Friday, April 24, 2009

Why I Call It Grass-Only, Not Grass-Fed Beef

As part of this week's Fight Back Friday carnival, I want to share one of my most popular posts, All Beef Is Grass-Fed.

I hope you'll read and enjoy it.

As an addendum, I continue to be amazed by how confusing it is for a mere mortal to see beyond label claims, especially when it comes to meat. Government-approved claims such as "natural" or "organic" or "grass-fed" may be well intended but too many mistakenly or purposefully misuse the terms.

The "grass-fed" claim continues to perturb me (though "free range" and "cage free" are up there, too). Why? Because all beef cattle eat grass. It's the finishing diet - what is consumed in the last few months - that should ultimately determine whether the beef is "grass-fed" or "grain-fed." Grass-fed should be reserved for cattle raised on grass-only diets. However, I have seen multiple brands, butchers, or grocers mix the two up.

To wit, in November I called about 20 Los Angeles area butchers. 10 had never heard of grass-fed beef. The other 10 told me they carried grass-fed beef but after just a few questions, it was clear the beef was grain-fed. One even read to me from the brochure that the cattle "were raised on pristine green grass." But it was Dakota brand beef, which I knew to be grain-finished. The butcher was adamant he was right. I read in turn to him from the Dakota Beef Web site FAQ section. This butcher wasn't being disingenuous. But if he was confused, no wonder the rest of us are, too.

Again, here's my original post, All Beef Is Grass-Fed. And take a look at Food Renegade's site to find other great posts on how to take control of our food.

Those cattle by the way belong to Mac Magruder from Potter Valley, CA. Mac raises some of the best grass-only beef I've tasted.


CB said...

Thanks for the support. Our producers do raise 100% grassfed,and we appreciate you all helping educate.
Carrie Balkcom
Executive Director
American Grassfed Association

Carrie Oliver said...

CB - Carrie, Thanks for dropping by. I am quite familiar with you and the American Grassfed Association and the great work that you're doing. It would be good to talk with you in more detail. In the meantime, please let me know if there's anything I can do that would be helpful to you and your farmers.

Raine Saunders said...

Hello, great post, thanks for helping to educate the public. This is a greatly needed service in our world! I maintain Agriculture Society, an education resource for sustainable health, nutrition through whole and traditional foods, and alternatives in medicine. Come visit sometime, we'd love to have you.

-Raine Saunders

Raine Saunders said...

Great post! Thanks for your efforts to educate the public. I maintain an educational site about sustainable living, nutrition through whole and traditional foods, and alternatives in medicine. Come visit us sometime...

-Raine Saunders

RecipeGirl said...

Good post. It's definitely something I'll be thinking about. Are we better off shopping at places like Whole Foods? How can we know for sure if it's 100% grass fed beef?

Looking forward to your talk at IFBC! Great agenda :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, this problem with labeling drives me crazy, too. So many people feel like they're making good choices (and they're paying a premium) for products that are essentially the same as all the other industrial food products out there. They're just being marketed differently.

Thanks for participating in Fight Back Fridays today.

(AKA FoodRenegade)

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness we have you to guide us through the mire of terminology. It really is confusing!

Devo said...


Thanks for this post -- I hadn't thought about the redundancy in "grass-fed"; it makes me curious why some local butchers (including a talented one at our Central Market HEB derivative) had been trumpeting their grass-fed steaks.

BTW, I thought about your question re: herd size and regulation, and posted a response (

Carrie Oliver said...

Yikes, I seem to have failed to successfully publish my own comments back. Please forgive my manners!

Raine, I would love to talk with you! Will look you up but if for some reason I don't find you, feel free to contact me at

Recipe Girl, I am very much looking forward to meeting you in Seattle, too. I've definitely found butchers at some Whole Foods stores who could tell me what they were selling and whether or not it was grass-only beef. I've even seen a few who have dry-aging rooms on site, which is a good sign - aging beef makes a huge difference to flavor and texture. Sometimes the front line staff won't know so my advice would be, if they don't suggest it themselves, ask if there might be someone else who could help me. Start by asking for grass-fed, then confirm it was also grass-finished, and then confirm again it was grass-only.

FoodRenegade - Kristen, it's a pleasure to participate in your Fight Back Fridays, I enjoy reading through the posts by other participants. Good for you for starting this great initiative.

OnlinePastryGirl - It is really confusing, isn't it?! Thank goodness I have you to help me sort through the basics and also the subtle nuances of baking and pastries. The other day, I saw some tweets by FoodGeek about AP flour and I nearly sent you a dm to ask what that was. Thanks for coming by!

Devo, You are great, thank you for responding to my question, and in a new post, too! Love that you're thinking through the methane issue. We should compare the numbers some day. I'll try to reach you through email.

Lori said...

Great post! This was really helpful as I'm just beginning to explore the world (and importance) of grass fed/finished beef. I've run into confusion about the terms as well. This helps a lot and I'm looking forward to checking out the links!

Carrie Oliver said...

Lori, Thank you for stopping by and I'm glad the post was helpful. Just yesterday I learned of another company that was raising calves on milk and grass, then switching to grass and grain, and then finishing again on grass. So technically grass-finished. A good reinforcement for asking if the cattle were raised on a grass-only diet!

For others reading this I'd like to refer you back to Lori's site Fake Food Free for an excellent post she added to the Fight Back Friday carnival.