Not all beef is raised the same. Not all beef has the same nutritional value. To clarify the differences between current traditional practices and the grassfed movement, here is a list of terms related to beef and food in general.
How to find healthy food is a huge issue these days. Everyday there's a new revelation of potentially harmful substances being used to produce, process, and promote our food. Fortunately there's also a growing resource of media and internet to help us become informed and educated in our quest for the best food.
Most cattle have a diet that is composed of at least some grass. In purity, the term grassfed means that grass composes all of their diet. Perhaps a more definitive term would be pasture-fed, pasture-grazed, or pasture-raised for this describes the diet and the environment. Current traditional practices bring cattle to be fattened in feedlots where their diets could include grass hay and supplements of grain, soy and other ingredients to increase the energy density of the diet. Pure grass pasture-grazed processes are a sustainable form of farming and ranching.
Free range refers to a method of farming where animals can roam freely outdoors rather than living completely in an enclosed space. This ranging area can be fenced rather than completely open range but it must be large enough to offer the opportunity for extensive movement, fresh air and sunshine.
However, free range beef is an unregulated term. The term is regulated by the USDA for
use on poultry, only, (not eggs). The regulation for poultry is that birds be given access to the outdoors for an undetermined period each day, minimum five
Pasture raised is also an unregulated term except for poultry. The HFAC (Humane Farm Animal Care) certification requires 108 square feet per bird on rotated fields. Birds are outdoors year round with night and cold weather housing.
The last 30-90 days preceding beef harvest is called the finishing stage. Pasture-finished means that the cattle are not placed in a feedlot for the final days to be fattened with a grain diet which is referred to as grain-finished. The best pasture finishing is available in the spring when the grass is new and full of protein.
Sustainable agriculture refers to farming and ranching using principles of ecology, being aware of and keeping balanced relationships between organisms and their environment. While working to satisfy human food and fiber needs, the practice of sustainable agriculture seeks to enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which it is based, makes the most efficient use of non-renewable resources, integrates natural biological cycles and controls, sustains the economic viability of farm operations, and enhances the quality of life for all.
In general organic farming refers to farming and crop conditions that employ cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers are not allowed although some bio-pesticides have been approved for use. Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. Many countries require producers to obtain special certification in order market food using the organic label. The standards are heavily regulated but can vary somewhat from region to region. There is evidence that organic food is safer and healthier.
Natural foods are foods that are minimally processed and do not contain any food additives. Natural foods do not contain added hormones, antibiotics, sweeteners, food colors, or flavorings.
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. There is controversy over using gmo's in food production. In question are their effects on health and the environment, the effects on pesticide resistance, and contamination of the non-genetically modified food supply.
Conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) are a type of good fat that may have health benefits particularly in fighting cancer. The most abundant source of natural CLA is the meat and dairy products of grassfed animals. It has been shown that grazing animals have from 3-5 times more CLA than animals fattened on grain in a feedlot.
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for normal metabolism and are thought to provide a wide range of health benefits particularly for heart and brain matters. Diets rich in omega-3s show lower risk of coronary heart disease, improvement in cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. Studies have also shown evidence of omega-3 benefits for fighting cancer, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Alheimer's disease.
Omega-3s are most abundant in seafood and nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and walnuts, but they are also found in animals raised on pasture. Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green plants and algae. Cattle lose their store of omega-3 fat when they are moved from grass pastures (grass being rich in omega-3) to feedlots to be fattened on grain (grain not being rich in omega-3). Meat from grassfed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain- fed animals.
"Meat, eggs, and dairy products from pastured animals are ideal for your health. Compared with commercial products, they offer you more "good" fats, and fewer "bad" fats. They are richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. ... They do not contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs."
This is a site that "helps people make informed decisions about their health based on the best scientific evidence available."
"The Stockman Grass Farmer is the grazing publication of North America. Since 1947 it has been devoted solely to the art and science of making a profit from grassland agriculture."