AGA-Certified Grassfed Beef

AGA logoThe American Grassfed Association audits and certifies Hilltop Angus Farm and provides dietary protocols. To be sure, that the beef you purchase is AGA-Certified grassfed, look for American Grassfed Association’s logo on the producer’s information.  AGA-Certified grassfed is a term that takes the USDA standards to a higher level. AGA certification is a third party audit system with strict standards to insure the animal has eaten nothing but grass from weaning to harvest, has not been confined, and has never been given antibiotics or hormones. AGA-certified grassfed also means that the meat is produced in the United States from beef cattle and other ruminants born and raised in this country.

Why Meat Terminology is Important

by Marilyn Noble, AGA Communications Director (from the AGA producer newsletter, 5/10/12)

One of the things I like best about my job is being able to educate consumers and the media about grassfed meats and the people who commit their efforts to raising and producing them. Sometimes, though, it feels like I’m up to my hips in feedlot manure, especially when it comes to terminology and labeling.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article written by a food writer who said she doesn’t feel that the term grassfed is accurate, so from now on she’s going to refer to grassfed meat as grass-finished. In her mind, that may be more clear, but in the real world, it’s totally incorrect and does her readers a disservice. And then I read about a James Beard Award-winning chef who referred to the meat he serves as “some grassfed and some ‘grassfed and grain-finished.’” WRONG!

I don’t think either of these people is ill-intentioned or trying to deceive anyone — they simply haven’t been educated about the correct terminology. And if people in the food industry don’t know, how confused must the general public be?

That’s why it’s vitally important for anyone who raises and sells grassfed products to use uniform terminology and to educate the customer. One reason people stop buying sustainably-raised food is that they get overwhelmed and confused by all of the different labels, and it’s just easier to give up and buy a dozen factory-raised white eggs and a Styrofoam tray of ground beef. If we’re going to continue to grow into something more than a tiny niche market in the multi-billion dollar food industry, we all have to be sending the same message.

Below is a terminology primer. Feel free to copy it and add it to your website, pass it out to your customers at the farmers market, or incorporate it into your newsletter. (As always, please give AGA attribution.) If you or your processor, distributor, or customers have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email us. And if there’s any way we can help you spread the word, let us know. We’re here to support you.

A Meat Terminology Primer for Consumers

Grain-fed — The animal was fed grain at some point, probably in the last few months of life. This could be in a large CAFO or on a small family farm. If an animal has EVER consumed corn, soy, brewers grain, or other grain-based feeds, the meat can't be labeled grassfed.

Grassfed — A USDA term that means the ruminant animal (beef, sheep, bison, or goat) has been fed nothing but grass from weaning to harvest. The term doesn't guarantee, however, that the animal wasn't given antibiotics or hormones at some point, and it also doesn't necessarily mean the animal was raised without some confinement. Meat labeled grassfed may be imported from other countries. This term has legal standing, and to use it as a marketing claim or on a label, the producer has to be sure the animals were raised in accordance with the rule. One note: Poultry and pork are omnivores and typically require more than grass feeding to be healthy. At this point, there isn't any accepted uniform terminology for poultry and pork raised on pasture. However, Animal Welfare Approved offers certification to small family farms who meet their standards for humane production practices, including pasture.

AGA-Certified Grassfed — A term that takes the USDA standards to a higher level. AGA certification is a third party audit system with strict standards to insure the animal has eaten nothing but grass from weaning to harvest, has not been confined, and has never been given antibiotics or hormones. AGA-certified grassfed also means that the meat is produced in the United States from beef cattle and other ruminants born and raised in this country.

Grass Finished — This term has no legal meaning and is a self-made marketing claim. If an animal is grassfed, it is, by definition, grass finished, so there's no need to claim "grassfed and grass finished." The term by itself on a label can mean anything, so it's up to the consumer to ask questions of the producer or seller.

Natural — This USDA term applies to the finished product and means that it contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed"). The term has nothing to do with how the animal was raised or fed.

Naturally-raised — This is another USDA term with legal standing. It means that the animal has never been fed animal by-products, growth hormones, or antibiotics. The feed could be grain or grass, and the animal could be confined to a feedlot for a portion of its life.

Organic — The USDA certifies organic production standards, which require that the livestock was raised without antibiotics or synthetic hormones; on feed that was vegetarian, pesticide- and herbicide-free, and contained no GMOs. Organic does not equal grassfed. A ranch with organic certification may feed its herd entirely on grass, but many also feed organic grains and grain by-products during periods of confinement. Conversely, many grassfed producers choose not to pursue organic certification, even though they follow organic standards in the production of their meats. With this label, the best thing to do is ask the farmer or research more about the brand.

Pasture Raised — You may encounter this term in articles that use it as a general term for any animal that never sees confinement; however, when you see it on a label, it's another self-made claim with no legal definition or independent verification of production standards. This is another case in which you should ask plenty of questions.