Choose grass-fed meat
Grass-fed livestock is raised naturally on open farmland without pesticides, hormones, or other chemicals. The animals are not fed unnatural dietary supplements to increase their growth.
The terms pasture-raised or pasture-based are usually used to refer to livestock that does not eat grass (i.e., chickens and pigs), but has been raised using the same methods as those employed on grass-fed farms.
Find it! Grass-fed meat
Grass-fed animals are raised according to a natural cycle. Therefore fresh cuts may only be available seasonally, but frozen meat is often in stock year round. Pasture-raised meat can have a slightly different color, texture, and taste than the corn-fed variety.
Currently there are no regulated labels or standards for grass-fed products, but the American Grassfed Association is working to establish national guidelines to guarantee 100 percent grass-fed meat. "Free range" (which applies only to poultry) and "natural" products are not the same as grass-fed. These terms are approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), but the loose guidelines make the labels somewhat less reliable.
Either order directly from grass-fed producers or familiarize yourself with suppliers that offer truly 100 percent grass-fed meats before your next trip to the store. See the links below to find a grass-fed farm near you or a store that carries grass-fed products.
Search for farms throughout the US that offer grass-fed meats (goat, beef, poultry, bison, lamb, etc.). Farms are listed alphabetically, by state, or by species. The goal of the the American Grassfed Association, which was founded in 2003, is to promote the grassfed industry through government relations, research, concept marketing and public education.
This family-run farm in Doniphan, Missouri offers an assortment of grass-fed beef products, including beef tenderloin, bratwurst, sirloin steaks, sausage, and natural beef jerky. Cattle are allowed to graze freely in pastures that aren't treated with herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers. In addition, animals are never held in confinement or fed antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones. Order directly from the website
This 40-year-old family-owned sustainable farm near Stowe, Vermont, offers pasture-raised poultry, including chickens and turkeys, as well as eggs. Products are only available locally. The farm claims that when chickens are raised unconfined they get as much as 30 percent of their nutritional needs from insects, grass, clover, and other greens; turkeys can get as much as 50 percent of their calories from foraging in pastures.
This farm in Purcell, Virginia, offers grass-fed meats and products, including chicken, pork, Angus beef, lamb, and free-range chicken and duck eggs. The farm operates locally, including at regional farmer's markets, and doesn't ship meat or dairy products across the country. However, other products can be shipped, including sheep wool for knitting, llama poop fertilizer, and meat rubs.
The Eat Well Guide offers a free online directory of almost 9,000 farms, restaurants, stores, bed & breakfasts, and other outlets that offer sustainably farmed meat, poultry, and dairy products as well as flower products in the US and Canada. Enter your zip code or use the advanced search feature to look for antibiotic- and hormone-free animal products, as well as those raised via sustainable production methods, including organic, pasture-raised, and heritage.
Eatwild, a site devoted to information about grass-fed meat and dairy products, lists more than 800 grass-based farms and claims to be the most comprehensive directory in the US and Canada. Click on your state or use the alphabetical list of states. Producers listed guarantee they meet Eatwild's stringent standards. If you can't find products in your area or want products shipped, Eatwild also has a Farms that Ship directory.
Mesquite Organic Foods raises cattle in open pastures on a 100 percent grass diet. Cows are not fed hormones, antibiotics, pesticides or fertilizers. All meat is Certified Organic by the US Department of Agriculture. The farm supplies its grass-fed beef to locations across the country, including restaurants, butchers, delis, and consumers. Order online.
Niman Ranch offers grass-fed meat products, including beef, lamb, pork, bacon, and sausage. Meat can be ordered online or bought in local/small grocery stores around the country. It's also served in some restaurants. All meat comes from Niman's network of over 600 independent American farmers and ranchers, which follow the same standards of sustainable farming. These include no antibiotics, no added hormones, and use of all vegetarian feeds.
Choosing grass-fed meat helps you go green because...
- It cuts down on pollution runoff and greenhouse gases emitted since waste is not confined to one small area.
- It reduces the need for the large amounts of grain that are grown each year just to feed livestock.
- It supports and creates a demand for products from farms that practice sustainable (and often more humane) farming practices.
The livestock in the US consumes seven times more grain than human US residents. The animals turn this grain into 291 billion tons of wet manure each year.] On factory farms the excessive amount of waste is held in large lagoons, unable to decompose properly, which results in ground and water contamination.
Before 1960, livestock was raised on pasture and allowed to graze naturally. This has been side-stepped because pasture-raised animals take longer to reach market weight. The grass-fed movement is a new idea based on traditional techniques. Grass-fed farms are often small operations, only maintaining the number of animals their pasture will allow. There is no need for antibiotics because the animals do not live in crowded conditions and are allowed to eat normal diets. Manure naturally decomposes on the land and acts as a fertilizer rather than a pollutant.
Related health issues
In addition to the natural resource burden, livestock feed often contains an unnatural diet of corn, soy, antibiotics, and sometimes other animal parts (even though many livestock species prefer to eat vegetarian diets). These dangerous practices decreases the effectiveness of antibiotics and increases the potential for the spread of Mad cow disease, salmonella, E. coli, and other food-borne diseases.
Grass-fed animals are not commercially fattened and in turn are lower in saturated fats but higher in the beneficial fat omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may prevent diabetes and breast cancer. Grain-fed animals' diets are often supplemented with growth hormones to speed development which can cause meats to contain greater percentages of fat. Since hormones can become concentrated in the fat of these animals (along with pesticides and other chemical additives), lean, grass-fed animal-protein is preferable in a healthy diet.
- Farm Sanctuary: Working to end cruelty to farm animals
- Organic Grassfed Beef Coalition
- TIME - The Grass-Fed Revolution
- National Public Radio - Fresh Air Interview with Michael Pollan
- The Green Guide - Selecting the Safest Meat
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition - Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Environmental Assessment: Proposed CAFO Rule
- Eat Wild - Grass-Fed Basics
- The Green Guide - Product Report: Meat
- TIME Magazine - The Grass-Fed Revolution
- Dr. Lam - Beef, Chicken, and Fish
- Women's Health Matters - Environmental Health Centre: Living with ES