What You Should Know About Beef Production Claims

Joel Salatin, a Tendergrass partner farmer, with his grass fed cows.

I’m grateful to have our friend David Maren of Tendergrass Farms back to pen today’s guest post. This is the last post in a three part series on the assertions that retailers make about the way their poultry, pork, and beef is raised. And don’t miss the free grass fed steak coupon code that he’s generously provided at the end of the post!

This is the third and final post in my series about animal production claims. In the previous two posts I’ve endeavored to expose some of the confusing and deceptive claims that marketers make about the way that their chickens, turkeys, and pigs are raised. Today my goal is to help you better understand the options you’re presented with when you want to purchase beef. In a previous post, Mark gave an overview of the differences between grass fed and grain fed beef where he touched on everything from taste to nutritional profiles and even pricing and availability.  This post has a much narrower goal of helping you figure out what exactly you’re being offered, whether it claims to be grass fed, grain fed, pasture raised, free range, all natural, or organic. Mark’s verdict in his post was that while you need to be eating lots of good beef, grass fed beef isn’t always going to be available or affordable for everyone. This post will help you understand the whole spectrum of beef options that you have to choose from whether or not grass fed is what you’re going for.

Bovine American History and Conventional Beef

Before World War II virtually all beef in this country was raised from birth to slaughter on pasture where 100% of their nutrients came from forage: grass, clover, and other green leafy plants. Generally speaking, cows were born, weaned, grazed, and finished all on the same farm. However, starting in the late 1940’s, the model of beef production started to shift dramatically toward feedlots. The primary factors that lead to this change were an increasing consumer demand for well-marbled beef that is more easily produced with grain feeding than grass, low grain prices, and the advent of penicillin which made it possible to keep vast numbers of cows in one place without rampant disease.1

As a result of this trend, today’s conventional grain-finished beef industry produces the vast majority of beef on the market. The conventional beef industry is divided into two sectors: cow-calf operations and feeding operations. Nearly all cows that end up in feedlots originally came from pastures. Cow-calf farms, often located in areas where the land cannot easily be used for row crops, usually keep herds of 40 to 100 or more female cows that give birth to calves that are weaned and sold at regional buying stations. The number of months that these animals spend on pasture with their mothers depends a lot on the local geography, climate, and season. The buying stations put together tractor-trailer loads of these feeder calves and ship them to the Great Plains where corn and soybeans are cheap and feedlots are plentiful. The number of months that these cattle are fed grain in feedlots varies from about 4 to 12 months. In addition to genetically modified corn and soy, feedlot rations are often comprised of cheaper ingredients including everything from urea to candy (ground up with the wrappers and all). Unless you see labeling claims or other point of sale claims (website claims, etc.) stating otherwise, it is safe to assume that you are being offered conventional feedlot-finished beef.

McAllen Ranch Beef

An example of all-natural, pasture-fed, antibiotic free, and growth hormone free claims. This is from the McAllen Ranch Beef site.

All Natural, Pasture-Fed

The first time I came across McAllen Ranch Beef was in a sponsored Google search result. At the time, McAllen Ranch was paying Google to display an ad for their website whenever a person googled “grass fed beef.” Out of curiosity, I clicked through to their website to see what they had to offer. I noticed almost immediately that on their website itself, the term “grass fed” had been replaced with terms like all-natural, pasture-fed, antibiotic free, and growth hormone free. That was the first red flag. The second was the fact that the company was based just north of the Mexican border in south Texas, an area where there is very little grass to speak of. When I gave them a call they admitted that in fact the vast majority of their beef was technically not grass fed because their cows were fed grain. As with so many of the other examples of marketing that we’ve looked at so far in the previous two posts, it appears to me that McAllen Ranch is not actually lying on their website. Let’s take a look at their claims one by one.

As we covered in detail in the pork production claims post, “all-natural” doesn’t necessarily refer to the way that the animal was raised. As with dry aged beef, “all-natural” refers to the way that the meat is handled postmortem. As long as it is free from added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances it can be called “all-natural” no matter how it was raised. This means that a huge percentage of the all-natural beef on the market today is raised in feedlots with GMO-feed, artificial hormones, and antibiotics. For example, after writing the last post on pork claims I had a phone conversation with Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch, who shared with me his disgust regarding the fact that Niman Ranch now buys all of their all natural beef directly from feedlots.

McAllen Ranch beef is also “pasture-fed.” This might be the trickiest claim of all. When most people hear “pasture-fed” they think “grass-fed” but there’s a very important distinction between these two terms. Pasture-fed, pastured, or pasture raised are all synonymous terms that mean that the animal was raised in a pasture of some form but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the animal exclusively ate grass while on pasture. In many areas of the world such as south Texas, grass is scarce and grain feeding is the only viable way to get cows to grow up to a good weight for slaughter quickly. By using the term “pasture-raised,” McAllen Ranch can raise their cows with large amounts of grain and very small amounts of forage without technically breaking the law as they would be doing if they called their beef “grass fed.” While not commonly used in the beef industry, the claim “free range” means virtually the same thing.

Antibiotic Free, Artificial Growth Hormone Free

In contrast, the terms “antibiotic free” and “hormone free” are actually very meaningful. While McAllen Ranch beef may not be grass fed, the fact that it is raised without the use of artificial hormone implants and subtherapeutic antibiotics is significant. This is because today almost all beef in the US is raised with the use both of those substances. Subtherapeutic antibiotics are used in beef production much as I described in the articles on pork and poultry. Instead of being used as a therapy for a specific veterinary diagnosis, subtherapeutic antibiotics are added to a cow’s daily ration to maximize its “performance” when packed into feedlots with tens of thousands of other potentially sick cows.

