Grass Fed vs Grain Fed: Understanding the Labels

Apr 22, 2014 1:31:00 PM

Sustainable living comes down to more than merely preserving the environment. The ultimate in making a more sustainable lifestyle also means protecting one's health. One can do this in part through knowing the differences between grass-fed and grain-fed meats. The following is some clarification on what these terms really mean for the consumer.


A grain-fed or grain finished diet is primarily an implication. While calling an animal's diet "grain-fed" implies that there was an exclusive diet of grains or that this was a supplement to a forage diet, this is not verified by any sustainable evidence. Further, in some cases this may not even result in the best quality of meat. Overall, grain fed is the default term that means the farm fed them something.


Grass-fed diets of farm animals are a far more stringent affair than grain-fed diets are. For an animal to be grass-fed, its diet must be 100% freshly grazed pasture during the warm months and hay or grass silage during the cold months or droughts. 

Animals that are pasture raised and fed receive no antibiotics or growth hormones and are not fed any animal byproducts, sometimes found in the feed of feedlot animals.

Why Grass-fed Meat is Better

For starters, grass-fed meat is better because it uses pasture to feed the animals. This causes less damage to the environment because there is no need to fertilize or use pesticides on grass, it merely grows like an unkempt lawn. Further, there is often no need to replant or till when growing grass, as it is very resilient.  Buying grass fed almost always means you’re supporting local farmers who are managing natural resources much more responsibly than big corporations and their giant commercial feedlots.  

Further, grass feeding is a step toward a more healthy method of raising animals. There is evidence that animals raised on the grasses that they evolved to live on have better liver and digestive function. Grass fed meat is a leaner choice and has a much more favorable ratio of omega 3 fatty acids needed for human health.

Grass-fed meat's lower fat and higher nutrient content means that it tends to be a better food source for the consumer. Ultimately, the most sustainable practice is to eat pasture-raised meats where there were no animal waste or artificial chemicals used.

Where Can One Find Grass-fed Meat?

More restaurants are learning that the people are willing to pay the added price for a more sustainable and humane alternative to potentially harmful factory farmed meat. Many sustainable restaurants around the country use grass fed meat to make their menus something special.

For example, Bella's Cafe in New Haven, Connecticut serves only grass-fed beef. The entire Chicago area is packed with grass-fed meats, such as Cassava and Farmhouse. For those who prefer chain restaurants that are easier to find, Chipotle has laid claim to having sustainable and more ethically raised standards for the meat it uses.

Finding grass-fed meat is sometimes a challenge depending on where in the country you live due to the availability of grass during cold months, but with both health and environmental benefits, this is a meal that is worth pursuing. Searching online locally can help.

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