Fast-food chain A&W has announced a commitment to sourcing 100% Canadian beef — with the added twist that the beef must be grass-finished and raised without the use of growth promotants. A&W says the move marks their commitment to regenerative agriculture and protection of Canada’s grasslands.
The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association says that it’s glad to see A&W committing to sourcing all of their beef from Canadian farms and ranches, but has concerns about the grass-finished component of the sales pitch.
“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 grass-fed,” says Greg Schmidt, chair of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association.
Both grass-fed and grain-fed production methods are used in Canada to raise beef in a sustainable, environmentally responsible manner the organization says; however, grain-finished beef requires significantly fewer resources and has a lower environmental impact than its grass-fed counterpart, without sacrificing any nutritional value.
The Cattle Feeders Association says that the vast majority of beef consumed in Canada is grain-finished. However, all of these animals spent a good portion of their lives on pasture- and forage-based diets.
The association references work done at several Canadian, American, and Australian universities that suggest cattle raised on diets supplemented with grain actually produce significantly fewer GHG emissions than grass-fed only cattle. Pound-for-pound, beef produced with grain emits significantly less GHG than grass-fed beef, because a grain diet is more easily digestible than the cellulose fibers of grass, producing less methane.
Grass-fed cattle also take significantly longer to reach slaughter weights and, in that time, produce more methane than grain-fed cattle in feedlots, the association says. With less time on feed before slaughter, grain-fed cattle are also consuming less water.
That, cumulatively, leads to a situation where a grass-finished animal will have about 25 to 30 per cent more carbon emissions associated with it than a grain-finished animal.