Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Grass-fed Beef: Is It Safer?


Eye fillet of grass-fed beef.

Image via Wikipedia

Grass-fed beef comes from cattle that eat only grass and other foraged foods. Usually, beef and dairy cows eat a diet of processed grain, such as corn.  There has been an increased interest in grass-fed or pastured beef because of its health claims when compared to cattle from commercial feedlots.  Grass-fed beef may have some heart-health benefits that other types of beef don’t have. When compared with other types of beef, grass-fed beef may have:

  • Less total fat
  • Higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
  • Higher levels of another type of fat (conjugated linoleic acid) that’s thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks
  • Lower levels of a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria

Due to the almost continuous news of recalls of beef contaminated with a dangerous strain of E. coli 0157:H7 or often just called O157 bacteria, grass-fed beef purveyors have often promoted the idea of safer beef than conventionally-grown or grain-fed beef.  What does the science say?

Work conducted at Cornell University by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez in the late 1990s showed that cattle that were fed hay had far fewer E. coli concentrations than when they were fed a standard feedlot diet based on grain. (Microbes Infect 2, No. 1 (2000): 45-53.)  However, earlier studies did not look at the levels of the dangerous strain 0157 apart from other strains

The researchers hypothesized that when grain is fed to cattle, their digestive tracts become more acidic.  Over time, the E. coli in their intestines become resistant to this acid environment.  When we ingest them, a high percentage will survive the high acid content of our digestive juices and increase the risk of E. coli food poisoning.  Theoretically few E. coli from grass-fed cattle will survive because they have not become acid-resistant.

Since this original work, other researchers have explored the link between cattle feed and E. coli with more attention paid to the presence of 0157:H7.  Some have confirmed the work by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez but the majority has disputed the finding.  For example, in 2003, at the University of Idaho, a study found no difference in the levels of E. coli 0157:H7 in grass-fed and grain-fed.  In both cases, acid resistance was high.  Other studies have come to the same conclusion.

Grass-fed growers point out that even if there is not much evidence that diet can affect the number and acidity of E. coli in the intestines of cattle, grass-fed beef may be safer in the long run than feedlot beef.  Simply, grass-fed cattle are cleaner at time of slaughter.

Feedlot animals often stand all day in dirt and manure and careless and dangerous practices in the slaughterhouses increases the risk of manure contamination of the meat.  For a graphic depiction of slaughterhouse practices, read “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser. A cleaner animal upon entering the facility will lessen this possibility.  In the magazine Meat Marketing and Technology, the associate editor stated: “pasture-raised animals are much easier to clean because they come form smaller herds raised in relatively cleaner pastures.”

From the webpage:

“It (grass-fed) is usually processed in a small local meat processing operation by skilled butchers who are careful to avoid fecal contamination of the beef.  When you buy grass fed ground beef from a reputable local farmer, you can be assured it is not “frankenbeef.”  In fact, the ground beef probably came from one cow.  Rest assured, it was processed from quality, uncontaminated ingredients.”

In 2009, there were 4,643 cases of Shiga-toxin producing 0157:H7 E. coli illnesses; In 2010, the number rose to 4, 757.  Fortunately there were few deaths, but this strain can cause a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) often with lasting kidney damage for a lifetime.

Choosing whether to buy grass-fed or grain-fed beef is a personal decision based on taste, price, ethical and environmental issues.  Some grass-fed beef purveyors will say that it is OK to consume the beef raw as in steak tartar, for example based on the myth of less E. coli contamination.  If you choose grass-fed beef it is important to realize that you should practice all the safe-handling techniques recommended for grain-fed beef based on the current scientific evidence.

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15 thoughts on “Grass-fed Beef: Is It Safer?

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  8. “some pathogens can be killers or cause debilitating complications and should be regarded with caution.”

    I have yet to discover an example where such a verdict is unequivocal; although I find no shortage of scenarios where possible industrial chemicals, pharmaceutical compounds, mass vaccinations or other form of poisoning (lead, coal, etc.) can easily be factored into the outcomes of severe complications or death rates.

    Can you point to an example that is unequivocal?

