I only buy local grass-fed meat

People often say this because they believe that grass-fed is better for the environment, for the animals and/or for their health. But is that true?

In terms of the environment, eating local is a good idea as it reduces emissions, but this is not the only factor at play, and research done by Oxford University found that almost all plant foods were better for the planet than almost all animal foods, and that red meat, and beef in particular, are the most environmentally damaging products of all.1 So, we should not assume that ‘local’ means ‘environmentally friendly’. But it also may not even mean ‘local’. According to a 2019 Bloomberg report, 76-80 percent of grass-fed beef labeled as American is actually imported from the other side of the world.2

In terms of the animals, is grass-fed better than grain-fed? Well, that depends. Calling beef ‘grass-fed’ doesn’t require an on-farm inspection or even mandate that animals live freely on a pasture. Some ‘grass-fed’ beef comes from cattle raised in feedlots, where they are confined in pens and fed grass pellets.3 And all grass-fed animals end their days trucked to the same horrifying slaughterhouses as grain-fed animals, so it isn’t exactly animal-friendly either.

And as for health, all processed meat is classed as carcinogenic and unprocessed red meat as ‘probably carcinogenic’ by the World Health Organization,4 so you’d be wise to avoid it altogether. But on the question specifically of grass-fed or grain-fed being healthier, research suggests that any difference is marginal.5

Besides, does anyone really only eat grass-fed meat? Do they never eat chicken? Billions of birds are raised in the US every year and their feed consists of grains and crops, including soy that comes from deforested areas of the world. Do they never eat at a friend’s house or in a restaurant or when they are on holiday? Do they never pick up a sandwich when they are in a rush? And if so, do they always check that the meat is from animals who spent their lives outdoors grazing in an area local to them?

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