Jargon abounds in the food industry, and beef marketing is no different. So what does it all mean? What exactly are you buying? There are many different terms, and unfortunately many people use them loosely or interchangeably. So we get to the bottom of it here:
Certified Organic - This is a term borrowed from the fruit & vegetable market, and in many cases applies similarly. It means that certain guidelines were followed in order to raise your beef. These guidelines could govern everything from fenceposts to pesticide use, but generally they refer to only using organically grown feed. The important distinction is that it in no way dictates WHAT your beef was eating - only HOW that feed was grown. Organic beef could be 100% raised on grain.
Non-certified Organic - This usually means that a producer did not want to follow all the guidelines for certification or pay certification fees. Most of the time this is used to indicate that the beef was raised in a fairly natural way, or was raised on organic feed.
Grain Fed - This term means that grain made up the bulk of your beef's diet for at least a portion of it's life . Most beef cattle are not fed exclusively grain from birth, but rather the spend some time on pasture and are finished with grain in a feedlot.
Grass Fed - This term should be used to describe beef that has been raised exclusively on grass. However, it is also sometimes used to describe cattle that spend their early age on grass but are 'finished' for a few months on grain to fatten them up. Sometimes it is even used to refer to cattle that simply have access to grass as well as grain. This usage can vary from farmer to farmer so be sure to clarify.
Grass Finished - The word 'finished' refers to how the animal finished out it's last few months. It is the fattening-up period. In grass finished beef this often means that it was put on particularly rich pastures for the last 2 to 3 months before processing.
Commercial Beef - This usually describes the process which the majority of beef goes through. Most beef animals spend the first year or so on pasture eating grass (possibly supplemented with grain). They are then sold to feed lots where they are fattened on corn and grain in crowded environments.
The overall takeaway from this is that you should always clarify where your beef comes from and how it was raised. Regardless of any nutritional differences, it is important to know what you are choosing to eat.
At Opeongo Springs, our beef is raised completely on grass from birth until processing. The only grain that they see is as a tool when moving our cattle. We make this choice for several reasons, some of which are outlined in our article, Why Grass Fed? The Truth About Beef.
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