Excerpt from interview with Dr. Jonny Bowden
Q: I was in the organic store the other day and they were trumpeting how ground beef in the grocery store usually has the DNA of 1,000 different cows in it, while farm-raised organic stuff is often from one cow. Should I care?
A: You should care very much, but probably for slightly different reasons.
Ground beef in the grocery store inevitably comes from what we call "feedlot farms." These places are basically factories, and they bear as much resemblance to the old country farms of our childhood as a cheap Casio keyboard does to a handmade Steinway grand piano.
Cows on these "farms" are production machines for meat and milk. They're fed grain, which isn't their natural diet, and which causes great acidity in their systems. This produces "meat product" that's very high in inflammatory omega-6's and woefully lacking in omega-3's.
They're kept in confined pens and fed antibiotics to prevent the sickness that inevitably arises from the close quarters. They're fed steroids and "bovine growth hormone" to help fatten them up. Then they're "processed." Whether the end product — the meat that winds up on your plate — has the DNA of 1,000 cows in it or not, it's not something you should be eating.
Grass-fed meat is a whole different ballgame. Cows were meant to graze on pasture —their natural diet is grass, and when they roam on pasture and graze on grass their meat is higher in omega-3's and CLA (conjugated linolenic acid), an important fat that has anti-cancer activity and may also help reduce abdominal fat. Since the cattle aren't in confined quarters and they're not eating primarily grains, they don't get sick as much and aren't fed massive quantities of antibiotics.
Now, "organic" meat is somewhere in between the two extremes. It usually means the cows were fed organic grain, which is only a minor improvement since cows shouldn't be eating a diet of grain in the first place.
While the perception is that organically raised meat is better than non-organic meat, it's still not nearly as good as grass-fed (pasture raised). Sometimes grass-fed meat is also organic, but some very conscientious farmers who raise real, healthy, pasture-grazing cows don't meet some obscure government standard for organic so they're not able to say their meat is "organic."
I wouldn't worry about it. Given a choice, I'd go with grass-fed over organic every time, though in the best of all worlds, you'd get both.
For what it's worth, every study you've ever seen that talks about the bad health consequences of meat eating is looking at people who eat highly processed meat from factory farms. It would be very interesting to see if there are the same negative consequences to eating a diet of grass-fed (organic) beef with plenty of vegetables to balance it out.
No study like that has ever been done, but my hunch is that if people ate that way, the so-called "negative" health effects ascribed to eating meat would disappear.