Can't view this newsletter? Click here to view it online.

Share this newsletter:

Facebook Twitter More...

Put Spring into Your Step
with Ontario Beef!

Most of us associate March with the beginning of spring; meaning warmer weather, green buds appearing on trees, and starting up the barbeque. For Registered Dietitians, March is also when we celebrate Nutrition Month! One of the themes of Nutrition Month this year is separating fact from fiction, and what better way to do that then by tackling one of the most common myths surrounding Ontario beef!

Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed Beef. What’s the difference?

Beef cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pasture in the summer or as hay, forages or silage during the winter. The terms “grass-fed” and “grain-fed” refer to how the cattle are “finished”, or fed for the last three to four months before they go to market. Cattle are often finished on a grain-based diet to produce marbling and improve beef tenderness. This feeding method can also be more efficient, allowing animals to reach their market weight more quickly.

One of the most common myths concerning beef is that grass-fed beef is more nutritious than grain-fed beef. This misconception primarily comes from the fact that grass fed beef has approximately two to four fewer grams of fat per 100 grams of meat than grain-fed beef. While grass and grain-fed beef have similar amounts of iron and zinc, grass-fed beef is slightly higher in some micronutrients such as B vitamins, calcium, and potassium. However, when considering the impact of grass versus grain-fed beef on the nutritional value of total diet, the difference between the two is negligible. Both grass and grain-fed beef are excellent sources of nutrients such as protein, iron, and zinc, and the nutritional differences between the two are small. Therefore, there is no significant difference in the nutritional quality of grass and grain-fed beef.

Sally Smith-Pelleboer Interviewed by Dietician Intern Rachel

Growing up on a beef farm in Lambton county, Sally Smith-Pelleboer has always had a passion for agriculture. She, her husband Gerrit, and their three children now operate Sonneberg Dairy Ltd. just outside Springford in Oxford County. Their primary operation is a 360 head dairy farm, but Sally also operates a cow-calf beef herd, between 30 and 35 cows. In addition to farming and raising her three children, Sally is the Secretary for the Oxford Cattleman’s Association and a Pioneer Sales Representative.

To highlight the intersection between agriculture and nutrition, Sally agreed to talk with me about some of the misconceptions and concerns regarding beef farming that Registered Dietitians hear about most when talking with clients and patients.

What do you think the biggest consumer misconception is about the impact of beef farming on the environment?

In the media, beef production has been associated with methane gas production, which has led many people to think that beef farming has a negative impact on the environment. What some don’t realize is that cattle production contributes to a healthy environment. Pasturelands where cattle are raised actually remove greenhouse gases from the air and stores them in the soil. Another factor that many people don’t know is that not all farmland is appropriate for growing crops. On our beef farm for example, some of the land is very hilly and has a stream running through it. We use part of that area for our cattle to graze on, which is more beneficial for the environment than not using the land at all.

Many Registered Dietitians hear from clients that they don’t eat beef because they think it has antibiotics in it that have an impact on human health. Can you tell me about how you use antibiotics as a beef farmer?

As a cow-calf operation, we don’t use any antibiotics for growth on our farm. We only use them when an animal is sick or injured. After a beef animal has been given antibiotics, there is a withdrawal period where the animal can’t be taken to market or processed. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also tests beef to ensure that no antibiotic residues enter the food chain. Not treating a sick animal would be allowing it to suffer, so of course we would use antibiotics if they were needed in that situation, but we also don’t want to use antibiotics when we don’t need to, as they can be expensive!

What about animal care?

We take animal care very seriously on our farm. Beef farmers follow the guidelines provided by various programs, for example the National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice, ensuring that all livestock are treated properly. Our cattle are sheltered in the winter and have a large pasture to access in the warmer months. Some may think that calves are taken away from their mothers at a very young age, but on a beef operation, this isn’t the case. Our calves stay with their mothers until they are weaned at a weight of 650 pounds, or about 7 months old.

It’s clear that there are a lot of misconceptions about farming! What do you think we need to do to change the public perception of agriculture and ensure consumers are getting accurate information?

I think we need a more modern approach to ensuring consumers have accurate information about their food and where it is coming from. Transparency alone is not enough. Social media is something that works against farmers a lot of the time, but I think it could just as easily work for us. We need to find a way to make our messages easy-to access and exciting to really resonate with consumers.

Are there any challenges specific to being a woman in farming?

I think there are challenges for everyone in farming, not just women. I grew up on a farm with three sisters, and we were encouraged to follow our dreams in life, with no limitations based on gender. As a female farmer, I find that my husband and I work together as a team. We both bring different strengths to farming, but are equally important, and should be appreciated in the same way.

Thanks Sally!