Using Grass-Fed Meat in Pet Foods is Not Good for the Planet

Ken Tudor, DVM
Updated: July 19, 2014
Published: May 25, 2014
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The demand for diet ingredients that mimic a past, idyllic manner of livestock production is increasing dramatically. It is thought that these production methods are less intense and healthier and will result in meat products that are safer.

Not only are pet owners choosing grass-fed meats for themselves, they are also insisting that grass-fed alternatives be used in commercial and homemade pet diets. In fact, grass-fed meat increases the environmental carbon footprint of meat and is not a long term, sustainable alternative.

Proposed Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Meat

Indeed, grass-fed meats tend to be leaner and by extension are presumed to be healthier. But total fat control of the diet is more important than the fat content of one ingredient.

It is also assumed that meat produced this way contains fewer drugs, pesticides, and other pharmaceutical agents. Grass-fed livestock are more susceptible to parasite infection, so anti-parasitic drugs are more commonly used than in feedlot animals. Exposure to weather extremes causes its own types of conditions that require antibiotic intervention. And finally, some feel the risk of altered DNA is alleviated if the meat in the diet is free from genetically modified grains fed in feedlot or intense meat production methods.

The notion that a human’s or dog’s cellular DNA can be altered and turned into a monster by GMO “FrankenFoods” has not been scientifically verified. All we have are a plethora of poor European studies that have been used by European legislators to restrict the use of GMO foods in Europe and feed the American Internet with fear of these products. And all of these purported benefits ignore the poor environmental footprint of grass-fed meats.

Why Grass-Fed Meats Have a Large Carbon Footprint

Grass-fed meat feels and sounds so comfortable. It has to be better than conventional meat production, one would assume. But there are unintended consequences to that choice. Dr. Judith L. Capper at Washington State University has researched grass-fed beef alternatives and her findings are extremely interesting.

  • Grass-feeding Requires Larger Numbers of Livestock

According to Dr. Capper’s research, grass-fed beef needs to be fed over 22 months longer and still weighs about 100-pounds less at slaughter than conventionally raised cattle. That means an additional 50.2 million head of cattle would have to be added each year to meet the present U.S. demand for beef. Adding the extra cattle has environmental consequences.


  • Grass-Feeding Increases Land Use

The additional 50 million head of cattle would require an additional 131,000,000 acres of grazing land. This is the equivalent acreage of 75 percent of the state of Texas. But most of the open land in the U.S. that could be used for grazing is open for a reason. It lacks what all grazing land needs: enough water to grow grass all year long.

  • Grass-Feeding Cattle Increases Water Use

The addition of the necessary grazing land would require 468 billion extra gallons of water per year. This is the same amount of water used by over 53 million U.S. households. Water scarcity is thought to be the next major global problem in the not too distant future.

  • Grass-Feeding Increases Greenhouse Gases

Because the grass-fed beef live almost two years longer before slaughter than feedlot cattle, they emit more lifetime greenhouse gases. That would add 134,500,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the planet each year. That is the equivalent of adding 26,000,000 cars to the road annually.

Rightfully, dog owners are concerned about the health of their dogs. They seek the best choices. Grass-fed seems like a logical choice. But if we think more globally, beyond ourselves, perhaps we need to make compromises. Concerned pet owners are also concerned about the choices they make on the lives of others.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Catalin Petolea / Shutterstock