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Know Your Beef! Grass- vs Grain-fed

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

With several high end "healthy" grocery stores like Whole Foods, Trades Joe's and Sprouts making so-called organic meats labeled "Grass fed" more accessible, the consumers may have been duped! That simply because ...

All beef eats grass at some point in it's life, and the USDA now allows any beef to be labeled "Grass fed" even if it has been grown in a feedlot.

So what does this mean? ​Let’s take a look at some commonly used definitions. 

"Pastured, 100% Grass Fed & Finished" This only applies to beef (not Pigs or Chickens). Born and raised on Grass and only Grass. Weaned from mother after birth, diet changed from milk to grass slowly. Grows much slower than grain fed beef (feedlot or conventional beef). Mature at 28 to 29 months for harvest. "Grass fed" USDA definition – must be fed grass at sometime in its life. This means the stuff from the supermarket, which by definition must be mass produced, and may be fed grass as little as one day of its life yet can be labeled “grass fed.” This is scary deceiving.

"Grass fed, grain finished" This is what is called "feed lot beef", "conventional beef" or "commodity beef." It is the most common, regular, supermarket beef.

"Pastured Beef" or "Free-Range Beef" May be any of the above – if buying directly from the grower, the consumer is better advised to ask the grower. How do the beef live? Do you feed grain?

"Local Beef" Beef is not Local – sorry. It can’t be… think of it like this; imagine if you grew cabbage locally, but there was a government agency that enforced a law that you can only wash your cabbage (and you must wash it before sale) in a special sink located 600 miles away from your farm. That is what the USDA does – many ranchers grow their beef locally, but their products must be inspected "for safety 600 miles away from their customers. BTW, why the inspection? Many organic growers have been at this for decades and never had a single beef found to be unsafe - in that same time period, while there have been hundreds of "outbreaks" from industrial meat plants across the U.S.

"All Natural Beef" This means nothing…. Literally. The USDA allows just about anything to be called "all natural" because Big Ag Producers were able to argue that just about anything is natural. "Organic Beef" ​May be fed organic corn…. Still not grass fed, still not healthy. Don’t be fooled  - For example, WalMart sells "Organic Beef."  It just means that whatever they are giving the beef at the feedlot is labeled "Organic."

"Antibiotic & Hormone Free" Means what it says. Not give Antibiotics or Growth Hormones. Most producers add this to their label if they have nothing else to say. Hormone and Antibiotic use is minor compared to feed use - feed is daily, medicine is occasional, so the former has much greater impact on the animal than the latter.

The sad part is that people can be fooled by what they read on a label and it is affecting real Ranchers in real ways. "Grass fed" should really mean just that, but such is not the case.

Key takeaway - you've got to know your producer!

Here is a good Youtube video on beef.

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