Where's the HEALTHY Beef?

Short answer: You need to ask for it - but it's available.

I've been on a bit of health kick lately. Recently I found out something that is quite shocking - you're not going to like it - but you need to know. Don't worry - I'll also tell you how to work around the problem:

Short answer: You need to ask for it - but it's available.


This article was originally driven by the idea that Grass-Fed Beef contains much more Omega-3 fatty acid than Grain-Fed Beef. It turns out that the Grass-Fed is indeed much better than the Grain-Fed - but the tone of the article implies that the volume of Omega-3 found in the Grass-Fed is very high when, in fact, it is not so high. The figure quoted in many articles is 60% more than what is found in Grain-Fed Cows - which is arguably not a massive amount. Nevertheless, additional research suggests:

  • We don't need massive amounts of Omega-3 in our diets. The health issues that we face are best served by reducing bad fats and maintaining a balance of good fats in our bodies. Again, please see the references below and search the Health web sites for additional information.
  • There are additional benefits to Grass-Fed Beef that are not referenced in this article. Please check the references at the bottom and Google for additional references.
  • The beef you buy may be fed a mixture of grass and grain. Canadian cows are not always outside due to the weather. The farmer or rancher who is raising them may feed them grains as well as hay while in the barn. This will reduce the level of Omega-3 fatty acids in the meat.

I've been on a bit of health kick lately. Recently I found out something that is quite shocking - you're not going to like it - but you need to know. Don't worry - I'll also tell you how to work around the problem:

Credit: Daniel Schwen via Wikipedia
Remember all those old cowboy movies - how the cows are driven out into the fields so that they can graze on the grass? That's not what happens these days.

The Problem

It turns out that most cows no longer eat grass. Apparently they don't get to roam around the fields anymore, either. It turns out that a cow will fatten-up real quick if you feed him grains but not so quick if you let him walk around eating grass and hay. To get the cows to fatten-up as quickly as possible, the farmers are apparently feeding a grain mixture (mostly corn,) to the cows.

Here's the punch line:

It turns out that grass is full of Omega 3's. If you feed the cows with grass, they produce milk and meat that is rich in Omega 3's. Cows used to be machines that converted sunlight into healthy milk and meat. If you feed grains to the cows - well, grains are mostly carbs and, as with humans, cows store excess sugar in the form of saturated fat. So, grain-fed cows give us milk and beef that is rich in saturated fat - but devoid of Omega 3's. Today cows are machines that convert sugar into fatty milk and meat. This is not good.

Let me put it another way:

Those vegetarians who sound like over-zealous fear-mongers are sort-of right in what they've been saying! The cow milk and beef that was so good for our grandparents has turned into a major source of saturated fat in our diets - essentially a slow-acting poison because we eat so much of it.

It would be great if we ate grass-fed beef and drank grass-fed milk most of the year. We could then enjoy a saturated-fat-filled grain-fed steak on the barbecue from time to time with no ill-effects. But that's not what we're doing - we're eating the bad stuff all the time. Then, when we get into trouble, the doctors tell us to make sure we get some Omega 3's to help solve all the health problems we've got - but Omega 3's are hard to find in our society. So we're stuck trying to find wild fish. Wild fish is hard to find.

Even that wouldn't be so bad if it was just the beef - we could reduce the volume of steak and the number of burgers we eat without having to become vegetarians... The problem is that the milk is equally affected. Think about it: Ice Cream wasn't as bad for you a hundred years ago as it is now. Cheese was good for you a hundred years ago - now it's something you need to eat in limited portions. Even butter was better back then - much better.

One hundred years ago we would have complied with our doctor's order by having a glass of milk. Today it's much harder.

Another sad bit of unwanted info: Apparently the cows walk around dumping their waste but they don't get to go far - so they're walking around on a mound of their own cow pies. At the same time, the grains don't agree with the cows. They've got a stomach acid problem in reaction to all the grains they eat because their stomachs are designed to process grass. It seems that the cows are fighting a losing battle against bad bacteria in their stomachs. Scientists think that this battle, along with the fact that all the cows are walking around on a mound of their own waste (ie: distributing the bad bacteria among themselves,) will hasten the evolution of a strain of bad bacteria that might turn into a serious problem.

The Simple Solution

We need to take action. Let's not wait for anybody to do it for us - after all we're talking about our health here. Let's just do what we need to do right now. Here's how:

Education is the key to fixing this problem. Start by telling your friends: the food we eat today is not the same as the food our grandparents used to eat - and some of the differences need to be (and can be) corrected.

Next, find some Grass-Fed beef!

It turns out that there are quite a few farmers all over the continent who are offering grass-fed beef. If you google "Grass Fed Beef" you will be surprised at the number of pages you get back.

It turns out that there are already quite a few grocery stores that are offering this healthy alternative. This is in response to a market demand that already exists. This is not related to Omega 3's - many people have known for a long time that grass-fed beef is much more lean than grain-fed beef. See, for example, this article from the CBC published in 2002. People have been asking for it not to reverse the ill effects of years of poor diet but rather as part of a generally healthy lifestyle.

All you need to do is ask around for grass-fed beef. If you find some - great, you can enjoy it. A few minutes on Google and I found places here in Montreal where I can get Bison (which is apparently often grass-fed.) I'll speak with my local grocers soon - the price for grass-fed beef at a local grocery store might be as much as double the price of grain-fed - but that's going to change as more and more people come to understand the difference. As demand for the good stuff improves the pricing should start to enjoy the benefits of competition.