Similarly, conventionally raised feedlot beef is usually implanted with a pellet containing either estrogen or androgen hormones to maximize their growth. Note that in the US this is only legal in lamb and beef production. The pellet is typically implanted under the skin in the ear of the animal being that the ear doesn’t typically enter the food supply. As you can imagine, cows that are given artificial hormone implants grow much faster than artificial hormone free cows. Nearly all beef in the US is raised with both artificial hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics.

Applegate Organic Roast Beef

A package of Applegate brand certified organic roast beef.

Certified Organic Beef

Certified Organic Beef production is regulated by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). The NOP protocols that pertain to certified organic ruminants (animals that chew their cud such as cows and sheep) state that the animals must be raised on “pasture [with] daily grazing throughout the grazing season(s).2 At this point it would appear that the organic regulation would require certified organic beef to be raised with the same standards as “pasture-fed” beef with the added requirement of only certified organic feed being used. There is, however, a loophole in the regulation that states that “yards, feeding pads, or feedlots” may be used for “ruminant slaughter stock” as long as the feedlot feeding period does not exceed 120 days (or 1/5 of the animal’s total life). Keep in mind that many conventional non-organic feedlots don’t keep their animals on the feedlot for more than 120 days either. It would be impractical for me to list every NOP requirement for certified organic beef in this post but it is important to point out that they do not allow the use of artificial hormones or antibiotics.3

The fact that a certain beef product is certified organic does not necessarily mean that it is not also grass fed. The Applegate product pictured above is not made from grass fed beef, but Applegate does have at least one certified organic grass fed beef product that I’m aware of. Another example of a company that offers certified organic grass fed beef is TX Bar Organics. Just remember that it isn’t safe to assume that all certified organic beef is 100% grass fed.

Tendergrass Farms Grass Fed Ground Beef

A product claiming to be “grass fed” as well as “grass finished.” This screenshot is from the Tendergrass Farms website.

Grass Fed, Grass Finished

The USDA standard for grass fed beef requires that grass and forage be the food source for grass fed cows for the entirety of the animal’s life. The standard does allow, of course, for grass fed calves to drink their mother’s milk but they cannot be fed grain and must have “continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” Stockpiled forage such as hay is acceptable and used widely in grass fed beef production, typically just in the winter. Notice that because the term “grass fed” can only be used when the animal is fed forage for the entirety of the animal’s life, the term “grass finished” doesn’t actually add any meaning when used in conjunction with “grass fed.” Here at Tendergrass Farms we originally didn’t use the term “grass finished” but we started getting so many phone calls from customers asking if our beef was grass fed and grass finished that we decided to use that language on our website to help clarify the issue. Many other grass fed beef farms and organizations use the same language to describe their 100% grass fed beef.

The USDA defines forage as “grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state.” Legumes are plants from the bean family such as alfalfa or clover and brassicas are plants from the cabbage family such as rape. Note that cereal grain crops such as rye are allowed for use as forage for grass fed beef as long as the cows eat the rye shoots before they form grain heads. Out of all of these legally acceptable options, perennial grasses and clovers are by far the most commonly used. They require the least work to grow and are easily stored for winter as hay. The alternatives such as brassicas and annual grasses often provide more nutrient-dense forage which enables cows to grow more quickly, but the labor costs involved with planting and feeding annuals is very high compared with perennials so this method is less common.

One of the problems with the USDA definition for grass fed beef is that it has a loophole that allows for the use of grain “to ensure the animal’s well being at all times during adverse environmental or physical conditions.” One local grass fed beef company here in Virginia once disclosed to me that they have an internal policy with regard to this loophole that allows their farmers to feed up to 2% of the animal’s weight in grain per day during the winter months. Assuming that their cows weigh about 1000 pounds and given the fact that there are about 5 “winter months” in this part of the country, their policy would allow for each grass fed cow to be fed about 1.5 tons of grain per year. Amazingly, it can still be marketed as “grass fed beef.” As absurd as this idea might sound to the farmers here at Tendergrass and many other reputable grass fed beef organizations, this practice is not uncommon. As always, there’s no good alternative to doing your homework, asking your farmer exactly how their animals are raised, and tracking down for yourself the real story behind the label.

So where do we go from here?

Throughout this series of posts I’ve hammered the idea of not making assumptions about your meat sources and I’ve encouraged you to hold your suppliers accountable. The best way to do this is to take the time to get to know your suppliers. Call them up. Email them. Read the fine print on their websites. Ask the hard questions. Today, the internet makes this a lot easier than it was years ago. You might be surprised at what you find out. Here at Tendergrass we have an entire page called Grass Fed Standards where we tell you just how our meats are raised and most other companies that are honest will have similar materials readily available. Generally speaking, the more closely connected you can be to the farmer who raised your meat, the better. Just because the grass fed beef you’re offered might be raised in New Zealand or Australia (like the Applegate product above) doesn’t mean that it was necessarily raised according to low production standards, but it’s often nearly impossible to hold your farmer accountable when you (and your retailer) don’t even know who they are.

Go against the grain, get 5 free grass fed beef steaks

For those of you who think that grass fed beef sounds like the best option of all we’ve created a coupon code that’ll give you five (5) free 1/2 pound dry aged grass fed sirloin tip steaks (a $79.95 value) with all orders over $199 which will also qualify your order for Free Shipping. Just head over to the Tendergrass Farms online grass fed meats store and toss $199 of our yummy grass fed beef, pastured pork, pastured chicken, or pastured turkey into your cart. When you’re ready to check out just apply the coupon code GO-AGAINST-THE-GRAIN and five grass fed sirloin tip steaks will be miraculously added to your cart at a price of $0.00 (expires 9/30/13, limited to 50 redemptions, while supplies last).

