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Grass-fed Beef is Best

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Grass-fed Beef is Best

Grass-fed Beef is Best
May 21
09:35 2012

Feeding cattle on grass throughout their lifecycle is the most environmentally sustainable way to rear beef, according to new research commissioned by the National Trust in Britain.

One of the biggest global challenges is how to increase food security whilst reducing the environmental impacts of food production. Livestock – like cattle and sheep – produce high levels of methane as part of the process of digesting grass. This has led to suggestions that intensive production methods – where cattle are fed largely on cereals, producing less methane – should be preferred over more traditional grass fed livestock farming.

However,  research at ten National Trust farms shows that while the carbon footprint of grass-fed and conventional farms were comparable, the carbon sequestration contribution of well-managed grass pasture on the less intensive systems reduced net emissions by up to 94 per cent, even resulting in a carbon ‘net gain’ in upland areas. The farms that had recently converted to organic status showed even greater gains.

Rob Macklin, national agriculture and food adviser at the National Trust, comments: “The results are contrary to recent thinking that livestock farming methods must intensify further in order to lessen carbon emissions to feed an ever-increasing world population. Maximising carbon efficiency alone is too simplistic. Many less intensive livestock systems would be classed ‘inefficient’ on the carbon emission scale, yet are much less reliant on artificial inputs and tend to have less impacts on water quality, loss of soil organic matter and reduced biodiversity.”

He adds: “We believe that optimised beef production – deliberately accommodating less than maximum output in order to secure stronger and broader ecosystem protection – is the best sustainable use for the grasslands in our care. The debate about climate change and food often calls for a reduction of meat consumption and a more plant based diet, but this often overlooks the fact that many grasslands are unsuitable for continuous arable cropping.”

Other recent research found that the health benefits of beef (and lamb) are greater when animals are fed totally on grass – their natural food. Omega 3 fatty acids – recognised as essential to good physical and mental health – are higher in meat from grass and the levels of saturated fat are a third of grain fed beef.

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