Prior to 2007 there was no standard for what was required to say 'grass fed' on a meat label. Consumers kept asking for more clarity. So in 2007, the USDA AMS introduced a standard. Of course, it was so full of loopholes, many people are currently keeping their 'grass fed' cows on feedlots and feed them semi-loads of rejected conventional fruit from major fruit canning companies and waste products from industry like cotton gin waste, waste candy (plastic and all), and sawdust.
I had no idea this was done until a good friend toured a farm good enough to supply grass-fed beef to a national chain. The tour was to show off best-practices(!) No one is intentionally trying to do something wrong here. I used to see this all the time as a consultant. A lot of well-meaning people, far enough removed from the situation, end up making decisions that made things so much worse.
So all of this and even small quantities of grain qualifies as '100% grass fed' under the USDA AMS and FSIS standards and you'll find these products in every major supermarket.
Now even those loose USDA AMS 'grass fed' standards are extinct. The USDA AMS has just removed their guidelines and required 'grass fed' producers to come up with either their own internal definition (which can allow for almost any shortcut) or some other standard they see fit. The FSIS still has their standard in place which allows for the shortcuts listed above.
"I used to see this all the time as a consultant. A lot of well-meaning people, far enough removed from the situation, end up making decisions that made things so much worse."
People often ask us why TC Farm's grass fed beef is better and costs a little bit more than what you'll find in the store. The thing about our group is that we only will raise our animals the way that people actually expect. No shortcuts, no manipulated label claims, no tricks.
"The only way we will change the food system is if we ask these kinds of questions on a regular basis."
The only way we will change the food system is if we ask these kids of questions on a regular basis. Every farmer should be comfortable answering them and it is OK if they aren't the right fit for your family. Even TC Farm isn't a perfect fit for everyone despite how hard we work to make our group fit different demographics and types of cook.
So join us... ask the questions at every grocery store and every restaurant and you'll change the world with each meal.
When we as consumers buy 'grass fed' products in the store, we think these animals are raised on pasture and eat grass. We don't think they are raised 100% conventional, but with 'less' grain. In reality feeding a slurry of fruit waste and cotton gin is LESS healthy than a typical feedlot. You're better off buying some 'natural' beef even though 'natural' means next to nothing as well... oh, by the way, the USDA AMS also removed their standard for 'natural' today...
Years ago when Betsy and I were looking for real grass fed beef, we called many, many local farms. We asked lots of very specific questions about the type of pasture, the frequency of rotation, genetics, etc. We then selected a few farms to tour and get taste tests from.
Even those who were doing it all 'perfect' had mixed results. I was amazed how after touring the farm, many (frankly) tasted bad, like swamp water. The reason is that most beef raised on pasture is raised on low-quality wetland or scrub areas because the 'better' land is all used for conventional corn/soy. This gets into the meat and also causes stress on the animals. The result is a lower quality product. It is better then supermarket 'grass fed' beef, but it sure wasn't tasty.
Try one bite. If you'd like to try what dry aged, rotationally grazed, high quality beef tastes like, look for a farmer who is raising food the way you trust. (You can always check out what makes our beef unique and try one of our sample packages.)
What do you think? Do you have any thoughts about this or questions we can answer here? And if you found any of this useful, please share with your friends!
Updated 1/15/16 to include link to FSIS standards.