The term “Grass Fed” has become more and more popular as more health conscious consumers who do their research look to purchase high quality foods in hopes that they are doing their best to eat foods of the best nutritional value. I wrote a blog about the nutritional value of Grass Fed Beef a while ago here. However, as we know, the labeling of foods is not necessarily regulated for the purpose of giving the consumer the most clearest of information. While the initial guidelines for the labeling of food is to provide information to keep people safe from consuming foods that can harm them as in the case of a food allergy, most food labels are essentially marketing tools. This is certainly the case when you are shopping for beef and see the label “Grass Fed.”
When you shop for beef and you are looking for the label “Grass Fed” you are hoping that the cow enjoyed a life of roaming a green pasture and eating grass until big enough or mature enough for slaughter. But, when the label says “Grass Fed” it is not necessarily the image that you had in mind. The label is not regulated or held to any standards to mean that the cow ate only grass right up until meeting “the end.”
Truly frustrating…I know…
In fact, there could be 2 scenarios that are happening which still “allow” for that grass fed label to be placed on the product.
1.) The animal was fed grass for the most part of its’ life but was “finished” or at the very end, while waiting to reach full maturity, the animal was fed grains.
2.) The animal was raised on open green pasture but was butchered while still in growth stage and before maturity..i.e.- “before finished.”
Now, you may ask, why would these 2 scenarios occur?
The answer is simple.
“Time is money.”
Both scenarios are attempts at speeding up the process to make a quicker buck. In the first scenario, the grain is fed to the animal during the final stage of the animal’s life before slaughter when the animal’s muscle and skeleton is “finishing” to be fully mature and that also means that the animal has accumulated enough fat and even fat in the muscle (marbleized) because as you know, the fat is what makes for the tenderness and the flavor. Feeding the animal with grain speeds this process and also helps to increase the fat. In the second scenario, the animal is butchered before reaching the mature stage and then is more lean. Both scenarios allow for quicker turnaround but not necessarily the high quality or the full flavor you were hoping for. The term to look for in order to truly get what you are really after is “Grass Finished.” This means that the animal reached full maturity and was kept on grass that entire time. The regular fat and intramuscular fat was given a chance to deposit and no grains were fed in the process. The extra time that it takes for a cow to be truly “Grass Finished” all the way to the end can range in an extra 4-16 months than with conventional or grass fed methods. This is also obviously why it will cost you more.
If you are interested in buying “Grass Finished” beef, you can ask your local butcher, check Whole Foods if there is one near you, or, you can find local farmers near you by researching online, or simply order your beef online and have it shipped frozen. There are websites that can help to guide you in the right direction to find local farmers in your area like www.eatwild.org but, you still have to be aware and “trust” that the farmers who are part of the directory are honoring their claim to be following the criteria since the website has a disclaimer that they do not have the resources for third party verifications.
Other websites to gain more info and access to grass fed or grass finished beef: