Grain-fed and Grass-fed Beef: A Meditation

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a very scary term, I mean even the X-Files has an episode based on it. It basically turns your brain into Swiss cheese.

And it has been two long years since the appearance of US Beef on the sweltering shores of Singapore. Even though the ban was lifted (in a limited way), the local steakhouses have bought up so much beef that it took a while to clear those stocks.

It’s also been a while since the Dead Cow Society met for the prevention of BSE to other people. Such is our selfless charter.


But why the madness over US beef? All this talk and anticipation has made me very curious about the mystique of beef.

It’s all about taste. Beef, US or otherwise, comes, broadly, in either grain-fed or grass-fed. Both give distinctively different tastes. Grass-fed beef is gamey and the flavour is not as intense as grain-fed beef. And unless it is aged well, grass-fed beef can be tougher than grain-fed ones.

The good news is that a recent study in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the meat of grass-fed livestock not only had substantially less fat than grain-fed meat but that the type of fats found in grass-fed meat were much healthier. Grass-fed meat has more omega 3 fatty acids and fewer omega 6, which is believed to promote heart disease; it also contains betacarotine and CLA, another ”good” fat.

Grain-fed beef is sweeter and more intense because it contains more fat. It is the preferred beef for a lot of people.


Unfortunately, grain-fed beef from feedlot cows is also very unhealthy because of the higher levels of saturated fat. However, that’s not the most terrifying thing about it.

Feedlot cattle are basically cattle who are weaned off their mothers and grass and are placed in pens and fed grain. This fattens up the calf rapidly and tremendously.

There are many side effects to this practice, most of them bad. This is because corn is not a natural food for cows. Cows were meant to eat forage, but foodlots make them eat grain.

This causes a lot of problems such as feedlot bloat. Cows create a lot of gas which is usually expelled, but when on a diet low in roughage and high in starch, a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal’s lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal’s esophagus), the cow suffocates.

So listen to your mom and eat your vegetables else you fart. A lot.

Moving on, a corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike that in our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a cow’s stomach is neutral. Corn makes it unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio.

A feedlot cow does not live more than 6-months. A sustained feedlot diet would eventually “blow out their livers” and kill them. As the acids eat away at the stomach wall, bacteria enter the bloodstream and collect in the liver.

Enter the antibiotics. Its use reduces the gas and helps to prevent liver infection. However, it is acknowledged generally that such a practice led to the evolution of “super bugs” which are resistant to antibiotics.

A distinction should be made between clinical and non-clinical uses of antibiotics. Clinical usage is to help sick animals get better whereas the other is to promote growth. Therein lies the paradox: antibiotics is administered to feedlot cattle to treat the sick animals who become sick because of what we feed them.

A less concerned person may note that it’s all for the greater good of mankind. After all, US Corn-fed beef tastes sublime.


Well, apart from BSE, the other worrying thing about grain-fed beef from feedlot cows is Escherichia coli 0157 or E. Coli 0157. This is a new strain of intestinal bacteria that was isolated in the 1980s and it is acid-resistant. Ingesting E. Coli microbes can be fatal.

Here’s the scare: most of the microbes that reside in the gut of a cow and find their way into our food get killed off by the acids in our stomachs, because they are originally adapted to live in a pH-neutral environment. But the digestive tract of the modern feedlot cow is closer in acidity to our own (because of acidosis), and in this new environment acid-resistant E. Coli 0157 have developed that can survive our stomach acids and go on to kill us.

Increasing the acidity of a cow’s gut with corn, we have broken down one of our food chain’s barriers to infection.

There are other impact such as environmental ones, yet why are we still doing this? Basically it’s the price. Grass-fed beef is more expensive as grass-fed cows take longer to “harvest” and corn is very cheap. Besides, everyone likes corn-fed beef. 😉

But how cheap is corn-fed beef actually? Is it worth it? So long as the mass market demands it, there will be no stopping.

It is commonly said that we are what we eat and for me, the thought of consuming beef that consumed grass that consumed sunlight is getting more and more appealing.

Posted on 10th Oct 2006 in Dead Cow Society, Food and Drink, Meat


There Are 17 Comments


gurge commented on October 12, 2006 at 8:30 am

whoa! is that done rare? sheesh, I have never eaten beef so raw before, looks a bit japanese that. heh (drool)


ivn commented on October 12, 2006 at 3:42 pm

@gurge: Would you believe that it was medium rare? 🙂


superfinefeline commented on October 15, 2006 at 8:07 pm

Oh my goodness! I didn’t know these facts about Corn Fed Beef! Thank you for enlightening us.


Ivan commented on October 15, 2006 at 8:49 pm

It’s a pleasure. This entry started out as a personal discovery of why corn-fed beef tasted so good. It is sweeter, more tender and very much tastier, but it comes at a cost.


superfinefeline commented on October 18, 2006 at 2:02 pm

I don’t think many people care actually. 🙁

Thanks for educating us though & will try to create some awareness too.

BTW, thanks for linking moi! 🙂


[…] Alas, the pragmatic health conscience in me won out. This time. […]


gregtops commented on August 8, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Um, this is pretty scray the way you put it.
I hope this is all factual and not bias.
I still prefer grass/sunlight and the good home killer. At least i know its history.
I dont think the understanding if the “feedlot” has none of the topics you mention. Most people think its great.
We are we sooo thick then. This information sahould be much more publicised. I see this is a major issue that should be “out there” for all to “mull it over” and make an informed choice on beef


ivan commented on August 13, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Actually, all this information is out there.

I am biased now after reading all that. Not that I will completely forgo corn-fed over grass-fed (now there is Long-fed) beef but at least I will understand the implications better now.


Camemberu commented on August 15, 2009 at 11:38 am

Wow, this almost makes me want to eat grass myself! OK nvm, I’ll get it through the beef!


ivan commented on August 18, 2009 at 10:15 am

Yes, it’s a delivery problem. 🙂


Bob commented on November 10, 2009 at 11:40 pm

You are one dumb son of a bitch. Quit writing about things in which you know nothing about.


ivan commented on November 11, 2009 at 1:14 am

I know this is a difficult time for you in Texas, but really, making unsupported remarks is unbecoming of someone from Texas Tech. Must be the Windows Vista you’re using.

Time for an upgrade before you shoot your mou say something else just as dumb, sunshine.


Matt commented on January 27, 2010 at 11:53 pm

This is a very one sided argument. And your facts are also wrong. Typical media just needs something to write about, and doesn’t care about what they say.


ivan commented on January 28, 2010 at 2:16 am

@Matt: You’re gonna have to do better than that; try backing up your statement. Surely you can do better than that, after all, I’d assume that the University of Wisconsin has a better entry criteria. Must be all that Cheddar cheese.


Grass Fed Farmer commented on November 3, 2010 at 12:51 am

I came from a corn fed, feedlot background before I switched to all grass from start to finish and I can confirm that everything you said is accurate. There is no bias at all. Grass fed is just as tasty and juicy though, you just have to cook it a little slower


Jessica commented on December 16, 2010 at 2:09 am

Thank you Grass Fed Farmer!! Good to know to cook slow!


BEEF: Grass-fed or Pasture Raised « Divine Proportion Inc commented on December 16, 2010 at 2:14 am

[…] way to ensure you are eating the healthiest beef possible! Here are some more sites on the topic […]

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