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What to do when there's only grain-fed beef in your country?

by (1655)
Updated September 16, 2014 at 7:36 PM
Created January 14, 2012 at 6:24 PM

Yes, I know that we should have grass-fed, not grain-fed, beef.

But lets assume that we can't reasonable get any access to grass-fed beef. For example, here (in Argentina), 80% of the beef is grain-fed AND there is no labeling nor differentiation between grain-fed and grass-fed. So you never know if you're eating grain or grass-fed beef, but it's probably grain-fed. We use some shorthands and proxies to try to guess (how yellow is the fat; how expensive is it; etc) but they are not especially accurate and fundamentally, in Argentina, you really never know if it's grass or grain fed. So I would guess that the vast majority of meat I eat is, unfortunately, grain-fed, no matter how much I try.

So I'm wondering: how bad is this?

In other words, lets assume that all the beef available is grain-fed. With that assumption: is it worse to eat a lot of grain-fed beef -- or no beef at all? Should I then only eat limited quantities of (this grain-fed) beef and just have lots of other paleo-ish foods instead? Or...?

How do I survive as paleo in a world of only grain-fed beef! Please help! :)

CLARIFICATION: since many of you expressed surprise at my stats above, I want to clarify: I know the grass-fed rancher community here quite well, and this issue is publicized here all the time. Basically, 15 years ago, it was 90+% grass-fed; today it is about 20% grass-fed. The information in wikipedia is just outdated (I remember about 6 years ago, everyone was talking about how it is 50% grass-fed) -- over the last decade, Argentina has adopted many of the modern American methods, unfortunately. Note that the 20% who are resistant to it are quite strong and building up a "traditional argentine" beef culture, the good restaurants only serve grass-fed, and I'm helping start-up an initiative to label the grass-fed beef, etc...

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20 · January 15, 2012 at 7:07 PM

I've been wondering the exact same thing as I, too, am paleo in Argentina. I was dismayed to find out that the majority of beef here is in fact grain-fed, and that my butcher couldn't help us out much. Saludos!

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1655 · January 15, 2012 at 6:13 PM

I just amended my answer to add a clarification; in short, that was true historically, as recently as a decade ago, but over the last decade, the modern grain methods have been fast adopted here. See my clarification above for more details.

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18635 · January 15, 2012 at 4:06 AM

Go bulk and pay about the same for the steaks and roast as you would the ground beef....

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41297 · January 14, 2012 at 7:36 PM

Grain-fed does not necessarily mean CAFO.

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24271 · January 14, 2012 at 7:32 PM

I know of at least two "high end" grocery stores around here that sell Argentinian grass-fed beef and I had always heard that grass-fed was big in this region so I'm surprised at Morgan's experience. Who knows?

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2913 · January 14, 2012 at 7:27 PM

Unfortunately, we seem to be the best at it too :( ... Combination of available land space and government subsidized corn and easily circumvented environmental regulations ...

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1801 · January 14, 2012 at 7:21 PM

I thought most of South Anerica were grassfed too. I know that Britain & the USA import grass fed beef from South America (it's a big area though...). CAFOs seem to be an American (states) thing at the moment.

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2485 · January 14, 2012 at 7:05 PM

If I were on a budget, I'd mostly be eating conventional beef, fatty wild fish (including plenty of cheap canned salmon & sardines) and pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs. And fruits & veggies in season and cheap. With a little more money, I'd replace half of the conventional beef with ground grass fed beef, buffalo or game... ground meat being much, much cheaper than steaks or roasts.

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2913 · January 14, 2012 at 6:50 PM

It really depends on how rigidly you want to enforce "paleo" in your life ...

Whole9, Perfect Health Diet (and I assume several of the other variations) understand that not everyone can get hold of or afford high quality grass fed beef. Whole9's fallback follows one of Michael Pollan's food rules: "Pay more, eat less." Find the highest quality pastured meat you can afford, if you can't get any pastured meat, get the highest quality meat you can afford and remember to get your coconut oil and enough Omega 3 fats to offset the higher level of Omega 6 fats -- in other words, eat more fish (which, again, is dependent on availability).

Whole9 lays out their shopping guidelines for people trying to make their dollar stretch:

http://whole9life.com/2011/01/paleo-poor-your-guide-to-the-grocery-store/

Edit: and Whole9 also has a conscientious seafood buying guide:

http://whole9life.com/2010/12/the-conscientious-omnivore-from-the-sea/

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10 · January 14, 2012 at 6:43 PM

I'm wondering the same as buying grass-fed is expensive and I'm living within a budget at the moment. Any advice would be greatly appreciated here too!

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18635 · January 15, 2012 at 4:06 AM

Go bulk and pay about the same for the steaks and roast as you would the ground beef....

35ba1f50dad25c85ac1aa2599fe5c5cb
2485 · January 14, 2012 at 7:05 PM

If I were on a budget, I'd mostly be eating conventional beef, fatty wild fish (including plenty of cheap canned salmon & sardines) and pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs. And fruits & veggies in season and cheap. With a little more money, I'd replace half of the conventional beef with ground grass fed beef, buffalo or game... ground meat being much, much cheaper than steaks or roasts.

