Are you confused about the definition of grass fed beef?
United States Department of Agriculture
has not adopted an official definition of Grass fed beef. There are two terms, often used interchangeably that people find confusing, they are; grass fed beef and grass finished beef.
Currently the USDA is in the process of formulating definitions of grass fed and grass finished beef. You can click on the following link for a review of the public comment on the
promulgation of rules and regulations regarding the definition of grass fed beef.
Until the USDA has an official definition, there is confusion around the names and terms that needs clarification:
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Grass Fed Beef
The definition of Grass fed beef generally means beef from cattle that have eaten only grass or forage throughout their lives, however some producers do call their beef grass fed but then actually finish the animals on grain for the last 90 to 160 days before slaughter.
Grass Finished Beef
A more specific definition is Grass Finished Beef. Finishing is just another word for the time that cattle are normally fattened for the last few months before processing. Typically, feed lots finish cattle for 90 to 160 days on grain, usually corn, whereas, grass finished cattle are fattened on grass only, until the day that they are processed.
Grass finishing compared to grain finishing
When considering the definition of grass fed beef, most beef animals have probably eaten grass at some point in their lives, but the important thing is that they're “finished”, or fattened on grass, rather than grain, for the 90 – 160 days before slaughter.
During those few months of grain finishing the levels of important nutrients like CLA and Omega 3 decrease dramatically in the beef animal’s tissues. It is in the finishing process that those levels and ratios drastically decline because of the grain feeding, and that is why it’s so important to make sure that the beef you eat is not only grass fed, but grass finished.
Some producers are currently stating that their beef is grass fed, but in fine print, note that it is grain finished.
Another important thing to remember, besides just the literal definition of grass fed beef, is that you want to obtain grass fed and finished beef that has been pastured all of its life and not kept in confinement. It’s possible that a producer could keep cattle in confinement and feed them grass hay and still be able to call them grass finished for now, since there is currently no standardized definition of grass fed or finished beef. So you always want to make sure that your grass fed beef has been pastured all of its life too.
Organic and Natural
Almost all commercial beef, as well as most
beef, are finished with grain. The only distinction with organic or natural is that the feed grain is certified organic or natural. However, even though the grain is organic, it still has the same effect on the beef of causing a decline in essential, vitality generating nutrients.
Now that you know our definition of grass fed beef, (there is currently no USDA-standardized definition of grass fed beef) don’t mistake organic beef for grass fed. While some grass fed is organic, not all organic beef or natural beef is grass fed or finished. Many of the organic and natural products are grain fed, in confined feedlots; it’s just that the grain that is fed is certified organic or natural.
The Predominance of Grain Finishing
Grain finishing became the industry standard, because it enabled animals to fatten and mature earlier, thus making it
much cheaper to “finish” them to a desired weight, and because of the changes that grain feeding causes in the tissues, the meat from almost any animal can be made tender through grain finishing. That, combined with the powerful corn industry in this country, and its overproduction, created the industrialized feedlot model that feeds most Americans today. Michael Pollan, in his new book:
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
, provides an excellent expose on the American culture of corn.
A Diet as Nature Intended
Ruminating animals (animals with a special digestive system of four stomachs, including cattle and elk) did not evolve, and are not designed to eat large quantities of grain, especially as a primary food source. When fed a high grain diet, the micro-organisms that break down the food in the ruminant’s digestive system shift to those favoring a more acidic environment. As the bio-chemistry of the digestive system transforms, so do the affected tissues (meat).
Research indicates that the tissue changes result in a substantial decrease in the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 in the
meat, as well as a decrease in total CLA levels.
For more information about the
health benefits of eating grass fed
you can visit Jo Robinson's website, eatwild.com, for an abundance of health information.
Many people who are searching for grass fed and finished beef are also interested in a
slow food lifestyle, and like to find beef producers from their own region or state, and delight in eating local food, grown near them. We encourage a slow food lifestyle, and purchasing from your local region or area and enjoy your own
However, if you can’t find a regional producer of grass fed beef, there are many options for
mail order beef on the internet.
The definition of grass fed beef, and how we use the terms throughout this website
Because there is no official definition of grass fed beef, and because the terms grass fed beef, grass finished beef, and grass fed and finished beef, are used interchangeably by most people, we too will use them interchangeably throughout this website, and when we use either term: grass fed beef or grass finished beef, we will be refering to beef that has been fed and finished on grass, all of its life, pastured, and not in confinement.
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