Our loyal customers are concerned about how their food is sourced as well as how it is raised. Grass fed in the United States started on small family farms but as its popularity grew . . . industrial beef has represented a niche market that has grown immensely over the last few years.
What began as an inclination of consumers toward healthier and safer foods now represents a larger group who not only wants the perceived health benefits but comes to grassfed because of the management model. Some consumers come because they care intensely about the humane treatment of animals we harvest for food. Some come because they support sustainable agricultural practices that benefits the environment rather than depleting resources. Many choose to support small family-scale farming over the factory farm model of agriculture. For whatever reason most consumers who choose to buy grassfed products have in mind animals humanely raised on pasture with the most natural process possible.
Recently, the USDA published into the Federal Register a grassfed (forage) claim for use as a voluntary marketing distinction. This should make the producer and consumer happy, right? Well, not exactly. Last year when invited to comment the majority of the 19,000 responses (an enormous amount) linked the term grassfed to animals raised on pasture.
The new USDA claim is so loosely constructed that it may allow for practices far from the idyllic pastoral scenes the consumer envisions. One major objection to the USDA claim has to do with the same issues the organic dairies have in regard to the provision in the NOP for access to pasture. Long-term confinement practices are allowed under the USDA grassfed (forage) standard since access to pasture and frost dates are easily manipulated.
Organic dairies have come under harsh criticism with very loose interpretations of access to pasture. In this picture by the Cornucopia Institute you see one interpretation of access to pasture. Animals are raised in confinement with the practice of skirting around the spirit of the standard. Further, the picture could be completely in USDA standards where animals are being fed harvested forage, antibiotics, hormones and raised in confinement where continual access to pasture during the growing season can be loosely interpreted and sidestepped where the animal is virtually never on pasture. Ruminant animals were made to graze and it is their normal behavior to graze on open pasture.
Compare the above with this picture taken on our farm where cattle are allowed to fulfill their natural behavior and remain on pasture. I believe this is what the consumer envisions with the term grassfed. Further, these animals never receive antibiotics or synthetic hormones.