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10 Reasons Why Supermarket Grassfed Beef May Not Be What You Think it is

Posted 6/2/2017 9:17am by Paul Nehring.


Get to Know Your Beef Producer to Know Exactly What You Are Getting Part 2

The grass-fed beef industry is like the wild, wild, west of beef production and marketing these days.  It is growing fast, at 20-40% per year, depending on which industry analyst you read.  Grass-fed beef is projected by some of those same industry analysts, to capture 30% of the market by 2025.  That’s incredible growth, especially when you compare it to certified organic products such as dairy, which has 8% of the market-share for dairy.[i]  As you can imagine, lots of cattle producers and beef sellers want in on the action.  Grass-fed beef is popping up at restaurants, fast food joints, grocery stores, and even Sam’s Club.  While the industry changeover to grass-fed beef is a welcome trend, you might want to retain some skepticism about all of that grass-fed beef on the market and choose your source carefully and locally. Here are ten reasons why:
1.       No certification system:  Unlike organic production, which has a legally defined production system for each organic farm product and requires 3rd party verification by a USDA accredited inspection service, grass-fed requirements are minimal.[ii]  

2.       Standards are voluntary: There is a USDA grass-fed standard, but it’s a voluntary standard, meaning that it is not legally defined, nor legally enforced. While there is a standard, meat sellers can apply for the grass-fed claim even if they do not meet those standards, as long as the USDA/FSIS agrees to their claim.   For instance, in 2015, Sysco applied for a waiver to import Irish beef and call it ‘grassfed” despite the fact that the cattle were fed grain during the winter.  Their excuse was that it’s cold in Ireland in the winter, and Irish cattle need grain to do well.[iii]  They were granted their waiver.  I find that strange, because it’s every bit as cold in Wisconsin during the winter, but our cattle do just fine on high quality hay—the reality, is that it costs more to feed high quality hay than it does to feed grain, and animals finish quicker on grain, again reducing cost.   

3.       Using the term grass-fed on a label requires one simple step.  There is one step required to label beef as grass-fed:  The beef seller must submit an affidavit to the USDA/FSIS or their state meat inspection service (DATCP in Wisconsin).  That affidavit is simply a sheet of paper explaining how the cattle were raised and why they qualify as grass-fed.  If the USDA or state inspection service approves of your affidavit you can then add the term grass-fed on to your label.  Neither the USDA nor the state inspection services actually inspect the farms/ranches where the cattle are raised.[iv]  Let’s face it, anyone can raise and/or sell grassfed beef. You don’t need any skill, or any certifications, or training, and you don’t even need to be a farmer or rancher.  Just buy some cattle, send them to a butcher and label the meat as grass-fed.  Yeah, it’s that easy.

4.       The vast majority, 75%, of grass-fed beef on the market at grocery stores, and restaurants is imported.[v][vi]  5.       You can’t tell if beef is imported. Imported beef can still be called “product of the USA” if it undergoes any kind of processing or packaging in the U.S.  That means the four big multinational meat packing companies, that control 80% of U.S. beef trade, can bring in beef from anywhere in the world, repackage it in the U.S, and call it a “product of the USA.”  You can thank Congress for that when they ended COOL, Country of Origen Labeling, in 2015. 

6.       There is little accountability in the system.  Since nobody is doing inspections for grass-fed, and there is high demand, and a premium paid for grass-fed beef there is likely widespread fraud in the industry, but nobody really knows just how much is happening.  It’s relatively easy to purchase some cattle, put them on pasture, call a purchaser for a branded beef company that buys “grass-fed” and tell them that the cattle are grass-fed. 

7.       Meat is packaged in carbon monoxide.  Those cryovac packs of "fresh," unfrozen beef are injected with carbon monoxide, which helps the meat stay pink, instead of turning brown, for long periods of time.  Just because the meat is pink does not mean that it is "fresh."  In fact, it could be over 45 days old on the store shelf.  Color is not a good way to know if these packages of meat are still good, because they can keep their color for over two years, despite the fact that meat has spoiled.  Europe and Japan ban this practice.

8.       No product consistency. Branded beef programs purchase from a large number of farms/ranches with varying levels of skill, and different types of cattle and grass.  That means there is little consistency in the beef, especially in terms of marbling, tenderness and flavor. 

9.       Many “grassfed” cattle are now raised in a feedlot.  To achieve some consistency, some most large-scale branded beef programs are now bringing cattle into feedlots, feeding them on hay for 30-120 days, in order to try create some consistency in the beef. At least the flavor and level of finish are similar, but the cattle are back in a feedlot, not finished out on pasture.[viii] 

10.   No restrictions on hormone use or antibiotics.  Those grass-fed feedlot cattle might also be injected with hormones, and other drugs during their stay to increase growth.    

With all of these issues doesn’t that make you a little bit concerned that you are getting what you think you are getting when you purchase grass-fed? If you are a looking to purchase truly grass-fed, antibiotic-free, hormone-free beef of consistently good quality, raised and processed locally, give us a try at Newgrass Farm, where you will find delicious, customer-inspected, 100% grass-fed. dry-aged, Angus beef.  Support your local farmers, instead of deceptive multinational corporations.   

[i][ii][ii][iii][iv][v][vi][vii] Personal communication with Cornucopia Institute.[viii]

Farm market

Summer Farm Market: 
During the summer we are at the VFW Hangar Lounge parking lot at 388 River Drive, on Saturday mornings, from 8:00-noon from the beginning of May through the end of October.  

Winter Farm Market: 
Find us at the Wausau Area Boys and Girls Club, 1710 2nd St., Wausau, on Saturday mornings, 8:00-noon, from the beginning of November until the end of April.  

Or you can give us a call or email to arrange home pickup or local delivery. 

Contact Info

NewGrass Farm, LLC

4009 Henry St.

Wausau, WI 54403