Tip: If $199 sounds like a big first order just grab a couple friends from the gym and place an order together.


1There’s a great summary of the history of beef production in the USA over at LivingHistoryFarm.org

2You can read the full NOP regulations in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (ECFR).

3The Illinois State Bar Association has a great little summary of the legal side of this.

David Maren is a husband, father, farmer, and co-founder of Tendergrass Farms. Tendergrass Farms is a cooperative-style online grass fed meats shop that exists as a bridge between the often geographically isolated family farmer and committed grass fed meats enthusiasts like yourself. The Tendergrass Farms vision is to sustain family farms through making it easy for you to purchase their meats by taking advantage of appropriate technology and ultra-efficient transportation models that enable their meats to be shipped to fans all around the USA.

If you’re not already a huge fan of Tendergrass Farms, you’re missing out: Go bookmark their site, like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and check out their grass fed blog!

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104 thoughts on “What You Should Know About Beef Production Claims”

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  1. I wish I could place an order but I doubt you guys deliver to Canada. And the shipping would likely be prohibitive anyway.

    1. Don’t know where you live in Canada, but likely you have access to the same quality of product in your province or territory.m Ask at your local farmers market. 🙂

    2. I’ve read a lot about farming/agriculture regulations, and after reading all of these posts I think I have a good grasp of what to look for…in the U.S.

      Does anyone know what the laws and regulations are in Canada? I assume they are similar but have no clue really. What does “certified organic” mean north of the border?

  2. Yuck, I can’t think of the junk sitting in conventional meat.. it grosses me out. Great post, Mark. Will definitely take a look at Tenderfarms. Thanks for the coupon code!

  3. Why is it so difficult to find quality food. Why are companys so eager to find loopholes to get around doing the right thing. Just give us a natural healthy product. At some point, it has to be about something more than money.

    1. While capitalism has its advantages, this is the downside – buyer beware!

      1. To the extent this is capitalism, if you want to call the capacity to feed millions of people primally a downside, you have a strange definition of the word. However, the whole cost sructure of the meat factory is based on govt subsidized feed. That is not capitalism. There are probably several different aspects of the system that is government subsidized directly or indirectly. The playing field would be a lot more even if the government would stop subsidizing one mode of production while raising the cost on the other.

        1. Even without subsidies, there’s still the “faster, cheaper” nipping at every farmer’s heal.

          Capitalism does a lot of things well. But to imagine that it’s a perfect, self-correcting machine is a fairy tale.

    2. It isn’t about the money. The money is the byproduct of giving consumers what they want. I want cheaper beef. Conventional farms find a way to give me cheaper beef. You place a greater value on grass fed. Fine. Tendergrass Farms is grateful to you. They are giving you what you want. Fraud is a different story. A feedlot telling you that their cafo meat is grass-fed and charging you as if it was is fraudulent. That is unethical.

  4. Wow. Fed urea and candy mashed up with the wrappers and implanted with hormone pellets. Makes your mouth water doesn’t it? Just take off the Frankenstein bolts and dig right in! Sadly I’m not surprised in the least. Most people seem to hardly care what they eat never mind what they are willing to dish out to the rest of the populous for a buck. This is the type of crap that really makes you wonder whether mankind should survive as a species. It just might be time for mother nature to turn the giant Etch-A-Sketch upside down and give it a good hard shake 🙂

    1. I suppose. On the other hand, I highly doubt pastures are anti-septic places that contain only grass and grass like plants. I can think of a lot of gross things that would end up on the ground that cattle might be unable to avoid while grazing. (Including small animal waste products – it would make the occasional candy with wrapper look down right sanitary.)

      I don’t know..I keep coming back to that there is a limit to how far conditions can be pushed before animals become unable to gain weight and/or simply end up dead. Conventional *is* about production and dead and sick animals equal wasted feed.

      I’m not saying it’s a happy life and we can’t do better, but I don’t see the point of constantly imagining the worst about conventional farming. (Or over romanticizing more natural conditions.) I’ve eaten conventional most of life and because we have a family and budget, we’ll have a continued need to incorporate those foods, even as we try to reduce our intake of them.

      1. I think the quote about the candy rapper was to do with the fact nothing should ever be fed that, not the cleanliness of it.

        What’s so bad about a bit of animal waste anyway ?

  5. I worked on a cattle station in Australia 10 years ago and I helped out on the farm when they were putting the hormone pellets in the cow’s ears. They had to punch a triangular hole in the other ear so that cows couldn’t be sold in the EU (where I believe growth hormones are illegal).

    I ate beef whilst in Australia, but I’m glad to be back in the UK where grass is plentiful (and I have a community farm which grazes its beef all year).

  6. I never put CW meat products in my mouth unless I’m out to eat and really, really hungry. Even if I could not afford the GFGF good stuff, I’d buy it anyway. It’s cheaper in the long run if you think of it as health insurance…quit buying the crappy stuff and those money grubbing companies will go broke. No more excuses!

  7. Went to TenderGrass website to place order, but when I entered the coupon code I got a message saying the code was “invalid or expired.” Disappointed.

  8. THANKS FOR A GREAT ARTICLE! In Florida, Publix sells “Greenwise” beef, no antibiotics or hormones, but no grass fed claims, now I have a better idea of what I am buying and confirming (to me) it is worth the extra when we are not buying grass fed.

