Meat is a nutrient dense food product. Specifically, beef is a good source of protein, zinc, B vitamins, iron, and other essential nutrients.
By: Lindsay Chichester, UNL Extension Educator
This is Part 1 of a three part series what will provide information on meat labeling terms.
Meat is a nutrient dense food product. Specifically, beef is a good source of protein, zinc, B vitamins, iron, and other essential nutrients!
How many times have you been grocery shopping or watching your favorite television program and you see and/or hear that organic is better? Grain-fed tastes better? Grass-fed is healthier? It can be confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating – who do you trust? Below I will provide you with the facts and truth, as well as resources to do some homework of your own.
Grass-fed meat means that the animal should only consume grass and forages for its lifetime with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Acceptable feeds include: grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state, hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources are considered suitable feed sources. Mineral and vitamin supplementation may also be included in the routine feeding regimen. Animals CANNOT be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Depending on the producer, there are some variations to grass-fed. They are: finished on grass only, grown on grass then finished in dry lot, and feed high roughage ration in feedlot.
While it is common practice for producers of grass-fed meat to not give their animals additional hormones or antibiotics, there is no governing body to regulate this. If you want to purchase meat from animals that have not received growth hormones, antibiotics, or that have consumed forages where pesticides were not used, make sure you purchase your meat from a producer or retailer that you trust to provide meat that meets your requirements.
Grass-fed beef is perceived to be healthier than conventionally (grain-fed) beef. Some health claims that can be made for grass-fed meat (specifically beef in this case) include:
1. Some steak from grass-fed beef can be labeled as "lower in fat" than steak from conventionally (grain-fed) raised beef.
2. Steak from grass-fed cattle can carry the health claim that foods low in total fat may reduce risk of cancer.
3. Steak and ground beef can be labeled "lean" or "extra lean".
4. Steak and ground beef from grass-fed cattle can carry the health claim that foods containing omega-3 fatty acids may reduce risk of heart disease.
Other health claims indicate that grass-fed beef is higher in CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and milk from pasture raised cows is higher in CLA and ALA (Alpha-Linoleic Acid). Concerning fatty acids, grass-fed beef has 4% omega-3, 6% omega-6 minus CLA, and 3% CLA. Comparatively, grain-fed beef has 1% omega-3, 7% omega-6 minus CLA, and 1 CLA, respectively. Interestingly, CLA is found naturally in meat and milk products of all animals – regardless of their feeding situation.
There are some limitations to grass-fed beef which include:
1. Increased production time – it takes twice as long for a grass-fed animal to be market ready. Grass-fed beef takes two to three years to finish, while conventionally (grain-fed) produced beef takes approximately 14 months.