At the grocery store you will see different beef labels, like “Grass Fed”, “Grain Finished,” “All Natural,” or “Organic”. There are certain qualifications the animal must meet to receive one of these labels. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) determines and monitors those qualifications to ensure they are accurate. Grass fed means the animal spent most of its life eating mainly grass in the form of hay, forage, or silage. Grain finished means the animal was fed a balanced diet of grains, such as corn, soybeans, or other local feed ingredients combined with forages. An organic animal product has never received any artificial hormones or antibiotics; these animals may be fed either grains or grass, but the feed they eat has to be certified organic.
To clarify, not all grass-ﬁnished beef is organic. In order to be organic, the beef product must meet the USDA’s National Organic Program regulations. These require that the animal grazes exclusively on certiﬁed organic pastures. Grain-ﬁnished beef actually has a lower carbon footprint than grass-ﬁnished beef. Cattle that eat grain produce less methane and reach market weight more quickly thus using fewer natural resources, such as feed and water. A grain-ﬁnished ration may include a variety of local feedstuﬀs, including corn silage and by-products such as distillers grains and orange peels.
To be considered “All Natural,” beef cannot contain any artificial flavors or flavorings, chemical preservatives, or other artificial ingredients. All natural products are minimally processed, meaning there are no added ingredients and the meat has not been tenderized. Additionally, some all natural brands say their products do not have any added antibiotics or hormones. Studies have shown that all the beef found in your local market is safe and nutritious, no matter what label they have.
You may also see “Branded Beef” labels while shopping. Branded Beef includes Certified Angus Beef and several other specific beef labels. Certified Angus Beef is one of the original branded beef products. It started when a group of ranchers decided they could produce a product of consistent quality that would meet consumer demands for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Other local examples of branded beef include Seminole Pride Beef and recently, Florida Cattle Ranchers. The cuts of beef being sold under any branded name meet certain criteria set by the management of that brand. Some of those requirements include cattle breed, documented health protocols, grade after harvest, organically raised, and source verified.
While cattle ranchers are proud of their culture and how they raise cattle, they also want consumers to be happy with the taste and quality of their product. Today’s rancher wears many hats: cowboy, environmentalist, animal caretaker, and marketer. They dedicate themselves every day to raising and marketing an excellent product for you and hope that their efforts are appreciated.