    1. Publix(or most of them, I am in Naples, FL) sells grass-fed beef from White Oaks farms in Georgia. I sometimes order directly from White Oaks as its cheaper to buy from them than Publix or Whole Foods(also sells White Oaks)even with shipping costs. They also sell poultry, rabbit, lamb and recently added pork. So far I am happy with them. https://whiteoakpastures.com/index.html

  9. Wow! I never knew they were fed candy… with the wrappers and all! And that is considered “all natural.” Such a scam & I feel bad for the cows who don’t get to eat grass as nature intended. Yuck.

  10. Seriously, know your farmer know your food. We switched to local grass finished beef awhile back and it is so comforting to KNOW where it comes from. Reading Fast Food Nation completely changed my view on beef and meat in general. I may have this wrong, but I want to say that over 80%of all antibiotics in the US go to cattle. It is all so ridiculous. Already having one child who had to have several rounds of different antibiotics to clear up one ear infection and reading that made the switch easy. We can’t NOT afford to eat this way. We just eat less meat and more veggies and ditched the cable, oh and the grains of course.

  11. Great write-up Dave. Since my company was mentioned in this article, I thought I should chime in.

    If you’re concerned about where your meat, or food for that matter is coming from, get in contact with your producer.

    Dave is absolutely right; you can throw terms like “grass fed” or “organic” around and fool folks into buying your product. A lot of the bigger companies are also outsourcing beef from countries like New Zealand and Australia.

    TX Bar Organics is 100% grass fed, grass finished, and USDA organic. “No Bull” as we say 🙂

    Feel free to get in touch with us. We love hearing from you.

  12. As a mom of three little girls with some crazy health issues, I have zero problem spending the $ for a quality product (and I am far, far from financially well off just put a big premium on our health), however, where we live (the sticks), finding those quality products is like finding a needle in a haystack. But I can find forty fast food restaurants within a ten mile radius? Easy peasy. Kind of a downer that this is what we deal with today.

    1. If you’re really in the sticks, hopefully you should be able to buy directly from farmers. When we were living out in the country, I found it easier, not harder to find local food (and people willing to bargain) etc.

      Also, usually rural dwellers have the option of raising their own food. It wouldn’t take a huge lot, I think to buy a calf in the spring, raise it and have it slaughtered in the fall.

      Given your description, though, I’m thinking you’re really living in suburbia. And yes, I agree that’s probably the hardest location for local foods. It’s tough for us, too.

  13. and I wish this information was posted next to every meat department in every market across the land… (insert wishful thinking). Thank you for your insight!

  14. There are two local cattle farmers in my area. One has grass-fed beef. It’s basically a grass farm with irrigation for the grass, chickens for the fertilizer plus cattle. The other has cattle that graze the native grasslands but are supplemented with oats and hay for part of the year since the grass dies and gets pretty thin in winter. I am a little torn as to which is the better process.

    1. Seems like both are pretty good options. The differences may be in the type of grasses and sources of hay the cows eat. Alfalfa is a common hay plant and it’s technically a legume, but the cows don’t eat the seed part, just the stems and leaves.

      There are definitely farms that specialize in the production of hay, but I have no idea whether chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used to promote growth.

  15. False dilemmas posed annoy me. This article says “In many areas of the world such as south Texas, grass is scarce and grain feeding is the only viable way to get cows to grow up to a good weight for slaughter quickly.”…then later goes on to say that grassfed beef are often fed (grass) hay. And horses all over the country are fed with baled and shipped hay, too…

    1. Ruffian – You’re right that hay could be shipped to areas like south Texas but the shipping costs would be very high. Good point, but I don’t personally know if any grass-based farms that are based on that model. While this is certainly possible but I don’t know if the economics would work for the farmer.

  16. I’ve love to eat grass fed beef. Sadly, I can’t afford $19.99 for a SINGLE flat-iron steak, whereas I can buy three of them for $6 or less at the local grocery store. I literally could not afford to pay that much for a single 1/2 pound steak and still manage to feed my family of four. Too bad…

    1. Then you’ll probably end up spending more on Health Care! The argument doesn’t hold. Don’t know where you live, but $19.99 for a 1/2 pound is highway robbery. You can search around and get it for much less. The more of us that buy the grass finished, the lower the prices will go and the CAFO’s will start going out of business.

      1. “Then you’ll probably end up spending more on health care…”

        Not necessarily. Certainly grass-fed/finished, dry-aged beef is the better choice if you can afford it, but there are millions of people out there that do just fine on ordinary supermarket beef. Much more worrisome is the amount of sweets and grains people consume and the obesity problem that goes with it.

        1. Shary, how do you know people are doing fine on CAFO? You think sweets and grains do more damage than pus, antibiotics, GMO grains, etc ??? I’m not buying it, literally!

      2. $19.99 is the price for flat-iron steaks from the website of the guest author of the post. I agree that’s highway robbery. I disagree on the healthcare part. You seriously think its eat grass fed beef or get really sick? How about eat the best meat you can, as part of a balance diet that eliminates grains? How about get enough sleep, play, modest exercise, enjoy life, and not be snobby about food but chill out and reduce stress? LOL. As Robb Wolf puts it, eating cheap meats is way better than eating the standard American diet. 🙂

        1. Yes, I think you can get sick from eating CAFO. Vote with your money and then the price of GFGF will come down.

        2. Not to scare monger and all, but the connection between growth hormones and tumor/cancer growth rate has yet to be thoroughly examined. Personally, it won’t surprise me to find out there is a very definite connection. But why bother taking the risk? I just don’t get it.

