Trying to buy meat these days can seem like a game of “How well do you know your labels?” There is organic, grass fed, grass-finished and the vague “natural.” To make matters more complicated, even if you do have a solid grasp of what each label means, inspection standards vary greatly from label to label.
Let’s talk about labels for a few minutes.
Natural Beef – Before 2016, this label meant that the meat had been minimally processed and did not have any artificial ingredients, and also that the animal did not receive growth hormones or antibiotics. In 2016 the labeling standard was dropped so the naturally raised label is voluntary and unregulated.
Organic Beef - All organic food is produced without using conventional pesticides; synthetic fertilizers; bio engineering; or ionizing radiation. Organic meat products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. These animals can be raised on a diet of organic corn or grain, but they must have at least some access to a pasture.
Grain-Fed Beef - As the demand for meat has grown over the past century, farmers started feeding their herds grain-based products, mainly corn and soy. Almost all American cattle spend the last several months of their lives in feed lots where they are given hormones and antibiotics to help accelerate their growth.
Grass-Fed & Grass-Finished Beef– These terms which are often used synonymously and mean the animal ate only grasses and forages (like hay) for the length of its life, starting when it was weaned off its mother’s milk. The label is regulated by the USDA, but isn’t strictly enforced. Keep in mind that the grass fed label refers strictly to the animal’s diet and has nothing to do with whether it did or did not receive hormones or antibiotics.
Without human intervention, cattle would eat grass their whole lives because that is just how they were created! Most cattle—including those raised to qualify for the organic label—are brought to feedlots and fattened up on grain and other feed. Studies continue to show that beef from cattle that have been raised exclusively on grass has less saturated fat and more nutrients, including more omega-3 fatty acids, than grain-finished beef.
Here at Sonrise Farms we sell Grass-Fed, Grass-Finished, Hormone & Antibiotic-Free Beef. Our herd of beef cattle is rotated to a fresh section of pasture every day of the growing season. Our philosophy is that as a ruminant animal, cattle were created to graze on only grass, not eat grain. This method produces a delicious, great tasting beef. All beef sold to our customers is born here on our farm and raised with these natural practices until the day the animals go to the processing plant. By doing things the correct way, our cattle have NO need for antibiotics, hormones or grain supplements. In many ways our beef is above and beyond organic!
I hope that helps clear up some of the terminology that you may see in the grocery store or hear in the farming and natural foods community. As consumers, it is extremely important to know exactly what we are buying.
Why this detailed explanation? I want you as the consumer to know exactly what you are buying when you shop with us. You are welcome to come to the farm at any time or send me an email asking questions about our farming methods and practices. We have absolutely nothing to hide.
Do you want to stop staring at labels in the grocery story? Do you want to know exactly where your beef came from and how it was raised? Visit our Products page for more information.