Is Grass Fed Beef Really Grass Fed

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  • Is Your Grass-Fed Beef Truly Grass Fed?

Author: Natural Grocers

The U. S. The Department of Agriculture’s standard for a 20%E2%80%98grassfed%E2%80%99%20beef animal is that it be fed only grass. This %20grass-fed/grass-finished%20standard%20can%20be%20achieved%20in%20a_number%20of%20methods,%20some%20of%20which%20are%20inconsistent%20with%20the%20core%20standards. For example, a 15-month-old stocker steer raised on pasture could be fed a grain-based finishing diet for six months and still qualify as grass-fed, even though it would not be grass-finished. On the other hand, a 15-month-old steer that was fed grain rations and corn silage as a background could theoretically be considered grass-finished if it was allowed to spend several months on grass before being killed. Finally, in a feedlot system that is similar to traditional feedlots, beef could be fed and finished on a grass-based, non-grain diet. The majority of producers and consumers in the grass-fed/grass-finished industry would not have been satisfied with the achievement of the fundamental goal of the industry in any of the aforementioned scenarios. The general confusion surrounding the finishing of animals into four basic categories is addressed in the Bonterra Partners report. These categories are: 1) Conventional (confined animals finished on grain); 2) Pasture-raised (pasture animals finished on grain); 3) Grass-feedlot (confined animals finished on grass); and 4) Pure grass-fed (pasture animals) Still, there are a number of requirements that may not be precisely met by a particular beef operation even within these categories.

On the other hand, although precise definitions are difficult to come by, the majority of those in the grass-fed/grass-finished beef sector concur that the fundamental idea behind grass-fed beef is that an animal should be fed only non-grain feedstuffs for the majority of its life, with a focus on free-range grazing. The majority of people in the industry believe that when an animal is described as grass-fed, it also means that it is grass-finished, which means that it was fed a non-grain, forage-based diet to reach a desired carcass weight and yield grade (like prime, choice, and select). In these systems, cattle with an average daily gain rate of one are typically slaughtered at a weight of between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds at 24 to 28 months of age. 5–2. 5 pounds/day (give or take).

First of all, it is impossible to define “conventionally” raised beef in a way that allows for precise comparisons. In actuality, the conventional beef production industry is dynamic and ever-evolving, with no set rules or regulations. Generally speaking, conventionally raised beef is most accurately represented as the majority of the beef industry. This type of beef includes cows and calves that are primarily raised on pasture during the weaning phase, as well as cattle calves that are fed and/or grazed to reach the desired grade of finish. Also included in this broad definition are ‘stocker cattle,’ i. e. Yearlings that are finished in a feedlot after being fed roughage and going back to pasture until they are about eighteen months old

Generally speaking, the industry of conventional beef production is relatively new, with the cattle finishing sector having moved into feedlots from pastures in the 1950s. In traditional systems, fed cattle with an average daily rate of gain of 2 pounds to 1,500 pounds and at least 18 to 20 months of age are typically killed. 5–4. 0 pounds/day (give or take). Over the past few decades, this system has changed to include confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also known as feedlots, which are used to hold tens of thousands to several thousand beef animals for finishing.

Perhaps the most frequently asked—and occasionally the most complicated—question among those attempting to discern the distinctions between conventional and grass-fed beef is: What distinguishes grass-fed beef from conventionally raised beef? When comparing grass-based livestock production to conventional livestock systems, two synonymous and significant terms are commonly used: grass-fed and grass-finished. Despite their similarities, both terms have an implied meaning that can be interpreted in a number of ways, as we shall discuss below. It’s also critical to note that producing beef is not the only application for grass-fed/grass-finished techniques. Farmers all around the nation are growing their pastured pigs, chickens, bison, sheep, and other livestock methods and markets. Finally, the operational philosophies of “regenerative” and/or organic farmers are frequently aligned with those of grass-fed/grass-finished farmers. In this series of articles, we will mainly use our knowledge of beef production to assess the grass-fed/grass-finished livestock industry.

Mo’ grass, mo’ money

Grass-fed beef is expensive. It costs on average about $2.50 to $3 more per pound than conventional supermarket beef, according to Consumer Reports.

This is because farmers typically need a year longer to fatten grass-fed cows to slaughter weight than theyd need for a conventional grain-fed cow. This extra time commitment drives up feed and labor costs.

However, Consumer Reports observes that cows raised on grass still typically weigh less than their counterparts raised on grains, even after they reach slaughter weight. Less meat means less money in the producers pocket. Farmers may raise their prices when selling to grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers markets in order to cover their lost revenue. The increase in price is subsequently transferred to you, the buyer. Advertisement.