          Figure out the best sources for living as cleanly as you can, than budget accordingly.

          Besides, what role do you think the grains in “grain fed” beef play in the animals super saturated fat (or as they like to call it – marbling) production? Why do you think grain fed beef tastes, as some describe, “sweeter”? You’re not eliminating grains when you’re eating grain fed beef, you’re just getting them in a different form.

    2. Someone’s ripping you off…~1/2 lb grass fed steaks at my local king soopers/city market (in the vail area–not cheap) are between 6-10 bucks depending on cut. I regularly get grass fed Delmonico steaks for much less at whole foods when I get to Denver…

    3. As I said in the post, grass fed beef in not for everyone and budget is certainly part of that. If you believe that Tendergrass Farms prices are unreasonably high, do a little shopping around. Here’s a link to my friend Travis’ site over at TX Bar Organics: https://www.txbarorganics.com/products/steaks

      You’ll notice that his prices are very comparable to Tendergrass prices. We both know that we’d sell more if our prices were lower but the only way to get our prices down would be to lower our standards. There is often a misconception that the prices that organizations like Tendergrass charge are making us rich. Unfortunately this is not so. (There’s a reason so few companies offer the types of products that we sell – it’s a hard business to be in.) If there was a lot of money in online grass fed meats sales, Omaha Steaks would be in the business by now. For the record, I currently drive a 2001 Honda Civic (with hail damage) and I can guarantee you that Travis isn’t driving a Rolls-Royce either. 😉

      You might find it interesting that due to “factory farming” (among other factors) food prices in this country have actually gone down about 82% in the last 100 years: https://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/08/over-100-years-food-prices-have-fallen.html

      It might be interesting to know the change in health care costs per capita over that same time period.

      1. first of all the prices for your grass fed beef are double what Conventional beef prices are. being a producer that provides yearling calves for feedlots i have a good understanding of beef production. i also sell the occasional grass fed, hormone implant, antibiotic free beef animal to any neighbor who wants to buy them. i typically sell at a live weight price that translates into a cut and wrapped price equal to that of 93%-7% hamburger available in the store, today that would be roughly $4.15 a pound. interestingly enough that gives me enough to cover my costs and make it worth my while. you’ll understand if i don’t believe you when you tell me your not making good money. Next, being a beef producer i eat a lot of my own meat and its good but you can’t tell my a corn fed steak doesn’t rock your taste buds. Third i wholeheartedly support feedlots who innovate and think outside the box. those who understand the cows digestive would understand that it is perfectly capable of handling things like candy wrappers without any adverse effects on the animal while still utilizing the sugars for growth and energy. anyone who is in the business of producing beef is concerned for the health and safety of his animals. however, the producer still has to make money so he try’s to cut cost to provide a good low cost product for consumers. If the customer was willing to pay a little more so that producers can conform to the expectations of the health minded without shrinking his already small profit margins i’m sure he would be willing to do it.

        closing note beef tastes good, and its good for you, in a balanced diet of course. as a producer i want all consumers to feel safe eating the food i produce, but wish wish everyone could understand what we’re up against. we’re trying to feed the world at a low cost and have it be good enough that you buy it again. educate yourselves on the issues and don’t believe the first thing your told especially if someones trying to sell you something

  17. If you’re near the IA/MN/WI/IL crossing check out Mountain Lane Beef. I have no affiliation – just feel lucky to get truly grass fed beef at such reasonable prices.

  18. Hormone pellets? Candy with wrappers? What I know of CAFO-raised animals disgusts me….and yet there’s always something new and unbelievable.

    I think farmers who grow fruits/veggies/livestock as they’re meant to be grown should be the ONLY ones allowed to call their product “Beef,” “Chicken,”Eggs,” etc. Let the conventional farmers attach the narrative to THEIR animals:

    Imagine this label: “Candy-raised, with green tea, arsenic and benadryl, under 24-hour flourescent lighting. Synthetic androgens and trace antibiotics included! From our corporate warehouse to yours! Fed an all-inclusive diet of GMO grains, chicken sh1t, feathers and blood while ankle deep in ammonia-rich manure.”
    A great article in a great series.

    1. Criminy. I said this upstream, but I don’t see the point about of imagining the worst about all conventional. If I think about total grass fed in the same way, I basically end up in the same place, which is “ew, gross”.

      Imagine this label: Cattle left to forge for their own food among painful thistles. Pasture includes all sorts of scat and rotting insects and small animals. Never given drugs when ill. Left out in the wind and rain. Drinks from puddles in the pastures that concentrates salts of all kinds and contains bacteria from animal waste.

      Again, I’m not arguing that conventional is better. At some point, I’d very much like to afford 100% grass raised beef. But some of this stuff seems a bit over the top.

      1. Amy, you will pay more for healthcare by trying to save $$$ on CAFO. Healthcare is already in crisis because of all the crap sold in the grocery stores. Why contribute?

      2. You’re describing a situation that sounds pretty good to me…..sounds like you’d like the cattle to have easy access to a huge purell dispenser…

      3. Don’t know where you live in Canada, but likely you have access to the same quality of product in your province or territory.m Ask at your local farmers market. 🙂

      4. Where do you get your ideas about how cattle are raised? Are you a farmer?

      5. A well managed pasture being grazed by cows should not contain thistles. Goats are a different story. Goats like thistles. Anyway, cow pastures should be about 40% legumes (alfalfa, clover, and other similar) and about 60% grasses (timothy, etc). “Weeds” such as thistle are a symptom of an out of balance environment and one in which cows will not thrive (cows don’t like thistle and will graze around it).

