There are many different labels in the food industry from “grass-fed” to “non-GMO” but what do they mean? The agricultural industry uses different labels and terms that sometimes explain the same thing – but mainly this information is shared to tell you how the animal was raised for food production.
“Grass-fed” and “grain-fed” can be misleading. The terms “grass-finished” and “grain-finished” are technically accurate and paint a clearer picture of how cattle are raised.
- The majority of beef cattle raised in the U.S. graze on grass pasture. After several months to a year, they are “finished” (meaning they reach desired weight) in an operation called a feed yard, where they receive a diet of grasses, grains and other feedstuffs.
- Some cattle spend their entire lives on a pasture, meaning they are finished on grass as well.
The USDA specifies that, to qualify as “grass-fed,” the animal must eat grass and forage exclusively after being weaned from their mothers and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
Grain-fed cattle finished at a feed yard receive a carefully planned, balanced and nutritious diet. Due to their unique digestive system, cattle can turn a variety of feedstuffs into nutrients they need to grow and be healthy. This includes grains and grasses, and in some cases regional renewable feeds like distillers’ grains, cornstalks, wheat stubble, citrus pulp and almond hulls. These are products left over from a primary harvest that would otherwise go to waste, but can now be used as part of a balanced diet for cattle.
While the majority of beef in the U.S. is finished on grain, beef farmers and ranchers choose to raise cattle in a variety of ways to ensure consumers have a choice. For more information on cattle diet, as well as grass- and grain-finished beef, visit:
In addition to information regarding “grain-fed” vs. “grass-fed,” there are consumers who question GMOs and if animal feed include genetically modified ingredients. Animal feed can include crops from genetically modified (GM) seeds.
Farmers have a choice to plant and grow conventional crops, GM crops, organic crops or a combination. Farmers also have a choice to purchase a preferred feed.
Animal nutritionists, who are educated in developing optimal diets for farm animals, analyze the energy and protein contents of animal feed, and weigh them against the animals’ nutrition requirements, to develop an optimal diet.
GM products are the most researched and tested agricultural products for safety, health and nutritional value. Standards and regulations for GM products are overseen by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure safety.
In addition, farmers and ranchers must adhere to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which states that any substance that is added to, or is expected to become a component of, animal feed, either directly or indirectly, must be used in accordance with an animal food additive regulation unless it is generally recognized as safe for that use.