The Co-op knows that it’s important to our shoppers to have varied product selections, so they can shop to both their dietary and budget values. Our meat department is no exception. We offer beef in our frozen foods case, Wrapped and Ready Meat Case and at our full-service Meat Counter, including local, organic and grass-fed options.
Beef purchased from the Co-op’s Meat Counter comes from local producers like Humboldt Grassfed Beef, who raise grass-fed cattle. Our meat cutters break down the beef by hand on site and serve it fresh in the fullservice
case. Popular cuts of the same local beef are wrapped and made available in our Wrapped and Ready case. Because the beef is delivered whole we can provide customers with custom cuts of beef, and our close working relationships with the producers means we can respond to questions about the quality of the meat and how it is raised.
The selections we make for our frozen meats provide customers with additional purchasing options, with details of how the meat is raised included on the package’s labels. But what do the terms on the labels actually mean? Are “Grass Fed” and “Grass Finished” the same thing or do they signify
different farming practices? We’ve put together a list of common certifications and terms you may find on beef packaging and what they mean as a guide.
Beef labeled organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) must be 100% organically produced and without animal by-products or daily drugs. GMOs are prohibited. Cattle have free access to certified organic pastures for the entire grazing season and farmers must meet detailed, on-farm animal welfare standards like adequate space for animals and are subject to on-farm audits.
Grass Fed and Grass Finished Beef
According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service division of the Department of Agriculture, beef labeled “grass fed” or “100% grass fed” must come from cattle that have never been given grain or grain by-products after being weaned, and their diet must be solely derived from forage or other acceptable sources. Animals cannot be fed grain and must have continuous access to pasture during the grazing season. Hay and crop residue without grain may be included as an acceptable feed source. Giving routine mineral and vitamin supplementation to cattle is acceptable. Specific standards of certification vary by the certifier regarding antibiotic use and specifics of cattle living conditions and confinement.
The term “grass finished” is more vague and has no official standard,
leaving it up to the producer to define. Grass finished generally
refers to cattle that have finished their lifecycle by eating a grass and
forage diet, but this label does not determine how much time they
spent on pasture or if the cattle were raised organically.
Raised without Antibiotics or No Antibiotics
These labels signify that the cattle have not been given antibiotics during their lifetime through their feed, water or by injection. Meat producers are required to self-report by providing the USDA with documentation in order to use this label, but verification by USDA is not required. This label doesn’t indicate if hormones were used and is not to be confused with “no growth-promoting antibiotics” which means that producers can still use low doses of antibiotics to treat or to prevent disease throughout the lifetime of their cattle.
Humanely Raised or Certified Humane
Humanely Raised and Certified Humane have no officially recognized definition by the USDA and do not need verification to be used. Interpretation of the terms is left to the producer, who if they use the terms, must define them somewhere on the packaging. However, if beef is labeled with an Animal Welfare Approved, or a Global Animal Partnership 1-5+ seal, the producer has elected to participate in the nonprofit Global Animal Partnership (GAP) program and has to meet specific standards for raising cattle. GAP is a tiered program that allows producers to earn a rating ranging from 1 to 5+ to show consumers that their cattle are raised with the animal’s welfare in mind. All
levels of certification require that the farmer uses no antibiotics ever, no added growth hormones and no animal by-products, and every farm must be audited by a 3rd party every 15 months.
No Growth Hormones, No Added Hormones or Steroids
Producers who use this label on their beef have not given hormones or stimulants to their cattle. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service requires several forms of documentation from a producer before they can use this label, since beef cattle are approved to be raised with hormones. Farm inspections are not required, however.
No Nitrates or No Nitrates Added
Meat with these labels have not been cured with synthetic nitrates or nitrites. However, meat may have been cured using concentrated, naturally occurring nitrates from vegetable sources like celery powder. Meat that contains natural curing additives may have celery juice or celery powder under the ingredients list. The USDA has restrictions for synthetic nitrate and nitrite additives but no restrictions for natural nitrates.