Grass-fed meat will soon only be allowed to use the “grass-fed” label if the animals ate nothing but grass after being weaned, according to new standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The grass-fed label is currently unregulated and can be used for animals that were fattened on grains in the final weeks before processing.
The new rules, which take effect November 15, 2007, require that grass-fed animals eat nothing but grass and stored grasses, and have access to pasture during the growing season, which is defined as from last frost to first frost.
However, according to the American Grassfed Association, which represents many raisers of grass-fed animals, the definition of "growing season" means that animals could be confined for long periods, and kept off of pasture even when there is grass growing.
The new rules also do not restrict the use of antibiotics and hormones in the animals.
The American Grassfed Association is planning to set up its own certification system that would require animals to be on pasture year-round, and be free of antibiotics and hormones.
Increasing numbers of people are eating grass-fed meat because they believe it is better for the environment and healthier, with higher levels of omega-3 fats, than meat raised on grains.
However, it is a small step, as the USDA regulatory system has a tendency to favor big business, which can easily afford the USDA’s costly certification fees. Small farmers, who are often raising food in traditional, healthy ways, then are not able to legally call their products “organic” or now “grass-fed” just because they haven’t paid the USDA for the privilege.
While farmers will have to allow the USDA to inspect their farm and records, to use a “U.S.D.A. Process Verified” seal, the new regulations say farmers can still label their meat as grass-fed (without the seal) if they submit documents showing their animals were raised as such. So that may be a way for small farmers to still benefit from the grass-fed label.
Why All the Fuss About Grass-Fed Meat?
Grass-fed beef is vastly superior to grain-fed beef, and in fact it’s the clear beef of choice you should be eating. It is far more important to choose grass-fed than to choose organic, as most grass-fed beef are also organic.
Not only is it raised in a more sustainable way for the environment, and a more humane way for the animal, but it’s the superior choice for your health.
Grass-fed beef, for instance, is lower in fat than regular beef and, more importantly, contains higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid. Grass-fed animals have from three to five times more CLA than grain-fed animals.
CLA has been making headlines for its extreme health benefits, which include:
- Fighting cancer and diabetes
- Helping you lose weight
- Increasing your metabolic rate, a positive benefit for promoting normal thyroid function
- Helping you maintain normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Enhancing your immune system
Remember, grass-fed meat doesn’t have to be “certified” grass-fed for it to give you health benefits. If you get in touch with a local farmer (try finding a farmer’s market or community-supported agriculture program in your area to do this) who can verify that the products are raised on pasture, without antibiotics and pesticides, you’re likely getting the absolute best meat there is, USDA-certified or not.