The good news is that more people are asking this question because these days, there’s more meat— organic, non organic, grain-fed beef and grass-fed beef—available that’s produced in different ways. Some are better for you and the planet.
Various terms of cow-fed
You may notice different labels — and prices — in the meat department of the grocery store. Grass-fed and organic items are frequently praised for being more “healthy,” but what exactly is the difference?
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In certified organic beef production (that is not also grass-fed), cattle can be confined (with some “access” to the outdoors) and fed grain, the grain just has to be organic. As organic cattle approach market weight, there are two feeding methods that producers most commonly use to deliver beef products to their customers: “grass-fed” and “grain-fed”. Again, many organic producers do certify their land organic and then raise a grass-fed cow, that’s just not guaranteed when you see the organic seal.
The term “grass fed” on a label only means that the cattle in question ate grass or pasture at some point in their lives, not that they were finished on grass. If a label does not say the product is 100% grass fed, eaters can assume that it’s grain finished. “Grass fed” without any other qualifiers could just mean that the animal grazed when young (or in conjunction with other feed).
Look for the “100% grass fed” label when seeking nutritional and animal welfare benefits from grass-fed beef. The organic seal in addition to the 100% grass fed label ensures the animals consumed certified organic grass or forage throughout their entire lives, and that the animals did not receive antibiotics, growth hormones, or other synthetic treatments.
Grain-feeding produces cattle with a higher percentage of fat. All grains must be certified organic to ensure the integrity of the program. Strictly grass-fed cattle tend to be leaner than grain-fed.
What is the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef?
All organic beef meets the standards for “grass fed,” because ruminant livestock including cattle are required to get a certain portion of their diet from pasture. However, this does not necessarily mean that beef is also “grass finished” or even “100% grass fed.” These labels can—and often do—exist in conjunction with the organic seal. In the “grass-fed” program, the cattle continue to eat certified organic grass right up to the time of slaughter. The USDA is currently developing guidelines to define the term “grass-fed”, and it is expected to call for an all-grass diet of at least 95%.
In a 2015 study conducted by Consumer Reports comparing 300 conventional and grass-fed meat samples, researchers discovered “18% of the conventional beef samples were contaminated with superbugs. The hazardous bacteria that are resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics compared with just 6% of grass-fed beef samples. And 9% of samples that were organic or raised without antibiotics.”
When Grass Run Farms 100% Grass Fed Beef?
True grass-fed systems keep the cattle on grass for the entire length of their lives, rotating the herd to different areas as they chew through their meals.
With this criteria farm can run as a 100% Grass-fed beef. Here are the details:
- 100% grass fed and grass finished beef—no grain ever
- Born, pasture raised†, and harvested in the USA
- Access to pasture during grazing season
- Never given antibiotics or hormones
- Raised according to BQA animal care and wellbeing practices
These kinds of regenerative grazing systems make for happy cows and also are much better for the environment, since they use fewer resources/inputs, reduce harmful runoff, restore soil, and can sequester carbon.
The meat from cattle that eat only grass contains two to three times the amount of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) compared grain-finished beef. CLAs are healthy fats associated with reduced cancer risk. Also reduced cardiovascular disease risk and better cholesterol levels. Grass-fed beef has also been found to have a healthier ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. It often contains higher levels of antioxidants like vitamin E and A, too.
The best choice: Grass-fed
“The alternative to factory-farm meat — grass-fed meat — is not just better for the environment and better for the animals, but better for you, too,” Functional Medicine Director Mark Hyman, MD, weighs in.
Look for labels on meats that are certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA). This ensures:
- Diet: All certified animals are only raised in open grass pastures.
- Treatment: Animals are free to graze, rather than being confined in cramped living spaces.
- Antibiotics and hormones: All AGA-certified meats are guaranteed antibiotic and growth hormone free.
- Origin: All animals are born and raised on family farms in the United States.
When you can’t choose grass-fed, choose organic
The second best option to AGA is meat certified organic by the USDA. Though USDA standards are lesser than AGA, they are much higher than those set for conventional meat, with prices comparable to conventional meat. When you see the USDA label, you are promised:
- Diet: Organic beef is raised on a blended diet of grain and corn, and grazing on grass.
- Treatment: USDA standards require cattle to live in a way that “accommodates their natural behaviors,” including not being confined in spaces for long periods of time.
- Antibiotics and hormones: Animals are not subjected to dangerous antibiotics and chemicals.
- GMOs: In order for meat to be certified organic, animals are fed 100% organic feed and forage, avoiding all GMOs and synthetic ingredients.
Remember: Organic Certification is Expensive!
A lot of small business, grass-fed cattle farmers really do care about quality, and raise their animals under conditions that would be certified as organic, if they could afford the label.
Grass-fed beef is a very simple label to regulate; either you feed the animals grass or you don’t. Organic, on the other hand, is extremely complex. It involves huge amounts of record keeping, proving that your land has not been exposed to artificial chemicals for at least three years, that the living conditions of the animals meet a multitude of standards, and that everything you feed the cattle also comes from a certified organic source. It also means paying a USDA official to come and double check your work every year, which not every farm is willing or able to pay. Just because a grass-fed steak is not Certified Organic doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s of poorer quality.
Today, there are still only so many cattle farmers dedicated to producing this quality beef, many of them only families or individuals wanting to make a difference. We cannot always guarantee that we will have access to steaks and burgers that are both grass-fed and USDA Certified Organic; although we can assure you that we vet our suppliers thoroughly, and are always on the lookout for the very best product. Whether you go with grass-fed or organic beef, you’ll be taking a big step towards improving your family’s health and supporting quality food over cheap quantity.
At the End
Meat from cows that graze freely on grass for their entire lives is the best for your health, thanks to a healthier fat profile and more antioxidants. Most (not all) grass-fed beef is also organic, which is even better, since you know the cattle are eating pure, pesticide-free grass. But organic beef can also come from cattle fed organic grain.
Finally, cattle raised on grass are less likely to be given hormones and antibiotics. (That’s compared to conventional beef. Certified organic beef cannot come from cows administered antibiotics or hormones, either.)
Want to learn more? Contact with Mr. Pritish, who have some awesome resources to explore your knowledge.
Composed by: Suma Sarker