Most milk and beef sold in America today comes from cows that have been fed corn. It cheaply fattens the animals up, but because cows’ multi-compartmented stomachs can’t properly digest corn, it also makes them more susceptible to E. coli, a pathogenic bacteria that can spread to humans. The solution? Grass.
Not only are grass-fed cows healthier, but their meat and milk are more nutritious than their cornfed counterparts. Grass-fed meat and dairy contain gobs more beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids, which may prevent dementia as well as heart disease. They’re also high in conjugated lineoleic acid (CLA), a healthy omega-6 that’s been shown to lessen symptoms of inflammatory disorders such as allergies and asthma. In well-managed grass-fed operations—where cows are regularly moved to fresh pasture—there’s an environmental boon, too. Their manure replenishes the soil, improving the quality of the forage growth, which in turn reduces erosion and water pollution.
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As word of these benefits has gotten out, demand for grass-fed products has skyrocketed. That’s led to some shady advertising. All cattle are grass-fed until they get to the feedlot, and any producer can put the words “grass-fed” on their product. (The USDA’s woefully understaffed Food Safety and Inspection Service theoretically regulates grass-fed beef claims, but doesn’t have the resources to audit ranches, so it’s all on the honor system.) Luckily, there are a few reliable and strict grass-fed certifications out there.