While some tend to think of government labeling as a method of achieving consumer protection, and in some ways it certainly is. However, when we don’t understand the truth behind the labeling, the labels can be just as misleading as they are informative.
For example, most people understand that the term “organic” is important today. It’s so important that many food suppliers see it as an excellent marketing tool, including the meat industry.
You’ll find USDA certified “organic” meat in stores near your home, but does sporting the label “organic” make it any better for your health or make raising it a sustainable farming practice? Those are really the important questions, aren’t they?
For beef to carry the USDA certified organic label, the cattle must
– Be fed only organically grown grasses and grains,
– Be born and raised on certified organic pasture,
– Have access to the outdoors, and
– Never receive antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones.
The main sticking point with these requirements for anyone who is looking for health-promoting beef is that the cattle can be raised on a diet of organic grains. If that’s the case, one can argue that the beef isn’t any better as any other beef you’ll find in the supermarket cold case.
That meat simply will not have all the great attributes that grass-fed beef has. Let’s look at those attributes in detail.
Grass-fed cattle do not get “fattened up” with grains at any time. Once weaned, they are raised on a diet of natural grass and forage. Researchers have found that this dramatically changes their meat in some very good ways. Here’s a list of advantages that grass-fed beef has over certified organic beef when the animals have been fed organic grains.
– Grass-fed beef is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which we desperately need in our diets today to balance all the omega-6 fatty acids we consume.
– Grass-fed beef is high in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is being shown to fight cancer.
– Grass-fed beef is high in vitamin E.
– Grass-fed beef is high in beta carotene.
– Grass-fed beef has a much lower risk of E. coli due to both diet and processing.
We’re all in favor of good stewardship of our farmlands so that we can sustainably produce foods that are beneficial to our health and good for the environment, so we certainly appreciate the work organic farmers are doing.
With grass-fed livestock, we set the bar even higher than many who just meet the technical specifications of what most people, including the USDA, consider to be “organic.”
For example, to earn the USDA organic label, farmers don’t have to employ rotational grazing, a system we use with our cattle to make sure our farmlands are protected. Our grass-fed pork are raised in a free-range environment.
Like us, you’ll find that grass-fed meat producers are tied to the heritage of the small family farmer. Ethical, environmentally-aware family farmers are our best insurance policy to guarantee sustainable agriculture. Meat carrying the “organic” label doesn’t necessarily mean that it comes from a smaller family farm.
The next time you’re looking at labels in the store, keep these things in mind. We think they’ll help to make you a well-informed consumer.