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Grass Fed Beef? Read the Fine Print

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And so now everyone’s jumping onto the “grass-fed” bandwagon. So cows eat grass. And the package boisterously declares: “Grass-Fed (Organic).” But let me give you 3 reasons why you shouldn’t judge grass-fed meat by its label.

3 Real Reasons Why it’s Grass Fed Like No Other

  1. Grass fed v. True Grass Fed, Grass Finished

Did you know that all cattle are raised on grass for the first few months of their lives before they are sent to feedlots? Cows can be raised with some grass but with a lot of access to grain. They can also be raised on pasture a part of their lives and then sent to feedlots and finished on grain.

The standard for Grass-fed only requires that the cows are fed a diet of grass. It does not indicate if an animal has been given access to pasture, or if it has been raised in a feedlot and/or given antibiotics or hormones.

What does this mean? Even the most confined beef can be labelled and sold as “grass-fed.” And cows given antibiotics and synthetic hormones can still bear the grass-fed label. Remember that the healthy qualities of grass-fed beef come from the constant movement of the animals in the pasture as they graze, not just on their grass-based diet.

Cows eating grass + outdoors on pasture + from weaning to slaughter= True Grass Fed

True Grass Fed means the animals were never confined in feedlots, and spent their whole lives outside (Grass Fed, Grass Finished, Pasture-Raised) living cow lives.

2. Imported v. Heritage Native Cross Breeds

Think of your “Askal” or mongrels. Have you noticed how these animals that are native to the place where they are born thrive well, are less sickly, and require little or no maintenance?

Heritage breeds are native and/or cross breeds that have been bred over time and have adapted well to the local environment. They are more robust and healthier than their imported counterparts. Why? Genes and the environment. These breeds have been with us for centuries. Their biology, physiology and behaviour have adapted to our local environment: the harsh summers and plentiful rain. Thus, these cross-breeds can withstand local diseases, survive well under our hot or wet climate, and live productive lives outside.

Bring in a big and bulky beast from Australia and you will have to baby it with confinement, or douse it with antibiotics just to live. Or think of a foreigner who has to stay outside in the summer, bugged out and without aircon, or that he cannot find his sauerkraut or kimchi anywhere.

Cows are healthiest when they are eating the food they evolved to eat (i.e.. the local grass) under the conditions they evolved to eat it.

3. Family-raised, Humanely-raised

Local grass-fed beef comes from small family farms with one or two cows. These farms would most often raise their cows strictly on grass and out in the pasture. Why? Simple economics. It would be silly to confine local breeds, as they thrive well grazing and out in the pasture. Feeding it grain is overly impractical, almost absurd. With the amount of rainfall we get, green grass is readily available all year round. Also, they feed on their natural diet of local grass, building up their immune system so there is no need for antibiotics. Why spend money on grain, feed, antibiotics or hormones when you can raise them outside with hardly any capital? The cows do the work. Cash cows!

Also, they are tamed almost like a family pet. This is again, the most practical thing to do. Tamed animals are easier to handle. The cow is not dehorned or castrated. There is simply no point in doing so.

Did you know, most imported and/or feedlot cattle are dehorned or castrated? They are wild animals and these practices tame them, make them easier to handle. The Philippines has among one of the most humane methods of raising ruminants. Family farms raise these tame, hardy animals as pets, there is no dehorning or castration, and even our traditional slaughtering methods use an artisanal knife with the least suffering to the animal.

Shameless Plug:

DowntoEarth cattle are raised the traditional way: grass and grazing. They are raised by small family farms with one or two cows. Our beef comes from the the native Bali or Banteng and Chinese Yellow Cattle cross-bred with Nellore or Ongole and American Brahman cattle. The cattle is native, hardy and have been bred since pre-colonial times. The cattle have never been on a feedlot nor are they fed antibiotics, grain or hormones. They always eat grass and graze all-year round in the green, abundant pastures of Mindanao. More importantly, they are treated humanely and are not castrated or dehorned. Thus, our Grass-Fed Meat is:

The DowntoEarth Label:

True Grass Fed, Grass Finished

Heritage and Native

Family-raised and Humanely-raised

Read more:

Some other issues:

  1. Watch out for grass-fed beef from dairy cows

You will now readily find Grass-fed imported meat from the market. Except another issue to watch out for is imported grass fed beef from dairy cows. According to Sally Fallon of Nourishing Traditions: “Holstein cows [these are the cow breeds you will usually find in the supermarket, including those from Australia and New Zealand] have been produced by selective breeding to produce cows with abnormally active pituitary glands and by high-protein feeding. The pituitary gland not only produces hormones that stimulate milk production, it also produces growth hormones. A superfluous amount of growth hormones can result in grown abnormalities. Excessive pituitary hormones are also associated with tumour formation and some studies link milk with cancer. The freak-pituitary cow is prone to many disease and almost always secretes pus in her milk and thus needs frequent doses of antibiotics.”

2. What about Organic or Natural Beef?

Organic has actually very little to do with the animal’s quality of life and is mostly just about their feed. USDA Organic meat is derived from animals that are fed organic vegetarian feed (no animal by-products) and had "access" to pasture or the outdoors. No hormones, antibiotics or cloned animals can be used. However, USDA Organic animals, for the most part, DO NOT require a grass-only diet. The animal can still be fed an unnatural and unhealthy grain (even GMO corn and soy) and raised in feedlots. So, unless it is labeled grass-fed, organic cattle is fed organic grains. This is again the problem. Cattle raised on grain, even if it is organic, is not as healthy as cattle raised on grass. Therefore, it produces meat that is lower in omega 3s, vitamin E, and CLA than its grass-fed counterpart does. Without Antibiotics & No Antibiotics Added Only means that the animals were raised without any antibiotics or hormones (for growth.) Again, this has little to do with the animals’ living conditions or their diet.

According to the USDA, a product containing no preservatives, artificial ingredients, colors, and minimal processing can be labeled "natural." Natural doesn't tell the consumer anything about an animal's living conditions, whether antibiotics or hormones were used, or what it ate. The animal can still be fed an unnatural diet of grain.

Read even more:

The Philippine Cattle Industry: on Imported, Local and Grass Fed Beef in the Philippines

Understanding Meat Terms

Grass Fed v. Imported Grass Fed v. Grain

Questions to Ask when Buying Grass Fed Beef

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