My “Beef” with Ground Beef

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By: Crystal Bossola and Jacinda Swan

They almost had me fooled. The number of beef classifications are out control, confusing the consumer while cashing in on their lack of knowledge surrounding the way cattle are raised and what they are fed. Let’s discuss some common terms used for marketing beef. 

“USDA Choice/USDA Prime”- These cattle are considered conventional and can spend half of their lives on feedlots consuming grain.

“Pasture-raised”- These cattle graze pastures whenever weather permits and receive supplemental grain rations.

“Organic” These cattle graze certified organic pasture whenever weather permits and receive organic supplemental grain rations.

“Grass-fed”- These cattle are raised in the pasture and can be fed grain in conjunction with their grazing or be finished off on grain for the final months of their life. This was the term originally used for “100% grass-fed” beef. 

“100% Grass-fed”- These cattle receive only fresh pasture and dried forages, like hay.  They may consume supplements as needed but NEVER receive grain rations. 


Except for 100% grass-fed beef, all of these terms describe grain on grass pasture production systems. Only the 100% grass-fed beef term describes a pure forage pasture production system. Premium prices are possible for local grain on grass-fed beef and USDA Prime beef as well as when marketing beef as organic or pasture raised beef. The highest priced beef will always be “100% Grass-fed” beef. 

Are you confused yet? I recommend strictly purchasing “100% grass-fed” beef if you are willing to spend premium prices. Make sure you understand how marketing can use several terms to describe a similar product. Remember to ask questions to ensure you are truly getting what you pay for.