To me, 100% grass-fed and finished beef means our cattle never eat grains or grain byproducts at any time in their lives. I wish there was a way to convey this to (new) customers succinctly and in such a way it wasn’t necessary for further explanation and questions. I wish the term “grass-fed” conveyed this level of production rigor.
My cattle feed on our diverse pastures during the grazing season and hay from a neighbor’s farm during the winter, but this is not true for all “grass-fed beef”. The labeling laws around the term grass-fed are not as strict as our practices. Almost all cattle in the US grow up on grasses for at least part of their lives, so it’s not an out-an-out lie to label beef from steers supplemented dried distillers’ grains or soybean hulls as “grass-fed”. But it is misleading to do so. It is unfortunate some producers do this since it makes for confusion and creates fear of being duped in the buying public. With the justifiable, growing popularity of truly grass-fed meats some companies are cashing in on consumer’s ignorance about various terms like “grass-fed” and “pastured”.
In the regenerative agriculture world the term, “grass-fed” means no grains ever during an animal’s life. “Pastured” means the animal had access to pastures of some sort and was supplemented with concentrated feeds (usually grain, but not always) in addition to whatever is on offer from the field. But neither of these terms is clearly and consistently used across the country. There is a nascent certifying party, the American Grassfed Association (AGA) with a trademarked logo to be applied to labels.
I’m on board with AGA’s goals, and for producers selling wholesale where the customer is a few steps removed from production it probably is worthwhile to have a label that demonstrates a level of attention to grass-fed standards.
My major complaint with certifiers operating under the business model AGA uses (and similar parties like Animal Welfare Approved), is that they rely on registration fees from the farms they inspect. This pits the financial interest of the certifying body against the scrupulous and detail oriented inspection of the member farms. In my humble opinion the eating public would be better served by an ag inspection service that is not financially entangled with farms it inspects.
While we wait for clear and consistent market parameters to develop around the term grass-fed, we’ll stick with our simple plan of only feeding grasses and hay to our ruminants.
Photo Credit – Garth Brown