With Spencer Smith – The key to talking about grass-fed beef benefits is understanding why a conscientious consumer is interested in grass-fed/finished beef. Consumers tend to choose grass-fed/finished beef for three primary reasons:
- The health benefits of grass-fed beef
- Animal welfare issues
- Knowing their farmer and buying local food
Grass-fed beef producers Joe and Teri Bertotti of Hole-In-One Ranch in Janseville, California agree.
“Most people want grass fed beef because of the health benefit – but it goes much deeper. The folks who want grass fed tend to be much more interested in how the animals are raised and the environment that we maintain for them. After health benefits, I think that customers (friends) genuinely value their relationship with “their ranchers”. Coincidently, Teri and I value the friendships we’ve made at Farmers’ Markets just as much as any profits we’ve made. Learning how to discuss these topics intelligently and accurately will help the grass-fed beef producer gain loyal customers,” Joe Bertotti said.
What are the Health Benefits of Grass-fed Beef?
Several studies show that grass-fed beef contains higher omega-3 fatty acids, as well as Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), compared to grain-finished animals. This is important for an American population that is battling record rates of heart disease and cancer. The best dietary source of CLA comes from grass-finished beef and dairy.
“CLA has even been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, in both experimental and case-control studies. It appears to work primarily by blocking the growth and metastatic spread of tumors, controlling the cell cycle, and by reducing inflammation,” according to an article by Chris Kresser on ChrisKresser.com
Other studies have shown that CLA can help with Type 2 Diabetes and weight loss. CLA can come from synthetic sources, however, the health benefits decrease dramatically when compared to dietary CLA from grass-fed beef and dairy products.
Few fats have been studied as thoroughly as omega-3 fatty acids. They have a wide ranging health benefits, such as heart health, eye health, and brain function. The best sources of dietary omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish, but a diet rich grass-finished beef provides health benefits. Discussions about omega-3 fatty acids are usually about their ratio to omega-6 fatty acids in foods. A healthy ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids is about 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3. Grass-fed beef has a 2:1 ratio. Perhaps nature knows best what we need to be healthy!
In a study by The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health published in Biomed Pharmacother, titled The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids, found that:
“Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects. In the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality. A ratio of 2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer, whereas a ratio of 4/1 with the same amount of omega-3 PUFA had no effect. The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk. A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma, whereas a ratio of 10/1 had adverse consequences.”
Grass-fed/finished Beef Vs. Grain-fed/finished Beef
The chart above shows the ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in grass fed vs. grain fed beef.
When discussing the health attributes of grass finished beef, remember that the fat contains the health benefits. The grass-finished beef must be fat enough at the time of slaughter. Many grass-fed beef ranchers are looking at beef breeds that finish on the grass at a younger age and maintain maximum marbling or intramuscular fat. One such breed is Akaushi cattle. These cattle come from Japan and have been selected to fatten on forage rather than on grain. Yielding a wonderfully marbled and premium piece of meat. Another small breed is Highland. Knowing breeds of cattle and the beef they produce will help with communication and marketing about the beef product.
Animal Welfare Matters: Grasslands and Pastures Are a Cow’s Natural Habitat
Grass-fed beef benefits extend beyond health. Many consumers are concerned with animal welfare. This gave rise to labels such as Animal Welfare Approved. Let consumers know that the beef they are purchasing enjoyed a good life while consuming healthy forages, that care was taken in the day-to-day life of the animal to ensure it was healthy and handled in a low-stress manner. Stress is a big influencer in a grass-finishing operation because stressed animals do not gain weight. The pounds that they do put on tend to be leaner and less palatable to the consumer. Taking good care of animals has multiple benefits. The story of the farm or ranch, the family managing it and the animal is important to consumers.
A huge realization we made this year was when we understood why so many people shop at the Farmer’s Markets or take part in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) food shares. It is about getting grounded. Reconnecting to the land. As we learned at a Holistic Management and regenerative agriculture event in San Francisco, people want to connect with their farmer and thus their food supply. People have lost touch with their food supply and the land. They are struggling to reconnect. When talking to consumers about grass-fed beef benefits, first know why you produce this product.
Why does it matter to you? Maybe cattle farming this way allows your family to stay on the land, it allows the land to thrive and it supports the local economy. Share this with potential customers and connect with them over something much deeper that health statistics. Discuss the health of your community, the health of your family and the health and viability of your farm. Moving this conversation to a deeper level will create not just customers, but also friends and partners.
Producing grass-fed beef can be a meaningful enterprise for a ranch or farm. The grass-fed beef benefits extend beyond health to animal welfare and supporting the local economy. Learning to synchronize cattle production cycles to forage production cycles allows the farmer to create a healthy, local product that works with nature.
Have you thought about your family, farm or ranches story? How could this help you communicate with and connect to consumers?
Abbey and Spencer Smith own and operate the Jefferson Center for Holistic Management, a Savory Global Network Hub serving Northern California and Nevada. As a Savory Institute Field Professional, Spencer works with land managers, ranchers and farmers in the hub region and beyond. Abbey also serves as the Savory Global Network Coordinator for the Savory Institute. They live in Fort Bidwell, California. The Springs Ranch, the demonstration site for the Jefferson Center, is holistically managed and enjoyed by three generations of Smiths: Steve and Pati Smith, Abbey and Spencer Smith and the main boss of the whole operation, Maezy Smith. Learn more at jeffersonhub.com and savory.global/network.