perhaps we could all eat grass-fed beef.
Well, I'd say "eat more leaf, less beef"


  1. This is incredible, I had no idea...

    1. It's amazing how we accept ideas without scientific backing (like grass-fed automatically being better than conventional). Thanks for reading, Marc.