how eating more pasture fed beef can help save the planet

In her latest column, Rebecca Mayhew from Old Hall Farm in Woodton addresses the differences between pasture fed and grass-fed beef, as well as the ongoing debates around eating meat. 

There has been a huge amount of press surrounding COP26 in recent weeks, and now the contrails from the many, many private planes have settled down, agriculture is yet again in the spotlight – but not for the right reasons. 

If you harbour a fuzzy preconception that you should cease eating meat to stop climate change in its tracks, this is largely because many people have worked hard to make that the perceived wisdom. As they say – follow the money. There’s a lot of money to be made from processed factory-grown meat replacements, and as such the smear campaign against farming in general and cattle in particular is huge.

The truth is though, that we will best heal the world’s ecosystem by investing in the pastoralist economy and putting carbon back into the soil by grazing cattle. That means eating more pasture fed meat, not less.

Did you know that a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more living organisms than there are humans on earth, and around 10,000 different species? We’re only just beginning to understand what goes on under our feet and the more we discover, the more we realise that ploughing the land to grow plant-based food is catastrophically bad – the result of a wrong turn in agriculture around 5000 years ago.

The best form of agriculture is good ‘old fashioned’ MIXED FARMING, and this is what we used to practice before we all became specialists as well as addicts to the drugs sold by the chemical reps. The best form of agriculture works by planning all our farming systems, particularly arable ones, around cattle grazing, trampling and defecating on vegetation to revitalise depleted topsoils so that they have the right mix of bacteria and fungi and can absorb CO2 through plant growth and put carbon back under the sward.

Leading champions of mixed agriculture and holistic management are Gabe Brown and Allan Savoury; do head on over to Netflix to watch their documentary Kiss the Ground to learn more.

the health benefits of pasture fed beef
In recent years there has been increasing evidence of the benefits of pasture raised and grass-fed meat and dairy. These benefits are not just limited to animal welfare and the environment, but also include health benefits for humans. Grass-fed meat tends to be lower in total fat and also has higher levels of ‘good fats’ such as Omega 3. Meat from grass-fed animals has higher vitamin levels – particularly vitamin E. The following is by no means a complete list of all research demonstrating health benefits of pasture raised and grass-fed meat, but it gives an idea of the range of different benefits and the published studies that support them.

omega 3
Omega-3s are most abundant in seafood and certain nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and walnuts, but they are also found in animals raised on pasture. The reason is simple. Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s. When cattle are taken off omega-3 rich grass and fattened on omega-3 poor grain, they begin losing their store of this beneficial fat. Studies have shown that meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed animals. Omega-3s are often called ‘good fats’ because they play a vital role in every cell and system in the body. Indeed, people who have ample amounts of omega-3s in their diet are less likely to have high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. According to a 2011 study in the British Journal of Nutrition eating moderate amounts of grass-fed meat for only four weeks will give consumers healthier levels of essential fats. The research showed that healthy volunteers who ate grass-fed meat increased their blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and decreased their level of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their meat and milk contain from three to five times more CLA than similar products from animals fed conventional grain-based diets. Scientists now believe that CLA may be one of our most potent defences against cancer. In laboratory animals, a very small percentage of CLA – a mere 0.1 percent of total calories – greatly reduced tumour growth. Another study found that adults with rheumatoid arthritis showed a significant decrease in blood pressure after CLA additions to their diet.

pasture fed or grass fed – what’s the difference?
Believe it or not, it’s not just semantics. There really is a difference between ‘pasture’ and ‘grass’. 

Fields of pure grass tend to be monocultures – just the one species – that isn’t natural and isn’t good for our natural systems that like biodiversity. Insects, fungi, birds – everything that is desirable in a well-balanced ecosystem, needs variety. 

Pasture, such as you’ll find at Old Hall Farm, is full of different species of grass, clover, legumes – around 20/25 varieties, depending on the field. In this species rich environment, there’s plenty of room for different pollinators, insects, and birds to thrive. Due to the way in which we manage our pastures, through holistic planned grazing, we don’t overgraze which means that there is plenty of cover and leaf left all of the time, thus ensuring that the ground is covered to avoid poaching. This also means that each parcel of land gets plenty of time to rest and recover before being grazed again. We’ve even seen the return of Dungbeetles to the farm since we started our Regenerative Journey – these guys are the power houses of the insect world and are incredible to watch at work in the
cow pats! 

One other important thing to note – improved grassland that is subject to the application of artificial nitrogen fertiliser and any sprays should be avoided like the plague. There is no room for the use of these inputs in grassland or arable production – not only are they terrible for the soil, insects, water and birds, but they’re also terrible for us too!

When you’re asking your butcher for pasture fed meat, it’s also really important to make sure that they understand that the animal must never have been fed anything other than pasture for their WHOLE LIFE. If you truly want to make a difference to your health and the health of the planet, you can’t cheat. 

Put simply – pasture fed should always mean, ONLY pasture fed. 

  • Old Hall Farm is home to the acclaimed Jersey Goddesses as well as Bruce the Emu. Their farm shop is open seven days a week. Watch this space for courses and tours later in the year. For more information visit www.oldhallfarm.co.uk
  • Old Hall Farm have shared their recipe for the ultimate Old Hall Farm roast beef.
    Do let us know if you try it and don’t forget to share you photos on social media @eatnourishdrink

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