        Responsible grass stockmen check their animals several times a day and quickly isolate ill or injured animals. The grass stockmen in my area treat these animals by conventional means, then sell them into the CAFO system, arguing that an animal who is not smart enough to keep herself injury free, or whose constitution is not strong enough to beat pathogens has no business in a rotational pasture system. That’s pretty hard core, in my opinion, but I respect and understand it even if it’s not what I might choose to do myself.

        Pastured systems ALWAYS provide a reliable source of water either from a creek or from water barrels. Stockmen often also provide a mineral/salt lick for animals to access at will. In a well managed rotational system, most animals rarely need the mineral/salt lick but in pastures where the soil quality is in process of being restored, this lick provides the animals with nutrients not in the soil.

        http://www.eatwild.com is an excellent resource for stockmen in your local area, offering access to farmers and stockmen and charging much less per pound than at the grocery store.

        While I don’t think that you’re directly risking your future health and well being by eating meat out of the grocery store, I think there is a moral point to be made in buying direct from the producer rather than at the grocery store. The person who raised the animal gets the full benefit of your purchase rather than pennies on the dollar.

        I’m truly not trying to beat up on you; I understand where you are coming from completely. I am the daughter of a bankrupt dairy farmer and an aspiring grass stockwoman myself. I see a lot of lack of understanding regarding how good farms operate and just want to put the information out there.

      6. I thought this was funny, in your description of how grass fed beef “Is raised”, you tried to make it sound bad… LOL, sounds pretty “natural” to me.

    2. do you know how many GMO grains you eat in a day? i’ll bet its more than you think. and whats so wrong with them anyway? we have successfully genetically modified a variety of plants to do many things we have made them drought resistant which means they need less water. we have modified them to be many times more productive so that we could grow more food on less land and feed more people for less money and with better nutritional value. if you want to learn more about GMO’s try looking up golden rice. it wasn’t a stunning success but it had the potential to save thousands of lives. we have genetically modified almost every grain fruit and vegetable that we eat. so then the question is why is it so wrong to feed it to our animals? we eat it.

  19. I just placed an order and everything went just fine. Try again.

  20. Many of the cattlemen who ranch in California’s foothills have grassfed beef. In our family the calves were born in the winter just as the grass came in. By late May, the cows and calves were taken to the mountain range where they ate whatever they could forage from the high mountain meadows. When the cows were shipped home in September the calves went off to the feedlot. Only the cows were fed hay for about 3 months, and that was mostly grass hay. If you can contact a rancher in the foothills here, you can buy a calf that is just coming off mountain meadows.

  21. wish I could get grass fed beef locally here in Los Angeles. I live less than five miles from an agriculture university and even their “grass fed” beef in the farm store is “grain finished.”

    so sad

    great article!

      1. As soon as I get the money I want to start ordering from you guys. I’m a new kid from Kansas trying to find a steady job & still be able to thrive primally.

        My mouth is watering just thinking about it D:

  22. I am lucky and have local farmers who I buy from. I know the grocery store is convenient and cheap, but for not much more, just buy a half of a cow for a family of 4 at your local farm. Ok, you will eat a lot of “its not steak” and you will need to learn how to cook the tough cuts, but where there is a will, there is a way. and, you can see “your critter” in the field grazing, and some farms will allow you to work on the farm and lend a hand for a discount on the meat. Especially when it’s time to bring them in for processing. Someone has to label, weigh, and put all the meat into inventory.

  23. Yay new zealand… with our mild climate our cows live on hay and grass… feedlots def not the norm and I hope they never are

    1. Yes – yay for New Zealand beef and lamb. I come from a farming background and there is no way that NZ Farmers will ever be able to afford grain to feed their animals. We are the best in the world at growing grass. Antibiotics are only used if an animal is sick, and then that animal does not go to slaughter for a certain period.

      Ask for New Zealand beef and lamb in your local supermarket – the more people that ask, the more the Supermarket buyers will listen.

  24. A few years ago, before I was primal and my children were young we toured a local snack food factory. The tour guide was delighted to point out how “green” the operation was partly because all the potato chips, pretzels, and cheese puffs that fell of the conveyor belts were donated to local farmers to feed their livestock. I can’t believe that it sounded like a good idea to me at the time. Thanks Mark and Dave for your insights.

  25. I wish this discussed silage–a process where green plants are chopped and stored with limited oxygen, for example in a silo, preserving more of the nutrition of the plant than in dried hay. I asked a local producer if they gave their cattle grain, and the answer was that they give them no grain, but they do give them silage made from chopped green barley. That seemed better than the usual silage made from green corn. I have heard references to haylage, which I assume is grass or legumes chopped and stored as silage and so would be even better. I think farmers feed a lot of silage. Is that being counted as grassfed because the grain is not fully developed?

    1. Woo hoo! This beef costs from $34/lb. (sirloin) to $80 per pound (filet)! Looks like I have to take my chances with a few antibiotics and hormones. Grass fed gold!

      1. +1
        grass- fed gold, indeed!! look up how much kosher meat costs, just regular kosher meat, and then look up grass fed kosher meat.
        don’t pass out, just quit complaining about how much your food costs!

    2. Silage can be made from pretty much anything that is green and does not yet have a seed head. Ideally, silage is cut just days before the plants put up seed heads because you want moisture in the plant but too much moisture will spoil the silage. In his farming days, my father made silage in his hay fields in the early fall, when there was good growth on the plants but not enough to be worth turning into hay.

