What Is Grass Fed Beef Really?

August 20, 2021

Lets learn more about grass fed beef

What is grass fed beef really?

We know it can be hard to keep track of all the new labels that grocery stores use especially the Term Grass Fed Beef. They seem to keep changing what they are, but we want to help you better understand them.  But what does it really mean?

Ottawa Valley Meats is committed to something called food transparency – this means that we want you, the customer, to know all the details about what you are eating. That includes how it’s sourced and how it’s treated. Of course, we are always more than happy to answer any questions you might have, so please ask away!

That being said, there are many labels currently on meat products, and unfortunately, not all of them are well enforced with guidelines. This causes misleading information to be misinterpreted by consumers because brands will invent their own adjectives and claims on the package to have more success. So, let’s get into some specifics about beef labeling.

What does it imply when beef suppliers say “Our cattle are Grass Fed finished?”

All cattle start their life on pasture, even when they are eating with their mothers. and feeding on grass before moving to the last stages of production, where grain or by-products from grains may be used. Thus, all of our beef is “finished” in a pastured setting rather than being confined to a feedlot.

We used the term “100% grass-fed and finished” to ensure customers know what our beef cattle eat. The quality of the meat and environmental impact are due, in large part, to how they have been raised their entire life. We only work with farmers who practice a holistic treatment of raising cattle- never using grains, feedlots, or GMOs

Let’s discuss what 100% grass-fed means in more depth.  

There are some restrictions when labeling beef as 100% grass-fed. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) restricts the use of feedlot finishing or feeding cattle with grains and grain by-products. However, the claim “Grass Finished” is not the same as “Grass-Fed” because animals that are “grass-finished” can still be fed grains, just not in the last 3-4 months of their lives.

At Ottawa Valley Meats, we use the term “100% Grass-Fed & Finished” beef because we strongly believe in higher standards of animal welfare. Our animals are raised on pasture throughout their lives and never finished with a corn or grain by-product diet (unnatural for them to consume). In addition, we never add hormones or use antibiotics unless it is medically necessary.

The truth is that not all farmers or producers follow this definition (even if they say they do), and some choose to ‘finish’ their animals in feedlots. That means the animal will be fed a heavy grain diet at the very end of its life cycle. However, all our farmers and suppliers abide by the internationally recognized 5 Freedoms for Animals.

  1. Freedom from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
  4. Freedom from fear and distress
  5. Freedom to engage in standard patterns of animal behavior

Ottawa Valley Meats only administers antibiotics for sick animals. Animals raised in a natural environment do not require the use of regular antibiotics for immune support. However, if an animal does become ill, they are immediately removed from the herd until all traces of antibiotics are out of their system.

A growing number of people are choosing not to eat red meat because they believe it is better for the environment, but many still do not know how their food is produced. However, there are still many ways you can enjoy your share of meat while still doing your part for the environment.

Beef cattle can be raised on land unsuitable for other crops. Grazing livestock helps restore the natural ecology of grasslands and is also better than growing crops in areas that may become desert otherwise. Grass fed beef does not require chemical fertilizers or pesticides, which keeps runoff from polluting nearby streams. It also leaves overland more open for wildlife, especially birds.

Only 4 percent of the earth’s ice-free land area is arable enough to grow crops like corn or soybeans used as food for animal feed.  In other words, it takes 25 times more land to produce a pound of grain-fed meat than it would if we raised that same amount of beef on pasture (source). So by choosing grass-fed meat, you can save forests, grassland, and wildlife habitat.

In addition to saving land, pasture-raised cows produce between 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas emissions per pound of meat than conventionally raised beef (Read More Here). This is because the pastures act as a carbon sink removing the potent greenhouse gases from the air.

The final benefit of choosing grass fed beef is that the cattle on pasture are healthier and have fewer health issues than their confinement-fed counterparts. Many farmers offer “no growth hormones/antibiotics” as one reason people choose to buy their products. This is appealing for ethical reasons and because these products taste better (imagine that!) and are safer; they do not contain residues of chemicals used in animal production facilities. Buying your meat locally also reduces the pollution associated with shipping. In addition, by buying locally, you reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating the need for an 800-mile trip from the feedlot to your dinner table.

So whether it’s health reasons, ethical ones, or the environment, there are many ways people can eat meat without worrying about its effect on farms or animals.  Now, how easy is that?

By supporting more farmers who raise animals in humane ways — sourcing your meat locally through pasture-running farms — we can help increase food transparency and accountability for the industry.

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