Some evidence suggests that grass-fed beef is healthier, more nutritious, and less likely to carry harmful bacteria than grain-fed beef.

Although there is disagreement over whether food can raise blood cholesterol levels at all, a 2010 paper that examined thirty years of research from around the globe found that grass-fed beef has less total fat than grain-fed beef and that the fats it does contain are healthier and less likely to raise cholesterol. Additionally, the review discovered that grass-fed beef has higher levels of vital vitamins like vitamin A and antioxidants that fight cancer than beef that is raised conventionally.

Theres also a 2015 report by Consumer Reports, which found that grass-fed beef samples purchased in 2014 were three times less likely to harbor multi-drug-resistant bacteria than conventionally-raised beef.

Not all scientists are convinced of these extra benefits, though. A study from 2014 claims that because the 2010 review used data from around the world, it cant accurately reflect the state of grass-fed meat produced in the US. (Well note, however, that both authors of this disapproving 2014 study have ties to the “big beef” industry. One author is an employee of the the National Cattlemens Beef Association, and the other has been paid by the Beef Checkoff — a meat-producer-funded marketing program designed to increase domestic and international demand for beef — through the NCBA.) Advertisement

Scientists from Penn State Extension also argue that antioxidants, which are present in grass-fed beef, arent proven to thwart cancer; and that the beefs beneficial fats drip off during cooking, anyway. They also claim that bacteria sneaks into meat during the processing, grinding, and packaging process and has no bearing on the health of the original meat.

“Most of what you’ve heard about grass-fed beef is, forgive the pun, bulls–t,” Jason Morgan, a meat purveyor who helps run his familys Nebraska-based Morgan Ranch, wrote on his blog. “[E]very time I read another missive on how grass fed beef is so great it makes me want to rip out my eyeballs.”

Regardless of your stance on the “grass-fed vs. grain-fed debate,” grass-fed beef is a valuable commodity due to its higher price and the evidence that it is healthier. Therefore, it is imperative that meat producers mark their products as such.

The issue lies in the fact that some beef that isn’t 20100% grass-fed can get past bureaucratic regulatory gaps. Advertisement.

The official regulatory arm of the USDA, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, must approve all meat packages, whether or not they are grass-fed. But visiting the farms that raise and process grass-fed cattle is not mandatory for the FSIS.

Meat companies can pay an impartial third party to review and approve their product claims through on-site inspections and audits if they want to go above and beyond to ensure their customers are receiving high-quality meat. AMS is one of these third-party reviewers even though it is officially a government organization.

A company’s packaging claims will likely be approved by the FSIS and the regulatory process will proceed more quickly if the AMS approves the application. The meat producer may then display the official “USDA Process Verified” logo on its packaging if the label has received approval from both AMS and FSIS.

This logo was designed to give consumers confidence that the meat they are purchasing is 100% grass-fed, and it still does. Advertisement.

This verification process for grass-fed meat dates back to 2006, when AMS announced that it would, for the first time, create an official, government-backed definition of the term “grass-fed.” The USDA, which refers to these kinds of definitions or rules as “standards,” has similar designations for many different foods and products, like cotton, nuts, and tobacco. Grades of beef, like prime, choice, and select, are standards that the USDA has defined.

The standard for grass-fed beef — which is still on the AMS website, despite being officially dropped in January — states that the cow must have only eaten grass or grass-based feed for its entire life after it stopped drinking its mothers milk. The standard also states that the cow must have “continuous access to pasture during the growing season.”

However, Matthew Buck, acting director of the Food Alliance, an impartial, nonprofit third-party certifier, emailed Tech Insider that there were a few issues with the AMS standard from the beginning.

First of all, according to Buck, it ignored the animal’s general health and living circumstances, which many contend are essential to the grass-fed philosophy and the high quality of the meat. Advertisement.

“Restrictions on animal confinement and the use of hormones and antibiotics, which industry pioneers believed were essential to a credible grass-fed product claim, were left out of the USDA grass-fed standard, which concentrated on what cattle ate,” Buck said.

Buck claimed that the AMS standard was problematic in another way because it “grandfathered in” beef brands with “grass-fed” claims without verifying if they adhered to the new definition. This meant that before the official standard was put in place, any meat producers who claimed to have 10%100% grass-fed beef were not required to prove themselves at all before branding themselves with the new USDA stamp of approval.

Buck stated, “so the label failed to address misleading claims and consumer confusion from the beginning.”

