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There’s A Beef For That

Last week, I talked about some common misconceptions I hear all the time regarding beef and beef production. This week, we’re going to visit about something that gets equal time in the social media sphere: what kind of beef you should be eating.

I’m not going to tell you what kind of beef you should eat, or what kind of beef you shouldn’t eat. I will tell you, though that the standards for beef quality and safety in the United States are very high, so no matter what you’re getting a top-notch product.

However, if you’re wanting something specific, I can help you with how to find beef that suits what you’re looking for. This is not an exhaustive list, but includes some of the more mainstream, easy-to-find certifications. Remember those “There’s an app for that!” commercials? Well, there’s a beef for that!

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If you’re looking for beef that was never given antibiotics, look for:
USDA Certified Organic
— “Raised/Grown Without Antibiotics” “No Antibiotics Administered” or similar, look for USDA seal
—  
Never Ever 3
Global Animal Partnership
American Grassfed Association
Things to remember: “Antibiotic-Free” has no legal meaning with the USDA. “Natural” doesn’t mean anything other than “minimally-processed” with no added colors or artificial ingredients–this is true of all fresh meat. “No Antibiotic Residues” means that the meat has no residues, but no meat does, so again, meaningless. Also, please remember what I wrote last week: no matter what, the meat you eat has been tested for antibiotic residues. You are not eating antibiotics even if these labels are not on the meat that you purchased. When animals are sick, treating them is the right thing to do.

If you’re looking no growth hormones:
USDA Certified Organic
NHTC
Never Ever 3
Global Animal Partnership
Animal Welfare Approved
American Humane Certified
American Grassfed Association
— “No Hormones Administered” plus a USDA seal
Things to remember: “Hormone-Free” is not a thing, since all meat has hormones in it.

If you’re looking for beef from cattle that were fed no animal byproducts:
USDA Certified Organic
Never Ever 3
Global Animal Partnership
Animal Welfare Approved
Certified Humane
American Humane Certified (specifies “no ruminant-derived protein sources with the exception of milk and milk products)
American Grassfed Association

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If you’re looking for a certification for humane treatment or animal welfare:
Global Animal Partnership
Animal Welfare Approved
Certified Humane
American Humane Certified
Things to remember: I say “a certification for humane treatment” because humane treatment truly is the standard in the United States. Some producers pay to have a third-party verification service come in to review and verify their claims or their participation in animal welfare programs. I would encourage you to look into these individually, as their standards vary quite a bit since this category is subjective. Don’t worry, I plan on doing a whole post about this one. Also, a claim of “Humanely Raised and Handled,” even with a USDA seal, doesn’t mean much, since companies make their own standards.

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If you’re looking for beef that comes from cows that were only fed grass:
American Grassfed Association (no confinement)
–the USDA also offers a grassfed certification, but their standards do not address confinement, hormones, or antibiotics.
Food Alliance grass-fed program
Things to remember: uncertified “grass-fed” labels can mean that the animal did, in fact, eat only grass for most of its life (like all cattle)–but could have been finished on grain. Also, read up on the organization doing the certifying and their standards since they all have differences regarding antibiotics, hormones, confinement, etc. You might also find a lot of grass-fed beef from Australia, since grassfed is the status quo there. If country of origin is important to you, take this into account.

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If you’re looking for beef that comes from cows that were always on pasture:
Global Animal Partnership Step 5-5+
American Grassfed Association
Animal Welfare Approved
Things to remember: just having “pasture-raised” isn’t enough if you’re wanting no confinement at all, since all beef is raised on pasture (but could be finished elsewhere).

If you’re looking for American-raised beef:
American Grassfed Association requires all of its beef to come from family-owned American farms.
— Farmer’s Markets or meat co-ops. Lots of ranches and farms will sell meat to you by the quarter, half, or whole animal and it will be processed locally. If you need help finding someone near you, poke around on Google or Facebook, contact your local cattleman’s association, or shoot me an email!
Things to remember: because the country-of-origin labeling for beef is no longer required, you might feel uncertain. But, more than 90% of the beef consumed in the US was produced by American farms and ranches.

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Some retailers, like Whole Foods, have their own standards, so feel free to ask your retailer about their store’s requirements for the beef they sell. There are also now meat subscription boxes, like Butcher Box, that curate their meat based upon certain standards.

I get asked a lot what kind of beef we eat. Because we’re ranchers, we eat beef that we raise. We have two deep-freezers that we fill with meat every year, and have gotten half a pig the last couple of years too. Some of the animals we’ve eaten have been conventionally-raised and given antibiotics. Some have been mostly grass-fed. Last year we ate a bull that got culled later on because his scrotum was too small. Last year’s pig wasn’t big enough to show, so they sent it to be processed. We’ve had pretty much every variety on this list!

And lastly: I’m so into you meeting your farmer. This doesn’t mean I think you should only eat locally-raised meat because, like I said, I’m not here to tell you what you should eat. But, go visit a farm or ranch! Actually, visit both. Talk to the people who do this for their life’s work. Ask them your questions, visit awhile. See how your food is grown and cared for. It will give you more tools to decide what criteria is important to you. Like I said last week, if you’re needing help finding a ranch to visit, holler!

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