“Grass Fed” is a term used frequently in the marketing of meat, but what does it mean exactly? In short, not much. All cattle are grass fed for the first part of their lives. Cows are ruminants (as are sheep and goats), which is to say that they have a four-chambered stomach specifically designed to digest grass and grass and nothing but the grass.
While the USDA guidelines for the label “grass fed” specify that in order to make this claim, the animal must eat nothing but grass from the time that it’s weaned, their verification requirements are minimal. Producers can use this label based on a one-time written application, and they are not subject to inspections, annual reviews or auditing. Couple that with the fact that the USDA does not have a hard and fast definition of what grass fed means, the term is basically meaningless without other certifications, such as Certified Grassfed by AGW, which we are proud to have. Basically, the window for producers to be misleading, if not downright deceptive, in their labeling is wide open.
So if not grass fed, then what? Well, we like to use the term grass finished, because for us, that means the animal ate grass and was pasture-raised from the time it was weaned to the time it was harvested, with no grain supplementation EVER. There are some downsides, of course. Grass fed and finished animals take longer to get to harvest weight, and without the addition of starchy grains, they’ll never attain the kind of marbling you might see in a Prime cut, but the flavor is unequivocal and the health benefits are many. Here are a few statistics for you to chew on.
Grassfed beef has 500% more Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) than grained beef. CLA is an essential fatty acid that, in animal studies, has shown to be:
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