Grass-fed beef is slowly seeping into the consciousness of the general public. At the same time, “me too” pretenders are claiming their beef is grassfed. The American Grassfed Association (AGA) will only certify operations that use NO GRAIN whatsoever and only animals born and raised on a certified farm can be called certified grassfed. We meet the AGA standards for certification but unfortunately they only certify farms in the US.
The strict policy is easy to understand. If you look at the research, as soon as a beef animal starts eating grain, the fatty acid profile of the meat starts to change http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm. Plus, it’s impossible to police “our animals are fed a little grain along with their hay.” Someone who feeds grain to cattle or sheep isn’t 100% committed to your health. Feeding grain is a shortcut to faster gains and an earlier finish (lower costs). Someone who feeds grain is not 100% committed to sustainable agriculture. A well managed perennial pasture builds soil, a grain field destroys soil. It’s that simple – there is no reason to destroy soil to produce lamb or beef (pork and chicken is a little more complicated but that’s a subject for another post).
So how can a consumer tell the difference? Sitting in a cooler there are no visual clues. However, asking the farmer or reading their website can be very informative. Many “grassfed” beef marketers openly admit to “feeding a little grain” and then go on to explain why they do. These are the easy ones to cross off your list. Others won’t mention the grain. The easiest way to sniff out the pretenders is to ask about their grazing program. Someone producing true grassfed beef will have an intensive rotational grazing system. They should be talking about moving their cattle to fresh pasture a minimum of every three days. It’s the only way to get enough energy into an animal to gain weight and put on some fat, we rarely leave cattle in the same paddock more than one day. Also ask them how many grazing days they get a year. In our part of the world, somewhere around 120 will be a “normal” answer which means they are likely feeding grain. People committed to management intensive grazing are always working to lengthen their grazing season. We have averaged a little over 200 grazing days for the last several years. None of these are fool proof but they should help you find the (real grassfed) beef!
A visit to the farm can also help. Take a walk with the farmer and see the cattle. But only do this once you think you’ve narrowed your choice down to one. Farmers are busy people and we need to make hay while the sun shines!
If you visit the farm and it looks something like this:
You can be sure the beef isn’t grassfed!