Referencing what is available at the one closest to me, they sell what they label as 'All Natural Free Range Beef'. It is 'Certified Piedmontese' Beef to be exact. There is no claim this beef was 100% free ranged, so right off the bat, I question. Upon further research on the website for Piedmontese Beef, I find that this meat is never fed any animal by-products, emphasizing species appropriate/natural diets. It also states they are raised without the use of routine antibiotics and without added growth hormones. Note - 'All Natural' as defined by the USDA means the beef contains no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.
After further reading I also learned that Piedmontese Beef is a rare cattle in our country, not easy to come by. Can't the same be said for 100% Grassfed beef? At least in some areas, right. The website also states their cattle is fed a pure vegetarian diet, but let's not forget, grain is not a meat, and therefore, can fall under the terms of 'vegetarian diet'. In a nutshell, they are telling us their cattle are not fed any animal by-products. And don't get me wrong - not feeding animal by-products is an absolute must, or should be, for the meat you consume. Hello, mad cow disease anyone?
I emailed 'Certified Piedmontese' to get clarification on their definition of a 'natural and humane environment', as they state that is how their cattle are raised. Most of you know this is another loose term, especially if you have ever researched into the poultry industry. I received a fairly speedy response from a representative that stated "Our animals are allowed to graze freely for the span of their life however; we also provide them with quality grains and forages, never feeding animal byproducts." So, if I understand correctly, it sounds like their cows are out on the 'free range' so to speak, but are also offered additional feeds. I am not sure why a cow would feel the need to eat additional forages if the pasture is plentiful, but I guess that is up for further research.
My other question, when emailing Certified Piedmontese, was to ask what the average life span of their cattle is. They state on their website that "The decision to raise Piedmontese, and to do so in this fashion, was the result of careful research. “Originally we looked at raising grass-finished beef,” says Peed. “That would have provided some of the same health benefits as Piedmontese.” And in fact, the company’s Piedmontese cattle do spend theajority of their lives on grass. But finishing cattle on grass, say experts, takes a very long time, and the extra time means that you end up with older cattle that have lots of connective tissue and tougher meat." According to their rep that responded to my email, their cattle have an average life span of 18-22 months.
I then emailed a local farmer I purchase grassfed beef from to ask him the average life span of his grassfed cattle. He told me his 100% pasture raised beef has an average life span of '18 months to two years, or even longer, not much past 3 years of age'. That is the same life span as the Piedmontese beef, give or take 2 months. Granted, he did say 'or even longer', which would help back up Piedmontese's claim that finishing cattle on grass can take a very long time. (I would equate that to those individual cattle that require the 3 year mark my local farmer mentions.)
However, this brought up yet another question for me, which I emailed back to the rep. In talking about the decision to raise Piedmontese, again as mentioned above, the website states 'the company’s Piedmontese cattle do spend the majority of their lives on grass' - huh? Wait a second. The majority? In the original response from their rep, her email said that their 'animals are allowed to graze freely for the span of their life'. Sounds contradictory, no? I haven't yet heard back from Piedmontese on this, however, my local 'natural' grocery store responded with the following explanation: "This is a common question we get and it is not black and white. They are 100% grassfed until the last 60 days which then they have the option to eat a mix of grains, corn etc. to give them more flavor."
**UPDATE: The rep from Piedmontese responded to my email asking if the cattle were pulled off their free ranging regime for a period of time before slaughter. Her response was "Yes, the cattle are removed from the range environment for the final phase where they receive a complete, balanced diet."
Piedmontese does not claim to be 100% grassfed beef. They do state they are 'All Natural', which is true...as far as not having any antibitoics or hormones injected. And they are raised on open land with room to roam. Sometimes though, as consumers, we see the 'All Natural' label, and assume that means 100% grassfed & finished.
This is why you hear people say "Know your Farmer, Know your Food". If you truly want to know what you are eating, sometimes you are going to have to do a little research. Sometimes, when you see the label 'All Natural', sometimes, it might not mean exactly what you think it means. And as consumers, we need to appreciate the companies that are willing to answer our emails and phones calls, giving us answers to our questions. So, next time you are purchasing meat from your local 'organic/health food' type grocer, ask a few questions and see if they way it is labeled/marketed means what you think it means!
Come back again tomorrow for more info on beef - we are digging into some USDA definitions!
From the Beef Files!
Decoding: Beef - more 'labels'