We all want to find a good cut of beef these days at the best cost and quality possible. Grazing the butcher case in your local grocery store or farm market can be a part time job itself, especially if you’re not sure of what you are looking for. Some of us buy beef and other meats based on the price per pound, while some buy based on label status, i.e. “Certified Angus Beef” “Free Range Beef” “Grass Fed Beef” and the rest alike. But, what does all this really mean, and why should we educate ourselves on meats and other foods we cram into our bodies? The answer is health. By not knowing exactly what we are purchasing leads to not knowing what we are doing to our bodies. Did you ever think that just by eating meat we are dosing ourselves with prescription strength antibiotics?
I’m not going to fill this writing will scientific mumbo jumbo because I believe this is why folks don’t know what they’re getting in the first place. Scientists understand scientific garb and is written by and for folks of their kind. Let’s break it down this way. We’re looking at the labeling and nothing else.
- Grass Fed Beef-The issue is often complicated by the political interests and confusion between labels such as “free range“, “organic“, or “natural“. Recall the term grass “fed.” This means the cattle were “fed” by farmers certain mixtures of grain and grasses. Sure, they were left to range free on the farm, but the natural food sources are scarce so farmers place feed cages in the fields with said mixtures and this is what the cows eat.
- Corn/Grain Fed-Allows the meat industry factory farmers to concentrate more head of cattle in a smaller area and feed the livestock corn and other grains so as to fatten them up to make more money at the price per pound game. This is good for the factory farmer‘s profits yet terrible for the animal and consumer. The animal stands a higher risk of contracting dangerous viruses and illness, thus initiating the use of antibiotics which in-turn allows the beef to gain even more weight which impresses the factory farmer’s profit margin to the positive. Livestock consume 70% of the antibiotics in the United States.
- Grass Finished Beef-This practice is done after the latter Grass Fed and Corn/Grain Fed feedings are complete. The animals are fed accordingly as above then the cattle is “finished” with grass and straw. Grass fed or pasture-fed cattle, grass and other forage compose most all or at least the great majority of the grass fed diet. The debate is whether cattle should be raised on diets primarily composed of pasture (grass) or a concentrated diet of grain, soy and other supplements. The issue is often complicated by the political interests and confusion between labels such as “free range“, “organic“, or “natural“. Cattle raised on a primarily forage diet are termed grass-fed or pasture-raised; for example meat or milk may be called grass-fed beef or pasture-raised dairy. However, the term “pasture-raised” can lead to confusion with the term “free range“, which does not describe exactly what the animals eat. Another term is “grass-finished” which may mean either cattle fed exclusively, including finishing, on grass alone or cattle that have been fed grain up until finishing – at which time they’re switched to grass to clean them out, so to speak.
- Free Range-Denotes the cattle are free to roam vast amounts of land while grazing the natural forage available. Some farms tread closely to this practice while inserting certain mixtures of grain basically combining Grass Fed and Free Range practices allowing the animal to Grass Finish themselves in the fields allowing the farmer to and grocery stores to label the meats as Free Range.
- Hormone Implants-These implants can be used during any of the above feeding definitions. Most farms and “manufacturers” who don’t use these hormones willfully label their products so. I have yet to see package of any type of animal meat where the farmer uses hormones, labeling his packages according to their practices. It is obvious that money is the forefront and background behind this scheme. One hormone implant costs $1.50 which adds 40-50lbs of meat weight to a steer at slaughter. This $1.50 almost promises the farmer an additional return of $25.00 at market. Imagine if the stock market had this sort of return.
As you can plainly see there is a huge play on words in this industry along with a tightrope walk between the laws and Federal standards of the FDA and USDA. The best we can do to make sure we get the most nutrient rich and healthy meat is go directly to the farmer to witness the process. The farmer who allows you take a stroll through the farm has nothing to hide. It is understood natural quality meat is hard to come by in non-rural settings. Keep in mind there are a lot of farms within driving distance from our homes (30-50 miles) in the city which you can visit time after time to make your decision to purchase. From there, you can buy a freezer, revisit the farm to buy in bulk and freeze right there in your own home. The average family should only have to make two meat purchases (chicken, beef, & pork) per year. The savings you will get from buying farm direct alone is worth it. The biggest plus side is you will now know where the meat you feed your family comes from. The kids will enjoy the trip too. It’s almost the zoo, only the real thing.
Another good idea is to include your nearby family members in the purchase. If all your family eats is beef then one processed steer can feed three average households for six months, coupled with chicken and pork, the beef will last a full year. The up-front cost of purchasing a healthy steer then processing and packaging may cost each family $250-$400 depending on the weight and processing fees. Money can also be saved by processing the meat yourselves. If you have a hunter or two in the family, this should be right up their alley.
Does your family do any of the above practices? Have you wanted to venture out to the nearby farms to make this sort of purchase but just not sure where to go? Would you be willing to buy a share in a steer with a close friend, neighbor, or family member? Share your meat purchasing strategies with us by dropping a comment below. Thanks for reading.