When a scientist says something works, or is better, it’s based on what research has demonstrated, or at least what it has demonstrated up to that point in time. So when the Union of Concerned Scientists says that you can safely claim that grass-fed beef and milk is better than their conventionally raised counterparts, you can take that to the bank.
In a 2006 paper, the Union of Concerned Scientists shared the results of their exhaustive review of all the studies (in English) done on the differences between grass-fed and conventionally produced beef and milk. They found that grass-fed products have different types of fats and lower fat content, making them healthier for consumers.
Fats and What You Can Safely Say About Them
The review focused on information about these fats:
• total fat
• saturated fat
• the omega-3 fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
• conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
Beyond their intrinsic value, the reviewers believed these fats were important to look at because “widespread interest in these substances among health-conscious consumers could help shift American agriculture from conventional to pasture-based feeding systems.”
Results of studies on animals and a few experimental studies show that EPA and DHA reduce the risk of heart attacks and ALA appears to reduce the risk of acute or fatal heart attacks, but other beneficial effects have yet to be shown conclusively. Animal research does show that CLA can have positive effects on heart disease, cancer and the immune system, but no duplicating human studies exist.
Based on the review then, you can safely claim these things about grass-fed beef and milk:
• Steak and ground beef from grass-fed cattle can be labeled “lean” or “extra lean.”
• Some steak from grass-fed cattle can be labeled “lower in total fat” than steak from conventionally raised cattle.
• Steak from grass-fed cattle can carry the health claim that foods low in total fat may reduce the risk of cancer.
• Steak and ground beef from grass-fed cattle can carry the “qualified” health claim that foods containing the omega-3 fatty acids EPA or DHA may reduce the risk of heart disease.
In the future, after further research, the Union notes that agrass-fed beef might be labeled as a good source of EPA/DHA. Grass-fed milk could be labeled as a good source of ALA.
The review also looked at the difference between environmental impacts of conventionally- and pasture-raised beef and milk. We’ll be sharing those results next week. Or, you can jump ahead and read the report on your own by downloading it. Or just check out the summary here.