      Another winter option is root vegetables. During the Victorian time period, winter feed for many animals on the farm was a mix of hay and chopped beets/turnips/other roots. Many of these roots promote lactation in cows who have calved, which makes them prized for early spring feed, far more so than grain.

  26. My local Wegmans has a great selection of grass fed beef very impresses especially compared to shoprite and stop and shop 🙂

  27. I used to live in the “Cattle Capitol of the Southwest” near the Texas/New Mexico border. Passed many feedlots. Those cows were often standing on HUGE piles of manure in a bare ground enclosure. Horrible smell. Cow prison I guess. They were probably happy to get on the truck heading for the slaughter house. I don’t remember ever seeing a cow grazing in a field in that part of the country but I am sure there was one somewhere.

  28. Why is it so hard to determine how meat is raised?

    Who can afford to spend $30-50 per pound on meat?

    1. Buy direct from the producer. Average cost for a half cow usually works out to 5 to 8 dollars a pound, perhaps a little less. Granted, you will have to eat much more than just steaks but it works for me. 🙂

      1. We did this several years ago. We carefully researched the local cattle ranch and were assured the beef was hormone/antibiotic-free, grass-fed, grass-finished, dry-aged, and still on the hoof at the time of order. The only problem was the unscrupulous processor. The beef that was delivered to us was NOT the animal we thought we were getting. What we did get was mostly outdated packages of meat that had been laying around in the processor’s freezer long enough to become badly freezer-burned and was off-tasting and basically inedible. When we complained to the rancher we bought the meat from, he apologized but didn’t offer a refund or any other kind of compensation.

        It was an expensive lesson. Now we buy our beef in limited amounts at Whole Foods or Tony’s (a local high-end butcher shop) and, yes, sometimes at the supermarket. Contrary to popular belief among some of the comments here, you can usually find pretty good quality at much cheaper prices at a supermarket. Horror stories nothwithstanding, you won’t be “killing” your family with it.

        1. why should the producer feel obligated to give you any compensation. after all you bought a live animal it wasn’t his fault you choose a bad butcher

  29. We buy from The Ventura Meat Company. Mike
    assures us that he has vetted the suppliers he
    uses and that they are GFGF. Love his stuff.

    We have purchased half a cow from local ranchers
    and also bought cuts from booths at farmer’s markets
    who all claim to be GF.

    Might be, but my problem with
    them is that they are *proud* that they trim the beef
    close to the meat and there is very little fat left on
    the cuts. They even have told us that theirs is the
    leanest beef you can buy.

    They don’t understand! We WANT the FAT!

    Mark, can you get through to these guys?

    1. Bill, We agree. Here at Riven Rock, the Galloways marble up beautifully on our mountain grasses and clovers. We want that goof marbled fat. Gourmet eating without the gunk. Our Galloway beef is approx 2 to 1 in Omega 6 to 3 ratio. Anything under 4 to 1 is healthy stuff I believe. Commercial beef is more like 15 to 1.

  30. Eat Irish beef chaps, it’s nearly all grass fed. For ages I was terrified when I heard about this grain fed beef lark and started looking for grass fed, recently I had a chat with a few lads who grew up on Dairy and meat farms around Ireland and all their beef is pasture fed. It’s the norm here.

  31. Can anyone comment on how most Bison is raised in the US? Is it the same as conventional beef with the antibiotic and hormone implants and feedlot finishing unless otherwise stated on the package??

    I also want to know about conventional lamb production. For some reason I was under the impression that most sheep were raised outdoors (conventional or not). Am I wrong? I was surprised to read in the post above that sheep also get hormone implants. Ugh, I won’t be buying lamb at the local grocery anymore.

    1. Jennifer,
      Take a look at https://wildideabuffalo.com/mission/ to learn how this ranch offers an alternative to the industrialized food system in regards to grass fed and grass finished bison. Be sure to read the “Grass Fed Is Better” and the ‘Humanely Harvested” pages. I’m sure you will admire their conservation efforts regarding the grasslands and bison.

      https://www.thousandhillscattleco.com/news-power-steer.html is is a long, well written article about the life cycle of feedlot cattle. Well worth the time to read. One more reason to avoid grain, especially corn.

  32. Americans really need to change their entire corporate incentive system. Also the whole marketing/lying thing is out of control, but then this comes back to the incentive system.

    This article made we want to throw up.

  33. Does anyone know how much the “candy-feeding” goes on in Australia? I found one very brief article on the ABC website but it’s 14 years old and only concerned two states?

  34. It’s all grass fed in NZ. Growing good pasture is my (our) heritage. Besides, feeding out is expensive and we do it mostly with hay and silage when the snow covers the grass. And of course it is illegal to use antibiotics prophylactically, hormones or grow GM pasture, thank dog.

  35. Grassfed is nice but expensive, out of reach for so many people on a regular day to day eating plan. Over the last 10+ years eating paleo I had hoped prices and mass meat production could change but it has not happened yet. But yes, given I win the lotto, I will order enough to support my 2lb a day habit.

  36. When I was a kid we rarely ate steaks…lots of ground beef. I buy only pasture raised and finished meats now, and my grocery budget hasn’t changed much. I have a hard time getting much of this locally, so I order from farmers directly on line, the one mentioned in the article sounds good. I also use USWellnessmeats. They have an online store with a flat rate shipping cost, discounts of $25 for large orders, and a wide array of different products. They ship quickly. I think if people stopped buying cereals and sodas and other things, and considered their future health costs, the idea of paying two to three times the cost for their meats wouldn’t be that big a concern. I know with me, my cholesterol and sugars were so high, and I get my extra omega 3 fatty acids from the pastured meat, both numbers dropped down to 78 or so from the mid 300’s in four months, after cutting sugars and eating paleo with only pastured meats. Great article, we need to inform people. It doesn’t mention the early support of our government in all of this too…grain farmers get alot of support historically…how about we now support the return to quality foods and meats.

