Awakening to the spirit and beauty of the northern Great Plains
Sunday, March 15, 2009
To Make a Prairie--Part II, Grass-fed Beef
In the book I say a little about grass-fed beef and the role it can play in restoring grassland. A couple of years ago I asked Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Brenda Dale what consumers can do to help grassland birds and her answer was simple: buy grass-fed beef.
"If even 10% of people made the change to grass-fed beef it would make a big difference. There would have to become more grass out there in order to raise beef entirely on grass and that would be a change driven by consumers that could greatly benefit grassland birds."
Grass-fed beef, however, is not on the menu of most restaurants and you won’t find it at Safeway or Superstore. Virtually all of the meat and dairy products available at our supermarkets come from animals that have been fed a lot of grain. Even animals that graze in native grassland for their first year or two of life end up being "finished" with several months of intensive grain feeding at a large feedlot.
When it comes to ecological costs, of course nothing can pile it deeper and higher than a large industrial feedlot. With cattlemen now feeling the pinch of rising grain costs, though, conditions are ideal for them to see the virtues of finishing their animals on grass. But they will need some help. Policy-makers, political leaders and consumers have an opportunity to put grass-fed beef on the market and find new common ground between economics and ecology in grassland. One possibility would be a ten-cent per kilogram tax shelter for grass-fed beef from producers who have passed a certification process.
Creating an economic basis for habitat protection and restoration is only part of the value of grass-fed beef. In my next posting I will talk about the role grass-fed beef can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, here is a link to a web page that lists several Alberta and Saskatchewan grass-fed beef producers. I encourage people to try the grass-fed beef source nearest where they live. We have bought beef from Leonard and Janet Piggott of Triple-H Beef who are listed on this page too.