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Conference paper2019Peer reviewed

The perfect beef? Ethical aspects of grass-fed beef of high meat quality

Karlsson, Anders; Röcklinsberg, Helena


For the first time in decades, and two years in a row, the Swedish total meat consumption has decreased; in 2017 is was, compared to 2016, reduced by 2,2 kg/cap, and in 2018 it was, compared to 2017, reduced by 2.0 kg/cap. At the same time, the proportion of Swedish produced meat increased despite its higher consumer price. The consumers also show an increased appreciation for grass-fed beef of high eating quality as well as its higher content of the healthier omega-3 fatty acids, compared to grain-fed beef where this content is low, and the animals themselves fits with a broader narrative that increasingly favours food labelled 'natural' or organic; in this paper roughage in general are included in the term 'grass-fed'. Evoking a pastoral ideal, grass-fed beef is often seen as a return to a more environmentally attuned form of production, set in contrast to the industrial and alienating system that modern production systems, e.g. feedlots, has become. This interest in grass-fed beef is in line with an overall increase in consumer awareness regarding a number of aspects related to food, such as origin, production method including animal welfare, nutritional value, climate impact, limited use of antibiotics, but also its eating quality attributes. Further, cattle cause methane emissions, production systems limiting additional impact and/or contributing with benefits such as biodiversity are needed, such as grazing on areas less useful for crop or vegetable. Affluent consumers are willing to pay for high quality, which opens for a possibility to fulfil a number of these added ethical values in one and the same production system. However, another set of value clashes emanates in beef quality. The level of fat marbling is crucial for e.g. tenderness, juiciness and flavour but production systems to 'create' that kind of beef also implies an overall fattier animal, and this undesired fat might be trimmed of and wasted, unless it again could be used as cooking fat, replacing imported coconut oil and red palm oil. In addition, the feed plays an important role for both meat quality and climate impact, where beef from grain-fed animals have an undecided fatty acid composition and requires higher water usage than grass-fed animals. In this paper, we will investigate potential value clashes in the chain from feed to high quality meat by elaborating on a number of ethical aspects such as animal welfare, biodiversity and trimming waste, concluding that some 'classical value clashes might be less strong whereas new ones emanate,


beef; cattle; grass-fed; grain-fed; eating quality; ethical aspects

Published in

Title: Sustainable governance and management of food systems : ethical perspectives : EurSafe 2019 Tampere, Finland 18 – 21 September 2019
ISBN: 978-90-8686-341-9, eISBN: 978-90-8686-892-6
Publisher: Wageningen Academic Publishers


15th Congress of the European-Society-for-Agricultural-and-Food-Ethics (EurSafe), SEP 18-21, 2019, Tampere, FINLAND