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24271 · January 14, 2012 at 6:42 PM

I was under the impression that most Argentinian beef was grass-fed so I am very surprised to hear the exact opposite from a local. (I just checked Wikipedia and it states clearly that most beef is grass-fed? (Interesting disconnect? I believe what you are experiencing Morgan but I'm wondering what's going on? Are you isolated in a small town perhaps?)

I would try to connect to the "whole foods" movement locally and try to buy directly from the farmer or as directly as possible. I think avoiding CAFO meat is a must (assuming they have CAFO there). After that I would just keep trying to get as close to the farmer as you can so you can actually know what the farm practices are and don't need to rely on a label.

For myself I would eat grain fed beef if I was assured it was not factory farmed but I would cut back on my intake some probably in favor of more fatty fish.

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1655 · January 15, 2012 at 6:13 PM

I just amended my answer to add a clarification; in short, that was true historically, as recently as a decade ago, but over the last decade, the modern grain methods have been fast adopted here. See my clarification above for more details.

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41297 · January 14, 2012 at 7:36 PM

Grain-fed does not necessarily mean CAFO.

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24271 · January 14, 2012 at 7:32 PM

I know of at least two "high end" grocery stores around here that sell Argentinian grass-fed beef and I had always heard that grass-fed was big in this region so I'm surprised at Morgan's experience. Who knows?

Thumbnail avatar
2913 · January 14, 2012 at 7:27 PM

Unfortunately, we seem to be the best at it too :( ... Combination of available land space and government subsidized corn and easily circumvented environmental regulations ...

C4134ed417dbc0a6b79ab2cee32632d3
1801 · January 14, 2012 at 7:21 PM

I thought most of South Anerica were grassfed too. I know that Britain & the USA import grass fed beef from South America (it's a big area though...). CAFOs seem to be an American (states) thing at the moment.

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25 · January 15, 2012 at 6:18 PM

In the USA there are various sorts of programs where you can purchase cow shares. Can you go direct to the farmers and purchase a 1/4 cow?

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3125 · January 14, 2012 at 9:21 PM

that crazy, do they raise cows in little boxes? it may be grain finished.

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1191 · January 14, 2012 at 9:00 PM

What to do when there’s only grain-fed beef in your country?

I buy mostly canned fish (Wild salmon, sardines, mackerel) and organic meat if possible. You can try to minimize the damage.

Also when I buy expensive (but of course healthier) food, I just eat a little less than I usually do.

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8255 · January 14, 2012 at 8:27 PM

My suggestion. Eat the beef, cut out and reduce the larger chunks of fat in it. Supplement with healthy oils to offset the bad fats you do consume.

Oh, and I'm surprised the beef is that way there. My recollection (I think from a post here) was that the beef was good, but don't touch the chicken with a 10 foot pole.

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41297 · January 14, 2012 at 7:35 PM

It's not a grass-fed/grain-fed dichotomy. It's a grass-fed to CAFO spectrum. Certainly there are grain-fed cattle out there that aren't CAFO beef, these grain-fed cattle are arguably healthier than some grass-fed counterparts. The problem isn't grain per se, it's a diet that is made up of a majority of grain.

I'm sure you can find ethically, humanly and naturally raised beef, even if it is fed some healthy amount of grain.

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6087 · January 14, 2012 at 7:32 PM

Eat it .

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2936 · January 14, 2012 at 7:23 PM

I thought any good fish oil supplements were good enough. Or a can of sardines every day. A serving of mackerel. It doesn't take much.

I'm on a grain-fed meat diet, supplemented like that. It's a problem with my county, not my country. I see grass-fed beef on the store shelves, but it's triple the price, I never buy it.

I ain't dead yet.

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37177 · January 14, 2012 at 7:11 PM

Dr Kurt Harris recommends using fermented cod liver oil when ingesting grain-fed beef.

"Any day I eat corn fed beef, I take a single teaspoon carlson's cod liver oil." from one his replies to comments.

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1250 · January 14, 2012 at 7:05 PM

Eat lean cuts. add fat to taste. ( btw, also from Argentina)

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72 · January 14, 2012 at 7:00 PM

take up hunting

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2485 · January 14, 2012 at 6:56 PM

My understanding, here in the US, all cows are initially raised on grass, then finished for a few months on grain, which is when the fatty acid balance gets deranged. But beef tends to retain quite a bit of omega-3 from when they were young and eating grass... at least compared to poultry & pork.

What I would do is to eat some beef and some fatty wild fish for the higher omega-3 content. Not exactly limited quantities of beef, but I wouldn't be cooking with grain-fed lard or choosing super fatty cuts or anything. And I would limit industrially produced poultry and pork, since both of those are going to have a worse balance than beef or fish.

And to be fair, a lot of people have trouble sourcing or affording exclusively grass-fed... in our house we're maybe 50-50 on beef, we get mostly pastured poultry & eggs and I haven't found a good source for pork yet, so we eat industrial raised pork and just try to limit it. In a dream world it wouldn't be so hard to source clean meats, but you can make smart(er) choices with what you have available.

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