It seems like every day there are more and more reasons to be confused by labels. Chances are, if you’re a label reader, you’ve noticed the words “grass-fed” on your meat labels.
The first time I came across these words, they conjured up images of happy animals, calmly cropping green pasture grasses, living a life of comfort and ease until the end. What a nice thought and definitely worth the investment if it begins to put an end to the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) that are basically hell for animals, the environment, and any surrounding beings (you can read more about CAFO’s in tomorrow’s post).
The label ‘grass fed’ is a USDA certified distinction. The requirements are that the animal must be fed nothing but forage or grass during its lifetime, with the exception of milk prior to weaning. The animal must also have access to a “pasture” during their growing season. Sounds great, right? That’s what I thought until I started looking at the actual definitions and potential loopholes that are actively being utilized by some feedlots.
The USDA defines a pasture as land covered with vegetation suitable for foraging, which is good, however, the terms require the pasture setting only during the “growing season” which means once a cow has matured it can be moved into a feedlot for the rest of its life, so long as the food it receives is grass or forage. Don’t be fooled into thinking the cows are tossed a bagful of freshly mown green grass for their evening meal; rather they’re fed hard little pellets made from alfalfa, hay or similar ruminant appropriate grass. The USDA grass fed label also doesn’t address the issue of antibiotic or steroid use. So while you are innocently purchasing a higher priced beef product because of the USDA grass-fed label trying to do the right thing, you could very well be purchasing a feedlot raised, antibiotic and steroid injected, misery laden animal. Sorry to put it so bluntly. So what’s a savvy consumer to do?
Fear not, there are at the moment other certifications and associations that raise the bar for the animal welfare and environmental well-being. The new and improved labels you can look for? Animal Welfare Approve (AWA); American Grass-Fed Association Approved (AGA) or pasture centered living label. Both the AGA and the AWA require a lifetime of living on grass and forage and living confinement free. They also both require a more holistic and natural approach to animal husbandry, shunning the overall use of antibiotics and steroids. Even better, at the moment the labeling process for both the AWA and AGA are a free process, unlike the USDA process, which is $108 for a two-year certification. Which, to be fair, is a step in the right direction but just not quite up to the mark.
From a strictly nutritional perspective, have you ever wondered why the research on beef consumption is so contradictory? It's typically because the researchers don't pay attention to what kind of beef they are using for the study. Genuinely grassfed, pastured centured beef (and other animals) are more nutrient dense and by far less inflammatory than animals raised in CAFO settings.
Want to know more about each of these labels? Try the links below. Want to know more about antibiotics, steroids, and CAFO's? Stay tuned. (:
Animal Welfare Approved
American Grassfed Association
USDA Grassfed Label