If you Google “grass-fed beef”, you will find a bunch of essentially scare articles from the U.S. from wellness and paleo sites. So if you are eating red meat, what are the differences between grass-fed beef and organic beef and how does this apply to Australia, and where is the best place to buy it?
What is Grass-Fed Beef?
Grass-fed cattle must never have been fed grains their whole life. This has a variety of benefits on the nutrient profile of the meat they produce…
In a review of the research from the U.S., grass-fed beef has been found to contain 300 percent more Omega 3s than factory-farmed beef and contains less Omega-6s. Omega-3s and Omega-6s are two essential fatty acids in human nutrition. A healthy diet should consist of roughly 1:1 ratio of the two fatty acids, as we did in Paleolithic times, but the standard Western diet includes up to 30 times as many omega-6s than omega-3s. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, good for the gut, and are linked to heart, joint, and brain health.
However, remember to put that amount of Omega-3s in perspective… Grass-fed beef contains around 90 milligrams (0.09 grams) of Omega-3s per 100 grams, whereas salmon contains approximately 1.6-2.7g per 100g.
Grass-fed beef also contains less fat in total, may contain less cholesterol-raising fats, and more antioxidants. grass-fed meat also contains more essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin E, vitamin B12, and carotenoids. However, we need to remember the studies that show this are from the U.S. where the system of raising cattle is different.
Beef in Australia
Australian beef is highly regarded throughout the world, with high standards for the health and welfare of the cattle. In Australia, cattle spend around 85-90% of their time in pastures. No cattle in Australia spend their whole time in feedlots.
Cattle in Australia are also fed mainly on wheat, barley, and sorghum rather than corn (which can be GMO). Non-grass fed beef is therefore likely to be of a higher standard and have a better nutrient profile than beef from the U.S.
Grass-Fed Beef in Australia
In Australia, cattle can be certified grass-fed (never eaten grains), by the Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System (PCAS). If you want to be sure of grass-fed beef, that has never been fed grains, this is one to look out for.
PCAS certification also allows cattle to be certified as growth hormone and antibiotic-free.
Coles, somewhat controversially, introduced their own standard with their grass-fed range called Graze. They say their standard is based on PCAS and contains all the same requirements e.g. regarding not being fed grains, access to pasture, feed-lotting, traceability, and dietary supplementation.
Like PCAS, their beef can also be certified antibiotic and hormone-free, but it is not guaranteed. Their standards are upheld through the use of independent auditors.
Cleaver’s also produce a range which is organic and grass-fed and certified by their own Cleaver’s Certified Organic Grass Fed Assurance (CCOGA) scheme. It’s available in both Coles and Woolworths. Their standard also enforces grass-fed feeding and finishing but unlike Graze, all their meat is organic, growth hormone and antibiotic-free.
Woolworths stock grass-fed beef in their Grasslands range. This beef is accredited by Teys (Australia’s second-largest beef producer) to their own standard.
This standard is potentially less reliable than the PCAS and Coles grass-fed standards in that it requires only an initial self-assessment, and then twice yearly random samples of producers. Under the PCAS scheme, producers are required to undergo an initial on-farm audit and then yearly self-funded audits.
Like the other standards, Woolworth’s standard also dictates cattle must never have been fed grain. Unlike Coles’s Graze range, the cattle must always be antibiotic and growth hormone-free.
Aldi grass-fed beef may not be truly grass-fed at all and maybe supplemented with grain if pastures are poor. As reported in the media, this makes it essentially the same as standard beef in Australia, despite the premium price.
Organic beef is the best choice when it comes to ethical standards and supplementation. Certified organic meat is free from growth hormones and antibiotics, synthetic pesticides and herbicides and is free-range. Organic beef doesn’t use antibiotics to promote livestock growth.
However, unless organic beef is certified as grass-fed, it may not provide the same nutritional benefits.
In Australia, anyone can claim their meat is organic, so look out for the certified organic logos, such as the Australian Certified Organic logo.
What about the environment?
Reports of the green-house gas production of livestock fail to differentiate the impact of grass-fed animals. A study by the National Trust in the UK found that grass-fed beef production actually reduced greenhouse gas emissions when the locking up of carbon by grassland pasture was considered. Of course, this is specific to the UK, rather Australia, and we need more Australian research in this area.
If your budget allows, organic beef that is grass-fed may be the best choice… But if you’re on more of a budget, then buying organic beef over grass-fed may not be a priority, but buying grass-fed may have some nutritional and environmental benefits. We are lucky that all beef in Australia is high quality and mostly grass-fed.
The supermarkets’ standards for grass-fed beef are similar, although they aren’t all antibiotic and growth hormone-free as standard (check the label!). Although the PCAS standard is more reliable, it probably doesn’t matter which of the supermarkets you buy your grass-fed beef from (apart from Aldi, where it’s not guaranteed to have not been fed grains). Just lookout for the best looking meat and deals!
Buying meat from a local butcher or market is also always a good option as you can ask about the conditions the cattle were raised in..