Another Solution

If you don't find any grass-fed beef in your area - that's not so bad either. The wholesale price for grass-fed beef seems, from my research so far, not to be very high by comparison with the retail price of regular beef. The implication is that if you make the extra effort to get the good stuff from a wholesale supplier you won't have to pay so much of a premium for it.

Some farms offer direct retail service with no minumum order. Unfortunately many farms don't. Wholesale orders often involve a minimum purchase. One farm here in Quebec advertises a 250lb minimum order on their web site (about 100kg.)

To get the good stuff you might need to get together with your neighbors and place a group order. This doesn't have to be a complicated process. If you look around your neighborhood you will likely find several butcher shops - some big and some small. It shouldn't be too difficult to find one butcher in your area who will collect names of customers until he can justify placing an order for a side of grass-fed beef.

To help the process move forward quickly: start by preparing a small note - half a page - letting people know that you would like to order some lean, Omega 3 rich, grass-fed beef. People can write their names and phone numbers on the other half of the page. Post this on the wall at the butcher shop and watch as people sign-up. When there are enough names on the sheet, the butcher will know that he'll make a profit. He'll sell the cuts from his first order of a carcass of grass-fed beef and take it from there.

Marketing Counts

Keep in mind that the butcher has a business to run. He might feel that his margin is too thin and the volume is too small at first; so don't forget to keep-up the marketing effort: Remind the butcher about the health benefits of lean beef, rich in Omega 3's.

Just keep singing: Healthy customers buy more, no need to search for wild fish to meet your doctors instructions, education and word-of-mouth will improve demand, Omega-3's can help you clean-out your arteries while grain-fed beef clogs them up - all that jazz.

Useful Links

Below are some links that I found through Google. Please look around for grocery stores and farms in your area and let me know when you find them! I'll be happy to keep a list of them so that other people can find them quickly in your area. You can send an email with this important information to: info at montrealfamily dot net.

Laura's Lean Beef Products
1-877-ITS-LEAN (487-5326)
P.O. Box 1399
Ottawa ON K1P 5R4
Available at several Loblaw's outlets in Ontario. From the web site:

At Laura's Lean Beef, we believe it is best to raise cattle the way nature intended. We raise our cattle without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, feeding them a diet of natural grains and grasses.

The way we see it, it's not part of nature's plan to give cattle growth-stimulating hormones that artificially speed up weight gain and improve feed efficiency. Neither is the use of antibiotics, when used to speed growth and compensate for the cramped feedlot conditions in which many cattle are raised. These are a less than ideal approach when you're working with nature to produce food for human beings.

And because we believe healthier beef is leaner beef, we raise breeds of cattle such as Limousin and Charolais, that produce beef that's naturally lower in fat than beef from other breeds.

Since the beginning, Laura's Lean Beef has been committed to sustainable agriculture, a practical and philosophical system of farming and ranching which revolves around the responsible stewardship of land and animals. The goals of sustainable farming management practices are to produce food and fiber in a way which is environmentally sound, economically viable, and humane.

Ferme Borealis, Inc.,
Lynda Tétreault,
236, Chemin Lisgar,
Ulverton, QC J0B 2B0
Cantons de l'est.
(819) 826-2056.
Available in some parts of Quebec and at some shops in Quebec. Check out the menus for Duck and Pie! From an advertisement:

Borealis Farm is a family farm located in the Eastern Township of Quebec. Our Highland beef and bison are exclusively fed with grass and are raised outside all year around. They are grazing and pasturing from spring to autumn. During winter months, the animals are fed with home-grown hay. No grain is supplied (or any kind of grain silage) to the animals. Our farm is organic certified by Bio-Ecocert.

Bison meat is available all year long at the farm and at certain organic food stores in Montreal, Laval, south shore of Montreal, Sherbrooke, Magog, Victoriaville, and Quebec city. On request, delivery to the customer residence can be organised. Highland can be found in a supermarket in St-Bruno or at the farm.

The animals are processed through a certified provincial meat facility. All sizes from whole carcasses to individual cuts are available. Also several kinds of sausages, meat pie, cannellonis, spaghetti meat sauce, dry meat are available at all times.

Morgan Farm
John Bastian
1 Van Horne,
Montreal, Quebec H2T 2J1
Tel.: 819/687-9021
Fax: 819.687.9926
From the Web Site:

We at Morgan Farm work hard to provide you with the highest quality and variety of organic foods.

We believe that organic food should be on top of the list of priorities for every person that wants to live a healthy life. Our external environment is already terribly polluted. By choosing to eat organic produce, you can minimize your intake of any additional pollutants or harmful chemicals.

What is organic food?

Organic food is grown in the most natural way. We do not use chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, growth hormones or antibiotics. We do not push or modify nature’s way of bringing the healthiest food to your table. Farming organic also means that we do not use genetically modified foods or ingredients. Our farm is controlled and certified by O.C.P.P.

How can you buy it?

Initially, we suggest that you visit our farm, which is about an hour and a quarter northwest of Montreal - a real treat for children - young and old.

Once you have seen and enjoyed the wide variety of organic meat and bakery products, you have the choice of visiting us again, or you can join those who simply call in their orders and pick them up from our Montreal warehouse.

Other links of interest

Chowhound A thread from November, 2007; some Montrealers talking about availability of healthy beef and fish in Montreal.
CBC News Article: How has the global food crisis affected you?
CBC News Article: What's your beef?
CBC News Article: Cattle are meant to eat grass: researcher
American Grass-Fed Beef The Health Benefits of Grass Farming
Grass Fed Beef Health Benefits
Eat Wild Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products
Eat Wild Super Healthy Milk
Texas Grass-fed beef.com Omega-3 Fatty Acids
CBC News Test Results