A great report for learning more about grass-fed beef

Some great information about grass-fed beef

Posted on Feb 25, 2020 by Jack McCann
Tags: Newsletter

Something that often strikes me is hearing about all the different reasons why people found our farm. Specifically why they made the choice to intentionally include pasture-raised meat and eggs in their family’s diets. A lot of you went on the same journey as I did:

  • Starting with a nagging suspicion that something wasn’t quite right with the grocery meats raised in factory conditions
  • To a desire to learn more about the alternatives
  • To a conscious decision to be a part of something different.

As Betsy and I were learning, we realized that there was a lot of information out there, but it wasn’t always easy to find and sort through. Even the popular documentaries advocating for changes in our food system feel like propaganda the same as the Monsanto sponsored ones arguing on the other side. Between that, social media and the frankly fake marketing information at the local natural food stores, it IS really hard for a consumer to understand the reality of our food production.

Being as closely tied to this way of farming as I am, I get to run across some great primary and secondary sources. I’d like to spend the next couple of posts here writing about a report titled Back to Grass – the Market Potential for US Grassfed Beef. It’s an “industry report” written more for farmers and policy people than eaters looking to learn more but: there’s a TON of information in it, some that was even new to me.

The full unmarked report can be found here. But I’ve also taken the time when I was reading it to highlight the article (for myself) and figured that the highlighted version might make reading a LOT easier for you – you can find the marked up version here.

We’ve written about a lot of these topics before but I found it interesting to read an industry 'business' type report.. I suspect you will as well.

Some interesting stuff

A couple of things that jumped out at me when reading it that you might find interesting:

  • There are so many more farmers raising grass fed beef than there were even 20 year ago. In 1998 there were around 100 notable producers finishing grass-fed cattle in the U.S. In 2016 there were an estimated 3,900(!) . -- if only they were all pasture based!
  • Still, most grass-fed beef you see in stores is imported and you’d never even know it. According to this report, imports account for an estimated 75-80% of total U.S. grass-fed beef sales by value. As long as the imported beef passes through the required USDA-inspected plant, it can be labeled as a “Product of the USA.
  • Animals in feedlots (i.e. not out on pasture like our animals) are fed manufacturing byproducts (including cookie crumbs, sugar beet tops, orange pulp, candy, potato byproducts and potato waste) to reduce feed costs.
  • Rotational grazing (the way we let our animals move from one area to the next as they graze) has been shown to increase forage productivity while increasing soil organic matter, soil fertility and water-holding capacity. In fact, every 1% increase in soil organic matter allows soils to hold between 20,000 and 25,000 more gallons of water per acre (!) It also sequesters carbon in the soil (rather than having it go into the atmosphere)
  • The environmental and public health costs of conventional beef has been estimated to be on the order of billions of dollars (I think if one fully considers climate change, the impact of conventional beef could be much higher -- OUR beef appears to sequester carbon)
  • The scope of the biggest feedlots is just mind-blowing: The largest 66 CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) accounted for a third of all fed cattle marketed, even though they represented only 0.1% of all feedlots in the U.S.

(Seriously - the report itself has a TON of great information in it)

Over the next couple of posts, I'm going to spend a little time writing about some of these topics and more -- we've taken the time to write about many of these topics in the past but it's been a couple of years since we did it last. And I also wanted to give you the chance to read it for yourselves. This is a great starting point for some conversations AND a great resource for people looking to get a better snapshot for what things are like today!

As always, we'd love to hear what you think!

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