While the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association is glad to see A&W committing to sourcing all of their beef from Canadian farms and ranches, the decision to source only grassfed beef raises concerns with both the reasoning for the choice and how A&W will promote it to consumers.
“While we like to see A&W supporting Canadian producers, we want to ensure consumers recognize that grain-finished beef is just as nutritious and, actually, more environmentally beneficial than grassfed,” says Greg Schmidt, Chair of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association.
Both grassfed and grainfed production methods are used in Canada to raise beef in a sustainable, environmentally responsible manner. However, grain finished beef requires significantly fewer resources and has a lower environmental impact than its grassfed counterpart, without sacrificing any nutritional value.
Approximately 98% of beef consumed in Canada is grain-fed (typically corn or barley) for finishing; however, all beef begins raised on its mother’s milk then transitions to grazing on grass. Beef cattle then feed on hay, silage, or other forage as it is impossible to grow cattle on fresh grass year-round in Canada’s climate. After summer pasture, the majority of cattle are transferred to feedlots for 60 – 200 days, where the focus is on efficient growth and production.
Cattle raised on diets supplemented with grain actually produce significantly fewer GHG emissions than grassfed only cattle.
Researchers from Washington State University, University of California- Davis, University of New South Wales (Australia), and the Hudson Institute Center for Global Food Issues found that pound-for-pound, beef produced with grain emit significantly less GHG than grass-fed beef. A grain diet is more easily digestible than the cellulose fibers of grass, producing less methane.
Grassfed cattle also take significantly longer to reach slaughter weights and, in that time, produce more methane than grain-fed cattle in feedlots.
With less time on feed before slaughter, grainfed cattle are also consuming less water.
That cumulatively leads to a situation where a grass-finished animal will have about 25 to 30% more carbon emissions associated with it than a grain-finished animal.
In addition, grass-fed cattle require more than five acres to produce a pound of beef, while less than 1.7 acres are needed in a grain-fed feedlot system, conserving a significant amount of land dedicated to producing beef.