When purchasing organic beef, it’s important to understand the true meanings of the terms you find on the labels or on the farmer’s sign. “100% Grass-Fed” means the cow grazed on pasture every day until slaughter. “Pasture-raised” can mean the latter, but it more often will mean that the animal was fed grains to add a little extra fat in the last months of its life to produce that marbled look which American markets prefer in their steaks. “USDA Certified Organic” means the animal was raised according to the National Organic Program standards, which include never receiving antibiotics or artificial hormone treatments and grazing on certified organic pastures for at least 120 days of the year (farmers will often opt to graze longer if the weather cooperates). Visit www.eco-labels.org for more information about the various meat labels.
When purchasing meat from a local producer, we recommend asking how the animal was raised: Did it ever receive antibiotics in their feed or as a shot? Was it raised on pastures free from chemical pesticides and herbicides? Remember that small farms are not required to certify as USDA Organic unless they bring in a certain level of revenue, but they may still be using completely organic and humane animal practices. Having a relationship with your farmer is key to making informed meat purchasing decisions.
Purchasing an entire cow (or sharing the cost with others) is a good way to directly support a farmer without middlemen, and you’ll get a nice variety of steaks, roasts and grinds. If purchasing from a local butcher, ask for 100% grass-fed meat that has been aged (a natural tenderizing process), when possible.
Nutrition: Grass-fed and pasture-raised meat contains more beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids than animals raised solely on grain. Beef, in general, contains a high level of saturated fat and cholesterol, though grass-fed contains less than grain-fed varieties. Watching meat serving sizes is always a good practice for your health.