Currently here in the US, if you are buying "Grass-fed", meat or dairy, in a lot of cases, it is not what you think it is.
The enchanting image of happy cows on fresh green pasture feeding on nothing but grass is sadly being misused on a grand scale for the sake of extra profits.
In this article, we take a look at:
- The Problem with the Grass-fed Label.
- How to tell real Grass-fed beef from fake.
- Three (3) NGOs that inspect and verify Grass-fed farms as genuine.
- How to spot the physical appearance of real Grass-fed beef and fake.
- The key question to ask a local beef rancher before you buy their beef.
- Kerrygold is not Grass-fed. A Cautionary tale to consumers.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE GRASS-FED LABEL!
So how can a brand, farm, or producer in the US get the "Grass-fed" and "Grass-finished" claims on their marketing and label for beef or dairy?
Easy... since 2016 (aka Ground Zero) when the USDA dropped their mandatory standard for Grass-fed claims, producers now just need to fill out a 2 paragraph paper affidavit, submit it to the USDA for Beef or FDA for Dairy, and Bingo... it's Grass-fed!
It is that easy and in turn, this very loose system based on a one-page document is being abused by many producers. For US consumers, this is a big problem.
The problem is multiplied further as the farm operations are almost never inspected or confirmed on site as being genuine Grass-fed as per the signed paper affidavit. When the FDA or USDA has the manpower to spare to go and do surprise inspections, many operations do get caught out but the punishment is almost insignificant.
This article is not about shooting down farms or other brands... it's about consumer transparency for those that value paying the extra money for natural Grass-fed beef or dairy when in fact they may not be getting it at all.
Various sources estimate anything from 40% to over 70% of beef claimed as "Grass-fed" and sold to consumers in the US is not authentic Grass-fed.
Let's think about just how loose and unregulated the "Grass-fed" claim really is now in the context of another unrelated industry for a moment... Cars
- If you pay for a 4 x 4... you are pretty sure you will get a 4 x 4 and not a 2 wheel drive.
- If you pay for an all-electric vehicle, you can be sure that is what you will drive off with.
If Elon Musk only had to send in an affidavit to state his car was all-electric, would he be tempted to cut some corners and mislead consumers for bigger profits and never be checked upon?
Consumers who value paying for beef or dairy that is "Grass-fed" and "Grass-finished" and put this in their body are entitled to the transparency they are not getting.
To us at least, the level of misleading claims to healthy-minded consumers is a modern-day food scandal!
HOW TO TELL REAL GRASS-FED BEEF AND BUTTER FROM FAKE?
1.) Look for the Logo of Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) Step 4 or above, American Grassfed Association AGA, or Animal Welfare Approved by AGW on a producers' packaging or marketing literature.
2.) Learn to spot the physical characteristics and differences of Grass-fed versus Grain-fed Beef and Dairy.
3.) Ask the beef rancher / beef producer one hard but revealing question.
THREE (3) NGOs THAT INSPECT AND VERIFY GRASS-FED OPERATIONS AS GENUINE.
Currently here in the USA, to be 100% assured you are getting what you have paid for, there are only three (3) independent third-party inspection NGOs that go onto farms and physically inspect operations to verify they are Grass-fed / Pasture-based outdoor operations.
Look for the approved logo of the following three (3) NGOs on a producer's marketing / packaging as a means of assurance you are buying real Grass-fed Beef or Dairy:
HOW TO SPOT THE PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN REAL GRASS-FED BEEF & BUTTER AND FAKE?
1.) Marbling. Real Grass-fed Beef is going to have an almost solid red color on the lean part of a steak. A Grain-fed steak on the other hand will be riddled with fat marbling. This is a big 'tell' straight away.
2.) Lean Meat Color. The lean meat on Real Grass-fed Beef will be a dark crimson red color. Grain-fed will have a much lighter color.
3.) Fat Color. Grass-fed beef will have a yellow outside fat cap. Grain-fed will have a near-white color.
4.) Color of Butter. Real Grass-fed Butter will have an extremely deep yellow color. Fake Grass-fed Butter will be white to light cream in color. This is always the most obvious 'tell' as the true Grass-fed butter contains high levels of beta-carotene which is abundant in natural grass. Beta-Carotene is a yellow pigment which gives grass-fed butter (and beef) fat its distinctive yellow color.
