Ranchers decry grass-fed beef rule plan
By LIBBY QUAID
WASHINGTON - Meat-eaters usually assume a grass-fed steak came from cattle contentedly grazing for most of their lives on lush pastures, not crowded into feedlots. If the government has its way, the grass-fed label could be used to sell beef that didn't roam the range and ate more than just grass.
The Agriculture Department has proposed a standard for grass-fed meat that doesn't say animals need pasture and that broadly defines grass to include things like leftovers from harvested crops.
Critics say the proposal is so loose that it would let more conventional ranchers slap a grass-fed label on their beef, too.
"In the eye of the consumer, grass-fed is tied to open pasture-raised animals, not confinement or feedlot animals," said Patricia Whisnant, a Missouri rancher who heads the American Grassfed Association. "In the consumer's eye, you're going to lose the integrity of what the term 'grass-fed' means."
All beef cattle graze on grass at the beginning of their lives. The difference generally is that grass-fed beef herds graze in pastures, while conventional cattle spend the last three or four months of their lives being fattened with corn or other grains in feedlots.
People buy grass-fed beef for many reasons: They want to avoid antibiotics commonly used in feedlots, they think it's healthier, or they like the idea of supporting local farms and ranches.
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