    Highest Regards,


  9. William:
    Thanks for the interesting information and references. I am familiar with the hygiene hypothesis. However, some pathogens can be killers or cause debilitating complications and should be regarded with caution.


  10. Hello and thank you for your reply.

    Testing is not rigorous in cases of so-called food-borne illness. Medical field personal do not test for synthetic compounds or poisoning from toxic residues. They test for a small scope of microcosmic living agents.

    Bacterium are not indiscriminately destructive. They are janitorial in nature and target degenerated cellular tissue.

    In cases of poisoning from non-microbial related sources (i.e. synthetic compounds, chemical residues) microbes will always be dis-covered. Microbes manifest as decomposition agents. Thus, there is no shortage of scapegoats for the monolithic industrial medical complex.

    “From what I know, these pathogens are evolving and were not very prevalent at all a few decades ago.”

    A business is being run. It is fine-tuned and stream-lined.

    Pasteur was profit. Bechamp, sober reality.

    Causation does not equal correlation. Putting the cart before the horse is easy and has been done, again and again. Decade after decade. If we were true scientists seeking causative factors, we would be rigorous in our research to pinpoint causative agents attributed to negative reactions in humans consuming foods of commerce.

    A reported 50 deaths and thousands ill from e. coli? A “rare” strain of e. coli was discovered in seeds shipped here, there and everywhere. Were the seeds tested for industrial waste? Where had they been? Quick conclusions without thorough investigation support the noose of tighter food regulation and control. In the name of safety, all food would eventually be irradiated, bleached, x-rayed and pasteurized prior to human consumption.

    The rabbiting gods of conventional conditioning do not lead us to realms of clarity. Colleges regurgitate popular curriculum en masse. Mainstream captivates, but it doesn’t quench.

    Similarly, should we believe that there is an ongoing war against cancer and that cancer is ruthlessly cutting down the hordes of helpless human victims? Shall we trust “experts” trained by those worshiping the control-motive of dis-ease?


    …shall we investigate the true processes of cancer?

    Perhaps we would soon recognize that cancer isn’t the vile, nightmarish and unstoppable creature we have been conditioned to believe? We may in fact begin to see through haze to pierce the underlying mythology.

    Could we see the mountains of dead, drenched to the heavens in radiation and chemical “therapies”? Would we be wise enough to understand that fibrous tissue (tumor) is an organism’s means of protecting healthy viable tissue from dead cells and synthetic compounds which could not be excreted and eliminated? Would we see that cancer cells are simply live, young mutated cells which act as dissolution compounds and are created by the human body itself as a method of dissolving deleterious cellular terrain?


    would we remain fear-soaked, frozen, cold and shivering in the clutches of our great domesticators with their brilliant mythologies, foisted upon the non-investigative masses.

    What is a virus? Are they alive? Do they infiltrate host-cells and indiscriminately target and dissolve healthy tissue? What of all those who have dormant blueprints of virus? Should we answer and investigate such questions or shall we swallow happily and joyfully the theory which has been force-fed?

    We each have choices. We can accept the oxy-moronic circus of “health-care” or develop and cultivate capacities to confidently sit and look upon the natural world in which human organisms exist. Understand all inherent bodily processes beyond the scope of temporary opinions of the day. The ephemeral and transient are simply that.

    Nature remains, uninhibited. Stark. Real. True.

    Here are a few studies which may be of interest to you that haven’t hit the popular mainstream shelves:

    “Bacterial targeting of tumours is an important anti-cancer strategy” [“Role of nitric oxide in Salmonella typhimurium-mediated cancer cell killing”. BMC Cancer. 2010 Apr 17;10:146.

    “Spontaneous regression of tumors in patients with concurrent bacterial infections was described for the first time over 300 years ago[1]. Two centuries later, it was William Coley who developed pioneering work on a treatment strategy using bacteria. He applied—with remarkable results—a combination of Streptococcus pyogenes and Serratia marcescens to patients suffering from inoperable tumors[2,3]. With the emergence of modern chemotherapy, bacteriological therapy of cancer fell more and more into oblivion. However, in 1976 Morales et al[4] reintroduced the principle into the clinic with the development of a treatment regimen for superficial bladder cancer using bacillus Calmette-Guerin. Remarkably, this therapy is still in use today” [“Bacteriolytic therapy of experimental pancreatic carcinoma”. World J Gastroenterol. 2010 July 28; 16(28): 3546-3552.

