for full article click What You Should Know About Beef Production Claims
This is the third and final post in my series about animal production claims. In the previous two posts I’ve endeavored to expose some of the confusing and deceptive claims that marketers make about the way that their chickens, turkeys, and pigs are raised. Today my goal is to help you better understand the options you’re presented with when you want to purchase beef. In a previous post, Mark gave an overview of the differences between grass fed and grain fed beef where he touched on everything from taste to nutritional profiles and even pricing and availability. This post has a much narrower goal of helping you figure out what exactly you’re being offered, whether it claims to be grass fed, grain fed, pasture raised, free range, all natural, or organic. Mark’s verdict in his post was that while you need to be eating lots of good beef, grass fed beef isn’t always going to be available or affordable for everyone. This post will help you understand the whole spectrum of beef options that you have to choose from whether or not grass fed is what you’re going for.
Bovine American History and Conventional Beef
Before World War II virtually all beef in this country was raised from birth to slaughter on pasture where 100% of their nutrients came from forage: grass, clover, and other green leafy plants. Generally speaking, cows were born, weaned, grazed, and finished all on the same farm. However, starting in the late 1940’s, the model of beef production started to shift dramatically toward feedlots. The primary factors that lead to this change were an increasing consumer demand for well-marbled beef that is more easily produced with grain feeding than grass, low grain prices, and the advent of penicillin which made it possible to keep vast numbers of cows in one place without rampant disease.1
As a result of this trend, today’s conventional grain-finished beef industry produces the vast majority of beef on the market. The conventional beef industry is divided into two sectors: cow-calf operations and feeding operations. Nearly all cows that end up in feedlots originally came from pastures. Cow-calf farms, often located in areas where the land cannot easily be used for row crops, usually keep herds of 40 to 100 or more female cows that give birth to calves that are weaned and sold at regional buying stations. The number of months that these animals spend on pasture with their mothers depends a lot on the local geography, climate, and season. The buying stations put together tractor-trailer loads of these feeder calves and ship them to the Great Plains where corn and soybeans are cheap and feedlots are plentiful. The number of months that these cattle are fed grain in feedlots varies from about 4 to 12 months. In addition to genetically modified corn and soy, feedlot rations are often comprised of cheaper ingredients including everything from urea to candy (ground up with the wrappers and all). Unless you see labeling claims or other point of sale claims (website claims, etc.) stating otherwise, it is safe to assume that you are being offered conventional feedlot-finished beef.