What is grass fed vs grain fed beef?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), grass (forage) fed means that the animal will be fed grass or forage for its entire lifetime, with the exception of milk before it is weaned. The animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Grain fed beef, on the other hand, is when cattle feed on grain or grain byproducts rather than grass and forage.
What are the differences in environmental impact?
Most of the environmental impact of beef is a result of methane emissions. Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Methane emissions are sourced by numerous human industries, including natural gas and petroleum, landfills, and agriculture. One source of methane in agriculture can be attributed to animal digestion which enters the atmosphere in the form of flatulence or burps.
One advantage of grass fed beef is regenerative agriculture, which is farming and grazing practices that have a positive environmental impact. Regenerative agriculture can create healthier soil, including an increase in biodiversity and stability, and improved water capacity and carbon sequestration. This type of agriculture uses natural processes like biological nitrogen fixation, biodiversity, and recycling as opposed to chemicals.
Regeneration International defines regenerative agricultural practices as ones that:
- Contribute to generating/building soils and soil fertility and health
- Increase water percolation, water retention, and clean and safe water runoff
- Increase biodiversity and ecosystem health and resiliency
- Invert the carbon emissions of current agriculture to one with remarkably significant carbon sequestration
Because they are not grazing, grain-fed beef does not provide these advantages, and the cattle may be confined to feed lots rather than allowed to graze and roam in pastures.
Regenerative agriculture and its environmental benefits is an important aspect of Mountain Burger's goals to dine sustainably.