In response, the Food Alliance and the American Grassfed Association joined forces to create a stricter grass-fed standard and separate, independent, third-party certification programs for grass-fed beef producers. (These two organizations currently run trusted third-party grass-fed verification programs outside of the USDA.) Advertisement

The AMS verification process for grass-fed beef was and remains a totally voluntary service, which further complicates matters: not all meat producers who make “grass-fed” claims on their packaging are required to go through this stringent third-party verification process. A “grass-fed” producer can submit their claim directly to FSIS in order to get around this independent verification system.

However, one issue is that FSIS doesn’t conduct audits and inspections on-site. They merely examine a sample label and the associated documentation, then determine whether the claim is accurate and not deceptive based on those materials.

In short, its a subjective process thats open to interpretation.

“Certainly fed on grass is a dubious assertion,” stated Buck, “since all cows consume grass at some point in their lives.” ” Advertisement.

To make a higher profit off of “grass-fed” cattle, big feedlots will sometimes fatten up their grass-fed cows with grain for the last moments of their lives, Lou Braxton, a vendor for Roaming Acres farm in Sussex County, New Jersey, which sells grass-fed buffalo and ostrich meat and pork, told Tech Insider.

This meat may still be sold by feedlots under the labels “grass-fed” or “grass-fed and grain-finished.” According to Buck, if you notice that particular wording on a package, you cannot be positive that the cow was actually fed only grass.

Buck stated, “The real trick is to look for finished grass.” “Those making that claim still have to abide by the rules regarding truth in advertising.” “.

Buck explained that the reason meat producers pay the government or other third-party programs to validate their grass-fed claims is to win over consumers by showing them that they don’t actually need to. Advertisement.

The producer will ultimately make more money if they pay an impartial third party, like the AMS, to independently verify that their grass-fed methods comply with federal regulations. This will also give them more street cred. Its a marketing thing.

However, since the USDA abandoned its implicit definition of “grass-fed” in January, the situation has only become more murky.

Prior to January 2012, 2016 you could be nearly 100% certain that any package of 20%22grass-fed 20%22meat%20wearing the 20%22USDA Process Verified 20%22logo%20was, in fact, 20%20truly%20grassfed. (I say “almost” here because it’s unclear if the business was granted a 2006 “grandfather” in the label.) Additionally, this is presuming that you don’t give a damn about the animal’s care and upbringing. ).

AMS’s “grass-fed” definition is no longer official, so the term is now even more ambiguous. Advertisement.

For Buck, this seems like a step backward.

“We have reverted to assessing the definition of grassfed, which may differ amongst companies,” he stated.

The AMS maintains that the January change won’t affect producers or consumers in general, and that consumers can be confident that all of the claims made by the grass-fed are, in fact, 100% grass-fed. Sam Jones, the AMS’s public affairs spokeswoman, told Tech Insider this.

But not everyone in the industry agrees. Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), a collection of grassroots organizations that advocate for sustainable food and agriculture, argued in a statement that the new labeling system will just baffle consumers and hurt farmers even more than it already has. Advertisement

“Actions such as this take us into a Wild West situation, where anything goes and both farmers and consumers lose,” Hoefner said in the statement.

Marion Nestle, an esteemed professor, biologist, public health expert, and author of several prize-winning books on food and nutrition politics agrees, but thinks the bigger losers are consumers and small farmers.

Nestle emailed Tech Insider, “I think it’s a good guess to assume that the USDA’s withdrawal of the grass-fed marketing claims is a result of pressure from big cattle producers.” This implies that government support for claims regarding grass-fed Customers will be forced to rely on independent organizations’ certification or the word of the manufacturers. Caveat emptor. Put differently, it is now the responsibility of the consumer to make sure a meat product is what it claims to be.

Additionally, Buck claims that consumers can’t really trust a label at all because they won’t be able to determine if it was approved before or after the definition was dropped in January 2016. Advertisement.

According to Jones, an AMS press officer, the agency mandates that labels have a link to a website where customers can view the precise specification they used to confirm it.

In my personal investigation, I searched three large supermarkets in New York City and was unable to locate even a single package of “grass-fed beef” with the USDA process verified label. Worse, when I asked butchers at two of the three stores what “USDA process verified” meant, they didn’t even know, and they thought the same thing about “USDA Organic” when I asked them if specific packages were USDA-verified grass-fed.

“By developing new, non-uniform standards,” NSAC, said in a blog post, “the term grass-fed will begin to lose its meaning and eventually become useless to consumers.”

Having said that, Buck went on, “There are some ranchers who market grass-fed beef with integrity and do not hold a certification either because they are too small to manage the cost and administrative burden, or because they just don’t believe in it, or because they have very close relationships with their buyers.” ” Advertisement.