Agriculture Professor Looks at 30 Years of Grass-Fed Beef Research
Is grass-fed beef healthier for you than grain-fed beef?
Cindy Daley and Patrick Doyle, College of Agriculture, with colleagues at UC Davis, have synthesized 30 years of research to answer that question. The partnership grew out of common efforts in agriculture research and outreach.
“UC and CSU, Chico were embarking upon similar research,” said Daley. “The Cooperative Extension Service is also very involved in helping farmers and ranchers with niche-marketing efforts, trying to improve their ability to market direct to consumers, so we added value to these efforts by synthesizing all available research on the effect of grass-finishing on the nutritional content of beef and also completed some complementary primary research in the area.”
The results of their collaboration show that grass-fed beef does have a significant advantage when looking at nutritional content. Daley, et al, found that grass-fed beef is significantly higher in a number of antioxidants as compared to the traditional grain-fed beef, including omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamin A (carotenoids), vitamin E, and some key cancer-fighting compounds like glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD). While more omega-3 fatty acids are linked to cardiovascular health and the antioxidants in beef have cancer-fighting properties, it’s not yet clear whether a switch to grass-fed beef would have any significance on human health. These results have been published in “A Review of Fatty Acid Profiles and Antioxidant Content in Grass-fed and Grain-fed Beef,” Nutrition Journal, Vol. 9, No. 10, 2010.
The study was also featured in a March 11, 2010, post on the New York Times’ Well blog, indicating an increase in consumer interest in food choices, said Daley. “There has been a huge shift; the public is becoming more aware of the food they eat and demanding quality.”
The review article provided valuable research experience to students, she said. “Graduate student Amber Abbott was heavily involved in the review and led a complementary study to establish the impact of by-product feeds on lipid profiles important to human health.”
”Most of the livestock at the University Farm is grass-fed,” added Daley. “The exception is that we feed a few steers spent brewers grains as a part of the recycling program for the Sierra Nevada Brewery. The brewery purchases 800 pound grass-fed steers fed and managed by our students at the beef unit. The beef is processed in our USDA inspected meat-processing unit and used in the restaurant. Interestingly, Amber’s research would show that these recycled brewers grains will produce beef that is intermediate in antioxidant content, somewhere between grain-fed and grass-fed beef. So not only are we recycling the by-products of beer production in a sustainable manner, but we are also retaining some of the antioxidants found in grass-finished beef products.”
Next up for Daley is a similar study, this time on the “effect of grazing on milk nutrients,” she said. “We are continuing down this path, although our emphasis has shifted to the dairy arena. Not too surprising, we are finding significantly higher omega-3 and CLA in milk as a result of rations high in grass and other pasture-based forages.”
And what kind of meat does Daley choose for her hamburgers?
“The meat in my freezer is grass-fed (raise my own),” she said. “I also buy the University’s organic hamburger when I go to S&S or Chico Natural.”
—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications