Meat labels are notoriously opaque. Companies boast “no hormones” on pork labels when feeding pigs hormones is illegal in the US. The organic beef program paints a picture of bucolic pastures yet allows cows to be raised in feedlots.
Part of the problem is that as new regulations are developed, loopholes are found even faster. Just last month, we reported on the loss of Country of Origin Labels (COOL). Unfortunately, “grass-fed” and “organic” labels are succumbing to a similar fate.
In 2006, the USDA created a grass-fed “all or nothing” standard. Beef was either 100% grass-fed or it wasn’t. This made for an easy signal for consumers searching for healthy and sustainable choices. However, these claims were not always monitored and often misused. The emerging popularity of grass-fed beef encouraged grain-fed producers to market their products with this alluring term. All cows eat grass for the first two thirds of their lives. Those that are not 100% grass-fed are “finished” on a grain diet for the last third, often in a feedlot. Some producers took advantage of this industry knowledge and asserted that their animals were grass-fed, confusing consumers who did not realize the change in diet.
As a result, the USDA has decided to end enforcement of these claims altogether. Instead of maintaining a clear standard, producers get to decide “what grass-fed means to them” according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Cows may be 90%, 75%, 10% grass-fed and receive the label, as long as they print their definition on the label. This is problematic, as suddenly any cow qualifies for the term “grass-fed”…and even a little bit of grain changes the health composition of the meat.
We think the “Organic” label on beef is just as misleading. For many consumers, Organic implies cows living in their natural environment, eating nothing but the foods they are supposed to eat. However, the organic standards say nothing about feedlots and unnatural diets high in corn, soy, and grain.
So what should you look for?
Our beef is pasture-raised and 100% grass-fed (no corn or grain, ever). We post our detailed supplier affidavits for all to read and review, and visit our suppliers regularly to ensure they are adhering to our standards. We think they are among the most meaningful definitions of sustainably raised beef today, and promote holistic land management, improved animal welfare and healthier products than the industrial alternative.
We work with farmers who share our values, so we’re eager to share their best practices and promote truly sustainable beef.