Question 1: If I buy Australian beef, can I be almost certain that it's grass-fed?
Question 2: Does the beef below look grass-fed?
There is a high probability but you cannot be 100% certain. Read on.
Around 97% of Australian cattle are raised on natural pastures and are considered grass fed. While grass makes up the the majority of the animal’s feed, they may also be fed grain to supplement their diet when pastures are poor. Different breeds of cattle along with changes in the seasons can influence the style and quality of beef produced as a result of being 100% grass fed.
There are two main farming methods in Australia – grass fed and grain fed.
GRASS FED (OR PASTURE FED) BEEF
In Australia, the majority of beef is raised on pasture and this meat is usually described as ‘grass fed’ or ‘pasture fed’. The breed type, as well as changes in seasons and nutritional value of the pasture, can influence the style and quality of beef produced on grass.
All Australian cattle spend the majority of their lives in a pasture fed environment. For an animal to be classified as grass fed it means that they have spent their entire life grazing pastures. Grass fed beef is often said to have a complex, robust flavour and yellowish fat colour.
GRAIN FED BEEF
Grain fed beef comes from cattle that have spent part of their lives being fed a ration of grain in order to achieve a more consistent product. On average, cattle that are grain fed spend between 50 and 120 days on grain after having spent 85-90% of their lives in a grass fed environment.
In the UK that would be:
How do you find real grass fed beef that only had grass all its life? Look for beef that is labelled as 100% grass fed or carries a Pasture For Life Certification. No, you won’t find such meat in a supermarket.
In AU that would be:
In Australia, cattle can be certified grass-fed (never eaten grains), by the Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System (PCAS). If you want to be sure of grass-fed beef, that has never been fed grains, this is one to look out for.
PCAS certification also allows cattle to be certified as growth hormone and antibiotic-free.
Coles, somewhat controversially, introduced their own standard with their grass-fed range called Graze. They say their standard is based on PCAS and contains all the same requirements e.g. regarding not being fed grains, access to pasture, feed-lotting, traceability, and dietary supplementation.
Australian consumer organisation CHOICE decided to cut the fat from the farming jargon with a simple guide to beef labels. Its table will give you an idea of the various farming methods employed in Australia and how it affects the taste of the beef.
That is a more difficult question to answer. You would have to compare Grass Fed and Grain Fed beef side by side and see if you can spot the the difference. Here is what to look for:
Due to their diet, grain-fed beef tends to have whiter colored fat and typically has more marbling. The marbling is responsible for a lot of the flavor and tenderness of beef and is used when grading quality. Grass-fed beef typically has a more yellow-colored fat and is leaner with less overall marbling and fat.
The below image shows a side by side comparison:
If it has white fat it was fed corn. If it has yellow fat it was fed grass. In South Africa A-class beef cannot be older than 3 years. The only way to get a cow to slaughtering weight in 3 years is to feed it a high-protein diet. The only real option for this type of feed is corn. So basically A-grade equals white fat which equals being fed corn.
Grass fed beef adds a whopping two years to the rearing process as the growth of the cow is not as quick without that high-protein feed. This makes it rather hard to run a cattle farm in an economically viable manner. Also not every locale is going to provide enough grass to rear beef like this.
Luckily for farmers geelvet beef is becoming more and more popular as the idea of cattle being fed there natural diet is becoming more appealing as people care more now for where there food comes from than ever before.