Grass-Fed, Grain-fed vs. Organic Meat. What’s Best?

Answers to common questions about where to get affordable grass-fed animal proteins, the benefit of consuming grass-fed meat, and more.

Many of you have questions about meat quality, whether purchasing grass-fed is the way to go, and what to do if your budget doesn’t allow for higher cost animal protein. ButcherBox, an animal protein subscription that delivers 7 to 10 pounds of the tastiest cuts of 100% grass-fed beef, organic/pastured chicken, and heritage breed pork to your front door every month, has helped me answer your questions.

Although I’m unable to use the ButcherBox program because I’m in Canada, I see the value in this program, which is why I choose to share it. Believe it or not, even though I’m in Canada, over 80% of the Healthful Pursuit community is based in the US! So, I know some of you will benefit from learning more about ButcherBox, the answers they share, and the giveaway (scroll down!) that we’ve put together for you.

Are you ready?

SOURCING

What is the best option if you don’t have extra money in your budget for grass-fed?

ButcherBox’s Answer: I highly recommend buying grass fed ground beef from Australia or Uruguay. It’s generally cheaper than domestic and most likely higher quality. Grass fed cows from Australia or Uruguay tend to spend their entire lives eating actual grass in the pastures (and not silage which qualifies as “grass” and is used a supplement for areas with harsh winters) and are truly 100% grass fed (not grain finished).

Leanne’s Answer: If you can swing for either option, it’s best to purchase conventionally-raised meat with the lowest fat quantity (the fat is where much of the toxins including hormones, are held), and add your own fat. What that could look like is purchasing chicken breast and adding coconut oil to it while cooking.

How and where could I source grass-fed gelatin on a tight budget?

ButcherBox + Leanne’s Answer: There are a couple of options for gelatin depending on your location. If you’re in the US, ordering gelatin from Thrive Market is your best bet. A secondary option would be Vital Proteins gelatin on Amazon. If you’re in Canada, you’re best off finding Great Lakes Gelatin at your local health food store or ordering from Amazon.

Where are ButcherBox farmers located? Where do you source your products?

ButcherBox’s Answer: We believe everyone should have access to the best quality, best tasting grass fed & finished beef available and want to make receiving this accessible to everyone by offering your meat for the month delivered right to your door. We scour the world looking for the best possible quality and have used beef from US, Uruguayan and Australian producers. All of our beef producers are audited for the strictest of humane standards and practices. Our US producers (California, Missouri, Vermont, Ohio, Iowa, and others) are from both co-ops and independent farms with stringent definitions of grass fed and grass-finished. Finishing cattle properly on grass takes a lot of land and supply is limited in the US where grass availability changes with the seasons. We source from Australia because their grassland and the quality of their beef is exceptional. Grass fed beef in Australia undergoes a stringent grading process factoring in attributes contributing to tenderness and flavor that are not considered in the US. (Check out our blog post on sourcing grass-fed beef from Australia).

Where do you get your brisket and pork belly?
Leanne’s Answer: I order mine from TK Ranch, a local farm.

Any Canadian friendly suggestions on where to find grass-fed and -finished meat?
This is a great resource for free range meat in Canada you may find helpful.

EDUCATION

What is the difference with grass-fed and grass-finished?
ButcherBox’s Answer: Our beef is 100% grass fed and finished, which means it was only fed grass its entire life. Most cattle in the United States (98 percent) subsist on a corn diet for the last 6 months of life which drastically decreases the nutritional benefits (see this PubMed study and this study). Not our beef, they enjoy a full life in the pasture!

How does organic beef compare to grass-fed beef?

ButcherBox’s Answer: Dr. Mercola says this perfectly: “It’s important to recognize that while the USDA 100% Organic label is good, it’s not necessarily a guarantee that the meat has been grass-fed and finished. In fact, the organic label is costly for ranchers, and many actually raise their cattle in ways that provide superior beef compared to beef bearing the organic label. In my mind, a truly grass-fed and grass-finished product is superior to organic.”

The USDA website (article from 2012) says: “As for organic meat, regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.”

This is problematic because it could mean that the USDA allows for feed that are labeled organic, but is not necessarily grass. Instead, this could be corn, soy, or forage.

Our number one priority for beef is that it’s 100% grass-fed and finished. Organic is an added bonus. For our beef, we don’t have an official mandate not to use pesticides largely because it would be impractical for farmers to do so. The pesticides are primarily used to kill weeds before planting crops so there isn’t any competition for soil. On pastures, that wouldn’t really apply. For that reason, we don’t have an official mandate.

How significant of a difference is there in the nutritional profiles between conventional beef vs. grass-fed and grass finished beef?

Here are some excellent articles on the difference: understanding grass-fed meat, the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed, conventional meat vs. grass-fed, and why grass-fed is so much better than grain-fed.

Studies like this one and this one show that grain-fed cattle have less omega-3 and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) than grass-fed cows. Both of these fatty acids have some pretty great health benefits.

I’m seeing grass fed meats in Walmart… is it all still the same quality?

ButcherBox’s Answer: Not likely. There’s a big difference in grass-fed, and grass-fed AND finished. Most items that you see in grocery stores will be finished off with grain at some point.