    “The use of bacteria for anticancer purposes was first attempted over 100 years ago. Recently, several strains of Salmonella have been shown to possess anticancer activity and, interestingly, Salmonella possesses a unique propensity to track to tumour tissue in vivo. This review presents the use of Salmonella for cancer immunotherapy, including the distinguishing characteristics of this organism and preclinical as well as clinical data” [“Cancer immunotherapy based on the killing of Salmonella typhimurium-infected tumour cells”. Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2005 Apr;5(4):443-9.

    Toxin-producing strains of E. coli cause destruction of cancer cells [“Verotoxin induces rapid elimination of human renal tumor xenografts in SCID mice”. J Urol. 2004 Mar;171(3):1309-13.

    “When spores of the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium novyi-NT are systemically injected into animals, they germinate exclusively within the hypoxic [low-oxygen] regions of cancers. The germinated bacteria destroy adjacent tumor cells but spare a rim of well oxygenated tumor cells that subsequently expand. Surprisingly, we found that approximately 30% of mice treated with such spores were cured of their cancers despite the viable tumor rim initially remaining after spore germination. The mechanism underlying this effect was shown to be immune-mediated, because cured animals rejected a subsequent challenge of the same tumor. Similar effects were observed in rabbits with intrahepatic tumors. It was particularly notable that the induced immune response, when combined with the bacteriolytic effects of C. novyi-NT, could eradicate large established tumors” [Bacteriolytic therapy can generate a potent immune response against experimental tumors”. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Oct 19;101(42):15172-7.

    “In the work described here we attempted to exploit the fact that necrotic regions exist only within tumors and not in normal tissues. We wished to develop a toxic agent that could be specifically delivered to these areas and, in theory, could kill surrounding viable tumor cells. We chose to investigate anaerobic bacteria for this purpose. It has been recognized for half a century that such bacteria could selectively proliferate in the hypoxic regions of tumors (3-18)” [“Combination bacteriolytic therapy for the treatment of experimental tumors”. Epub 2001 Nov 27.

    Bacteria are so efficient at targeting tumors that they’re being specifically developed in the laboratory for the purpose [“Tumor-targeting amino acid auxotrophic Salmonella typhimurium”. Amino Acids. 2009 Sep;37(3):509-21.

    Apart from solid tumors, and as to blood cancer, daycare attendance, a surrogate marker of more exposure to infectious agents, is associated with lower risk of leukemia [“Daycare attendance and risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia”. Br J Cancer. 2002 May 6;86(9):1419-24. [“Infections in early life and risk of childhood ALL [acute lymphoblastic leukemia]”. Br J Cancer. 2009 Mar 10;100(5):863.Br J Cancer. 2009 Mar 10;100(5):863.

    It’s not natural foods and germs that are menacing humans. “[S]everal occupations may increase the risk of acute leukemia, particularly occupations related to petroleum products, rubber, nuclear energy, munitions, plastics, and electronics manufacturing. Differences were noted according to histological type. Other occupations and hobbies were not clearly associated with risk” [“Occupation, hobbies, and acute leukemia in adults”. Leuk Res. 2005 Oct;29(10):1117-30.

    “Immunoregulation of CNS autoimmunity by helminth and mycobacterial infections”. Immunol Lett. 2002 Jun 3;82(1-2):101-10.

    “Mycobacteria and other environmental organisms as immunomodulators for immunoregulatory disorders”. Springer Semin Immunopathol. 2004 Feb;25(3-4):237-55.

    “Mycobacteria-induced suppression of autoimmunity in the central nervous system”. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2010 Jun;5(2):210-9.

