Uruguay, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand are the leading suppliers of grass-fed beef to the US because the demand is too much to maintain with native supplies. The demand for grass-fed beef is growing rapidly that recorded about 30% growth in 2017 with sales figures touching the $272 million mark. The reason for the demand is that consumers are taking more interest in the quality of the product they purchase and to some extent, their concern for animal welfare could be the cause too. This has led to the creation of a niche market that producers are rushing to fill quickly by maintaining cattle in a more pastoral setting.
Apparently, consumers should be happy to see the grass-fed label on beef products like Teriyaki beef jerky; however, for the more concerned and quality conscious consumer, there are reasons to worry about the nutritional value they get from it. After all, it is for quality reasons linked to health that consumers prefer grass-fed beef over grain fed beef, but recently questions are arising about the nutrition available from the grass that the cattle feed upon.
Reasons for concern
To elaborate on the above, one can refer to a recently published article in NPR that highlights the findings of a researcher who found that over the last three decades beginning mid-90s the crude protein level in plants fed to cattle has dropped by almost 20%. It could ring alarm bells for the grass-fed beef market which could soon experience a reverse trend with sliding demand that can happen if consumers believe that they are not getting the expected quality that turned them into fans of grass-fed beef.
According to analysts, although the finding is correct, it relates to a specific region of the US like the Great Plains and the native forages that have experienced loss of protein and energy level of the grass. The impact on the prairies is more pronounced, but it will be wrong to generalize the finding and look upon it as a threat to overall beef production including grass-fed beef. The reason is apparent as stated in the opening sentence of this article – the US receives its bulks supply of grass-fed beef from other countries with the native supply constituting only a small portion of the total demand. The climate in the beef exporting countries helps produce grasses rich in energy and protein that suits the needs of grass-fed beef.
The environment is to blame
One of the reasons why grasses are losing energy and protein is the high carbon dioxide content in the air that is damaging the ecological balance. There is enough proof available that increased carbon dioxide levels result in reduced nutrients in plants like wheat, rice, and potatoes. The impact is on a much larger scale on the prairies that reflected in the results of the research.
As it stands now, there is no reason for grass-fed beef lovers to panic because the resources that supply the meat to the US are still unaffected by the problem.