How do you know that your grass fed meat is actually grass-fed? I am learning that there seem to be loopholes that these industries exploit.

ButcherBox’s Answer: Our CEO, Mike Salguero, wrote a great blog article on why we started sourcing our meat outside of the U.S. It’s for the very reason you implied—finding grass-fed AND grass-finished beef is very hard. In the U.S., only about 2 to 4 percent of cattle is grass-fed and grass finished. Some meat labeled “grass-fed” is “grain-finished” which means it’s like all the other beef at the supermarket, just maybe more expensive.

Here’s another great article he wrote that I recommend you check out too: How the grass-fed beef market has led to consumer-fed confusion.

Is all chicken grain fed? If not, where can I find corn- or soy-free chicken? Does buying organic chicken make a difference?

ButcherBox’s Answer: Yes, 99.9% of all chickens are fed corn and soybeans, whether they’re GMO or non-GMO is the biggest concern. Ours have no animal by-products (i.e. feather meal) and is certified organic which by definition means it must be GMO-free.

THE GIVEAWAY

ButcherBox is partnering up with us this month to give away a huge ButcherBox + two 10oz. ribeye steaks. Head on over to the Healthful Pursuit Instagram Page to enter! 

Best of luck to you, and I hope that helped clear things up ;)

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Comments | Leave Your Comment

  1. Hi Leanne
    We produce high quality 100% grass fed beef and lamb in Ontario (18 years). As evidenced by the taste which reflects the nutritional density of the sward (the various plants / shrubs /forbs) what is also known in Europe as the ‘terroire’. We would be happy to compare (nutritional assay) our quality against Australian beef (this in no way is meant to impune or deride the quality of ‘Australian’ beef but rather to make the distinction that taste (brix) is a reflection (there are other factors) of soil quality (and ‘culture’ and genetics) and the mineral profile of the soil and consequently the nutritional density of the meat /fruit/ vegetable.
    In agronomy (soil science) there is a metric called: cation exchange capacity (c.e.c.) which can be easily understood using a sponge as a metaphor. The higher the c.e.c. the more capacity there is to hold minerals that lack an electron like calcium, magnesium, se, cu, fe, zn, k, na, co etc.) In sandy soils as are found in large parts of California -San Joachin Valley, Central Valley , and in Australia, as I understand, have very low c.e.c.’s. Commercial growers have to ‘feed’ the plants as they are growing or they would starve to death the sponge being too small to hold (adsorb) adequate nutrition for life of the crop.

    Understand that minerals are the precursors to enzymes and are largely what is meant by the word ‘nutrition’ -minerals in a form that we can use.

    The credit of the longevity (routinely 120 yrs old) of the Hunza’s (northern Pakistan) has been given to ‘glacial milk’ -mineral rich water running down the mountains available to feed the plants. Cattle having their rumen (4 stomachs or bacterial pouch’s) can lick rocks and garner their minerals but we as hind gut fermenter’s have little ability in this regard and so need plants to incorporate their ‘vital minerals’ -vitamins, amino acids and enzymes for us. Or to eat animals that eat those plants. It turns out that ‘we are what we ate and what we ate …ate’.

    We sell in volume (customers need freezers and capital but are rewarded by price) this model allows greater affordability when comparing to individual retail cuts. The reason for grain feeding is $ the rumen are destroyed in the feed lots and the cows effectively become mono-gastric and the digestive disturbance caused by the round-up and the grain causes weight gain which is rewarded by time to market (much faster). It takes us 24-26 months (and we feed only pasture and hay in winter) since it is not apparent to many it actually costs money to feed animals.

    Grain feeding (specifically grains treated with glyphosate/ round-up) during the life of the animal (other than a very small amount as could be found in the wild in the fall in non mono-cultural environment ) largely negates the value of the meat as the toxicity to the rumen bacteria is so profound that consequent c.l.a. levels would be much lower if not now equivalent to conventionally raised. If you are going to drink pop (h.f.c.s.) then there is little point in eating 100% grass fed as you will not be able to access the nutrients. As your intestinal bacteria is wiped out by even tiny amounts of round-up -kills intestinal flora in p.p.t. snofarm at yahoo dot ca
    hope this serves
    Robin

  2. I’m in the US looking for what Butcher Box offers in terms of meat but want to purchase individual meats not a subscription. Any other resources/stores/sites/companies for people like me?

    • Have you tried any local farmer’s markets? I would start there or Google your area + pasture-raised meat or something similar. That should help!

  3. My husband says that freezing meat changes the texture and structure. (I’m saying this because if we bought meat in any quantity, we’d have to freeze it–we currently by 2 days at a time, max.)

    My questions: Is my husband right? And does freezing lessen the nutritional value of the meat? I think buying in quantity from a place like butcher box would be a good idea, but he’ll vote it down if there’s any impact on nutrition or the like.

    • Hmm, I’d be interested to see where he heard/read this. Freezing meat (or vegetables) should not affect the nutritional value. As for texture and structure, I’ve never noticed a difference, but I think that comes down to personal preference.

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