Grass fed meat seems to be the new buzz word these days, but what does it mean, and why should it impact your buying choices? We walk you through the terminology so that you can make an informed choice the next time you're shopping for meat.
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Here in Northern England, grass fed meat seems like a bit of a no brainer. Our landscape is maintained largely by the animals that graze the fields. The countryside was a very empty place during the foot and mouth crisis back in 2001 when thousands of animals were slaughtered and either burnt or buried. Dark times. Thankfully many of the fields have now been restocked, and sheep and cows are chewing the cud once more. The memory of BSE and foot and mouth has, for many people, brought home the importance of healthy, well cared for livestock which has helped to drive the demand for organic and grass fed meat in the UK.
Grass fed meat doesn't necessarily mean that it’s going to be organic meat. For instance, the local farmer that we often buy our beef from is not an organic farmer, but he does pride himself on rearing his cattle in a natural way. Having lived across the road from his farm for many years, we know that he is a caring, ethical farmer; that his animals spend nearly 100% of their time on pasture with minimal grain supplementation. In this instance, for us, grass fed meat is better than organic.
By the same token, organic meat doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be grassfed! Generally, organic meat must be free range; it must be fed a diet that is free of GMOs and that is as natural as possible.
This effectively means that organic meat is unlikely to be 100% grassfed, particularly here in the UK where the winter means that animals often need to have their diet supplemented, unfortunately often with grains (albeit organic ones).
In other countries there are different rules around what constitutes organic meat, for instance in the US if an animal is fed on organic feed (mostly grain) it will be classed as organic, but may never have eaten any grass. So you need to look carefully at what the labels tell you, and research what the organic regulations are in your country - don't assume that because something is organic it will be grass fed or vice versa! I do envy my US friends who get to buy meat from US Wellness Meats, they seem to offer excellent choices for grass fed meat.
Free range meat ought to be a better option than standard meat, but unfortunately there is no legal definition, so it’s not a guarantee that you’re getting what you think you should.
There is a voluntary code in the uk though which good farmers should hopefully abide by. This states that, for pigs, they should have permanent access to pasture - ie be born and reared outside.
We particularly like Devon Rose who supply a broad range of free range products, but we especially like their clean fats and nitrate free bacon. If you're in the UK they will give you 10% off your first order if you use the code TW10RTD at the checkout.
When it comes to pork, the terms outdoor bred and outdoor reared are two further confusing labels which have seen some controversy here in the UK! Outdoor bred just means the piglets were born outside, and were then transferred into sheds after a few weeks to fatten up. Outdoor reared means that the pig has spent at least 50% of its life outside. It’s all rather misleading unfortunately.
When it comes to chicken it seems there are clearer definitions for free range - they must be given access to the outside for at least 8 hours a day. Obviously chickens are prone to attacks by foxes, so will be shut up for their own safety at night.
With chickens look for pasture raised if you can find it as it means they will have been able to eat insects and any small mammals that they can find, which are part of their natural diet, this will be most noticeable in the deep orange colour of their egg yolks. Most chicken will have been fed grains of some kind (they are better adapted at digesting them than ruminants) so it is probably best to go for organic chicken whenever possible if you want to avoid GMOs.
If you're in the UK we highly recommend Paleo Nutrition in Wales, we buy our turkey and chicken from them and it really is excellent quality and value - They even sell such delicacies as kangaroo and buffalo!
Wherever possible, get to know your local farmer, see how he looks after his animals and ask him questions about what he feeds them. If he's a good farmer he will be only too happy to tell you all about his farming practices. If he's cagey, maybe it's best to avoid using his products and go for an organic grassfed or pastured option whenever possible.
In another article we will look at the nutritional differences between grass fed and grain fed meat. Sign up to our newsletter to find out when it goes live.