    1. While yes, speaking in general, many people could afford GFGF beef if they cut the unnecessaries out of their budgets, there are many families who have already eliminated every last bit of breathing room from their budget and still find GFGF meats out of their budget, as priced by the major players and grocery stores. My family does not buy soda. We do not buy chips, cereal, pasta, etc. As a family of 5, we are on a shoestring budget thanks to the furloughs imposed on federal employees this summer. Thank goodness I have learned my way around the nonconventional means of grocery shopping, otherwise we would truly be up a creek.

      For those families, a $200 investment into a chest freezer and contact with a stockman through http://www.eatwild.com will save enormous amounts of money, as the cost per half steer often drops to $5/lb or less. Of course, this means eating roasts, and various “undesirable” bits such as shank steaks, but these cuts can be very tasty and nutritious with a bit of careful cooking.

      Finding someone who raises a few animals for pleasure may also be an option. As the result of a recent barter, I got a whole goat for the “price” of a gallon of homemade beer and a gallon (maybe two gallons, she is a very tasty goat) of kraut I’ll make later in the year.

      1. That is exactly what we did: bought a small freezer; then purchased 1/2 a cow for about $7 per pound; and 1/2 a pig for about $5 per pound. We found the local farmers at the Farmer’s Market and eatwild.com. The meat is so delicious and healthy!

        You only get one life and you are what you eat! So invest in yourself.

  37. If you are in the Houston area check out A Better Way Beef, near Brenham. 100 % grassfed and the owner Mike will deliver right to your door! Order in bulk and its under $6 a pound for mixed cuts, ground, and steaks. Even organs. Ive ordered twice now and loved everything! Not affilliated, just a happy customer. Found them though EatWild website.

  38. Regarding that particular Applegate product, I believe it is grass-fed; First, it’s labeled as such, and second, when it’s sold at Whole Foods, it has a Step 4 rating, which they only give to legitimate grass-fed beef. I read an article a while ago that said Applegate sources their grass-fed beef from Uruguay, for whatever that’s worth.

  39. I kept waiting for the article to mention Joel Salatin, the man in the featured photo and the visionary leader of Polyface Farm. If you don’t already know about his near-legendary work (and beef), check it out!

  40. We have a local rancher whose cattle are fed a small amount of spent malt from a local brewery with their grass. They do qualify for the “grass fed” standards as the malt is only fed during the winter and makes up no more than 10% of their feed (per the rancher). I’m wondering what adverse health effects we might see from eating that beef as the grain has been sprouted and soaked before being fed to the cattle.

  41. Great article from Tendergrass and David. Our beef and lamb business in Virginia is growing with lots of Paleo folks because we also stick to a strict protocol for our forage based farm. We use heritage breed Galloway cattle and Katahdin sheep for our grass genetics. Other labels to look for are Animal Welfare Approved and American Grass Fed Certified- we have both.

  42. Great posts! Has anyone done any research on Trader Joe’s meat products? I typically buy their Argentina grass fed beef, I am curious to know what farms supply TJ.

  43. Higher food bills will lower medical bills? No data to back that up. How many cattle farms are feeding the cattle candy? Hmm? Numbers please. This article was one big sales pitch.

    And for every example of unethical commercial food production, there are possibly equal amounts of unethical natural/organic food production. But first we have to weed out the urban myths, legends, and otherwise fabricated scary stories which are meant to demonize one side or the other in order to get us in the middle to join that side or another.

    I think many of us are in the middle. We’re skeptical of both sides of the food industry who seem intent on one thing- to get our money.

    The only thing certain is this. No matter what your budget, eat a wide variety of good fresh foods from any source and you will be vary healthy compared to the average “get it quick” dieter.

    1. OK, self-professed skeptic, how about this? The reason most Europeans are healthy despite eating much more fat and meat than Americans is because they get a lot of their meat and dairy from traditional farmers in the Balkans. Those farmers are doing it in the same way, maybe even a more healthy way, as we were pre-1940. Now, the EU is trying to regulate those farmers out of existence for “sanitary” reasons. This is at the root of the issues that many Balkan countries have with joining the EU, or at least adopting all the standards. And in this case, I think they’re right. The source of the French “paradox” is that they get healthy meat and healthy dairy from Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, and other places. If the EU succeeds in closing down the “dirty” “old fashioned” “out of date” sheep farms, goat farms, poultry farms, etc… then it will suffer the same fate as us. Don’t believe me? OK, wait a few decades. But if you want to prevent that, research the issues around farming in the EU and regulations, and get involved. While you’re sitting on your hands, people are losing their livelihood.

      1. Pretty certain I said I was skeptical of ALL the sides of the endless data (or not) stream. Don’t take it so personally. Brow beating certainly won’t get me to join your side. And the foodie, foodist, organic, whole, paleo whatever is an industry too.

      2. Why are you bumping this tired thread anyway? It’s a little yesterday by now.

  44. Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me!
    I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

  45. Prima, Paleo, and Ancestral should enter the fray when it comes to protecting traditional farming methods such as those in the Balkans. Hungary is being balky and whiny lately partly because of this issue. We care as much as they do about healthy whole foods and good animal husbandry on real pastures, we should stand together. Here is another example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QM9X-_-dQ98 A documentary about the Carpathians which includes the wilderness aspect and also the pasture raised sheep and sheep’s milk that is under threat of EU regulation.