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Q: What are the benefits of eating grass-fed beef vs. conventional (factory farmed) beef?

A: Almost all of the meat sold in supermarkets is from cows raised on factory farms, feedlots, or CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). Most CAFOs pay little attention to human health, food safety, the humane treatment of animals and the environment. In these overcrowded industrial environments animals are fed whatever it takes to grow them as large and as fast as possible. The ranchers focus on getting their cows fat quickly and cheaply, and give them synthetic growth hormones and feed consisting of grain, corn and soy (most often genetically modified). Since cows are meant to eat grass and not grain, their stomachs become acidic and they get ulcers and other digestive problems. Ranchers then dose the cows with antibiotics which we consumers then ingest.

So it’s a good idea to look for beef that was raised on pasture and labeled “grass fed.” The good news is that a growing number of ranchers let their cattle graze on grass, which is the diet in harmony with nature. The animals eat nothing but their mother’s milk, fresh grass and cut hay their entire lives and tend to be healthier and more humanely treated. Grass-fed beef does cost more than conventional beef, but their meat is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Aside from Omega 3s, grass-fed beef contains another beneficial fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is present in all beef, but a 1999 study in the Journal of Dairy Science found that grass-fed beef had 500 percent more CLA than cows fed a grain-based diet. Grass-fed advocates say to look for “100% grass-fed and finished” on the label to be sure. Plus, these cows are not given growth hormones or antibiotics.

You can find grass fed beef at Whole Foods Markets, local farmers’ markets, natural food stores and specialty meat markets. To locate sources online check out: www.americangrassfed.org, www.hardwickbeef.com, www.LaCenseBeef.com, www.LasaterGrasslandsBeef.com, and www.TallGrassBeef.com.

Beth Greer, aka Super Natural Mom®, is an award-winning journalist, green holistic health educator, healthy home expert and impassioned champion of toxin-free living. She’s also a radio talk show host, and trusted consumer advocate, who is leading a movement of awareness and responsibility about healthy homes, schools and work environments. Connect with Beth on Facebook and Twitter.