Image: Real Grass-fed Butter on the left. Non-Grass-fed Butter on the right.
1 KEY QUESTION TO ASK A BEEF RANCHER OR BRAND BEFORE YOU BUY THEIR GRASS-FED BEEF.
If your local rancher assures you their beef is Grass-fed, Non-GMO, or even Organic but has no independent third party to validate these claims, we suggest asking one key question i.e.
QUESTION: "For total transparency, why don't you let an independent third-party inspect and verify your beef operation as Grass-fed?"
If the answer is that the cost involved is too high to get inspected and verified... this is a big red flag straight away! It is not expensive to have a beef operation inspected and validated by an NGO as being Grass-fed.
If a beef operation is claiming to be 100% Grass-fed beef yet won't submit themselves to outside scrutiny, as a consumer, you should be careful as you may be overpaying for something that is not genuine.
In our experience, producers that raise and sell genuine Grass-fed beef fully embrace the transparency of on-farm inspections and verification to give potential customers peace of mind.
Those with something to hide on the other hand e.g., Claiming to be Grass-fed yet really using Grain feeding and Commercial Supplements are much more likely to offer up excuses as to why they won't be as transparent.
KNOW YOUR FARMER
"Know Your Farmer" means you should not be afraid to ask this one very important question. It is your hard-earned money and as a consumer, you deserve to know what you are buying and putting into your body.
KERRYGOLD: BUTTER IS NOT 100% GRASS-FED BUTTER: A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR US CONSUMERS!
Kerrygold Butter from Ireland is the leading brand of imported butter here in the US and also the leading brand of "Grass-fed Butter" here in the USA, despite not being Grass-fed!
Butter comes under the control of the FDA.
In a class-action lawsuit taken 3 years ago for misleading advertising, the leading brand of "Grass-fed" butter in the USA, Kerrygold (a Billion dollar multinational corporation), admitted in court that its butter was not Grass-fed and also admitted its herd was fed GMO supplements and grains.
The legal team for Kerrygold put forward a successful legal defence that "Grass-fed" was not legally defined or enforceable by the FDA therefore they could not and should not be punished.
The Federal judge had no option but to interpret the law (or lack thereof) and to agree with their argument based on current labelling laws. The judge dismissed the case in favor of Kerrygold and concluded that reasonable consumers would not interpret the “Grass-fed Cows” advertising claims to mean that the cows are fed only grass!
In other words, in the US, based on current labelling laws, "Grass-fed Cows" does not have to actually mean Grass-fed Cows!?! Read that again...
Image Credit: Irish Central
Take a look at a pack of Kerrygold the next time you are in the grocery store... to this day, on the package in large lettering above the black and white dairy cow eating her grass it still reads "Milk From Grass-fed Cows".
Now compare to the pack above which is Kerrygold Butter sold in Europe, it does not have the claim "Milk from Grass-fed Cows" on the packaging or advertising, unlike those sold in the USA... Why? Because in Europe, the claim "Grass-fed" is rigidly enforced, inspected, and must be verified.
Just like some unscrupulous beef producers looking to pass off their beef as Grass-fed, if Kerrygold were the real deal and had nothing to hide, they would not have a problem allowing their farms to be inspected and audited by independent third parties, but they don't.
SUMMARY: "Grass-fed" Beef and Butter: How to tell Real from Fake!
- Since 2016, the term "Grass-fed" no longer has a legal definition by the USDA or FDA.
- Lack of definition or enforcement for "Grass-fed" has led to widespread abuse by producers.
- You can no longer trust claims producers make themselves.
- Millions of US consumers have been misled on "Grass-fed" products for years.
- Three (3) NGOs in the US do inspect and verify a Grass-fed farm as being genuine.
- Look for Beef or Dairy producers who have gained certification with the logo of the American Grassfed Association AGA, Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.), and Animal Welfare Approved by AGW for assurances that a product is real Grass-fed.
- "Know Your Farmer" means being able to ask some difficult questions.
- You can learn to tell the difference between real and fake Grass-fed beef or butter.
- Legal case with Kerrygold Irish Butter illustrates just how easy it is for producers and brands to mislead with the "Grass-fed" term.