Keepin' It Natural

Not all beef is raised the same.  Let's explore some of the terms used in beef production.

What is natural?

The term "natural" when applied to beef products is a term subject to diverse interpretations.  Generally "natural" producers are guided by the USDA protocol.  "To use the term 'natural' on a food label, the USDA requires only three simple things: (1) the product must be minimally processed, (2)  the product cannot contain any artificial ingredients and (3) the product cannot contain any preservatives.  The USDA has no specific restriction on management practices during the life of the animal."

What you can expect from most all natural beef is no use of antibiotics, no GMO's, no added hormones, no feeding of animal products, no preservatives, nothing artificial.

What does grassfed mean?         

Most cattle have a diet that is composed of at least some grass.  In purity, the term grassfed means that grass composes all of the animal's diet.  Going a step further, many grassfed ranchers would use the terms pasture-fed, pasture-grazed, or pasture-raised to describe the diet and environment.  Pasture-raised cattle are never taken to feedlots where  their diets could include grass hay and supplements of grain, soy, and other ingredients to increase the energy density of the diet. 

What is pasture-finished?

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, or grain-finished.  The best pasture finishing is available in spring when the grass is new and full of protein and sugar.

What are free range and pasture-raised?

Free range refers to a method of farming where animals can roam freely outdoors rather than live 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 even eggs.  The regulation for poultry is that birds be given access to the outdoors for an undetermined period each day, minimum five minutes.

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 must be outdoors year-round but have access to night and cold weather housing.

What is sustainable agriculture?

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,