    In 1998 it was remarked, “Social critics sometimes proclaim that microbes seem to have supplanted the Soviets as a dire threat to the American way of life. Headlines trumpet the perils of flesheating bacteria and the deadly bugs lurking in raw hamburger. Although the U.S. won the cold war, some new evidence suggests that unless we learn to live with them, the bugs may win the battle in the hot zone” [“The E. coli are coming”. Sci Am. 1998 Nov;279(5):29.

    “Medical bioremediation: Prospects for the application of microbial catabolic diversity to aging and several major age-related diseases”. Ageing Res Rev. 2005 Aug;4(3):315-38.

    “Engineering away lysosomal junk: Medical bioremediation”. Rejuvenation Res. 2007 Sep;10(3):359-65.

    “Bioremediation meets biomedicine: Therapeutic translation of microbial catabolism to the lysosome”. Trends Biotechnol. 2002 Nov;20(11):452-5.

    “Appropriating microbial catabolism: A proposal to treat and prevent neurodegeneration”. Neurobiol Aging. 2006 Apr;27(4):589-95.

    “Helminthic therapy: Using worms to treat immune-mediated disease”. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009;666:157-66.

    “Helminths and the IBD hygiene hypothesis”. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2009 Jan;15(1):128-33.

    “The hygiene hypothesis and the increasing prevalence of chronic inflammatory disorders”. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2007 Nov;101(11):1072-4.

    “Mechanisms of disease: The hygiene hypothesis revisited”. Nat Clin Pract Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006 May;3(5):275-84.

    Thank you for posting your article and engaging discussion.

    Highest Regards,


  11. William:
    Your comment is certainly food for thought and interesting. Glad to hear of your health turnaround. Eating raw meat has been practiced in many cultures for centuries, e.g. raw fish in Japan, steak tartar (French), carpaccio in Italy. From what I have read, there are precautions regarding eating raw meat, however. Raw meat advocates recommend eating organic meat and freezing the meat for 14 days prior to eating. This can kill parasites, but not the bacteria. Unfortunately, the fact remains that the more lethal and virulent pathogens have entered our food supply, causing many illnesses and deaths (lately 50 deaths in Germany from E. coli 0145:H4) not from meat but from some form of sprouts. From what I know, these pathogens are evolving and were not very prevalent at all a few decades ago.
    I wonder if the risk is worth it.


  12. I consume raw meat every day of my life. Chicken, beef, fish, you name it.

    I haven’t ingested cooked meat in over 5 years. Prior to embarking on this way of eating, 5 years ago, I was near death at 88lbs. 5’11. Now I’m 175 and digestion is phenomenal. My degree of current health is apparent. Many times I’ve left meat out at room temperature for great lengths of time. Full of bacteria and mold. Consumption of such only enhances well-being and functionality.

    Bacteria, parasites, mold, fungi feed on degenerative tissue and cellular waste. We see vomit or diarrhea and immediately flood people with antibiotics, not understanding the methods and modes of elimination that the human organism resorts to in order to eliminate deleterious substances. So-called “pathogenic” microbes are janitorial in nature. Anyone with an intent for serious, non-speculative study will gather copious evidence to support this conclusion.

    Synthetic compounds (such as antibiotics) destroy cellular tissue enmasse. When this happens and kidneys fail, guess what’s ousted as the causative factor? That’s correct, E. Coli. The big bad mythical villain (along w/ infinite other strains of bacterium living symbiotically within the human microcosm, i.e. salmonella, listeria, etc.). They are the perpetual scapegoat for the dominating industries of the day, because they will always be dis-covered in abundance. They are ubiquitous.

    There is never thorough testing for synthetic chemical exposure, nor will there ever be.

    In opposition to the standard practice of chemical inundation within medical asylums; universities are now injecting e. coli (and various byproducts from such) into fibrous tissue (tumors) and inducing rapid shrinkage. Beneficial Salmonella studies have been conducted for decades.

    Mainstream and popularly-accepted microbiology lags pitifully behind. It’s turned into a game of unwavering regurgitation.

    Food for thought. Literally.



  13. Pingback: Here’s the Beef « doctorfoodtruth

  14. Pingback: Top 7 Supermarket Foods to Avoid « Ignorance is Bliss

  15. Thanks for the link! Great post on food safety.


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