What Does “Grass Fed” or “Organic” Mean?

posted on

October 5, 2023

Grass Fed – or more accurately 100% Grass Fed – means that the beef animal was born on pasture and lived its entire life on pasture. It has not been fed grains at any point of its life. Note that this definition doesn’t mention anything about chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other artificial agents. 

Organic means that the animal has been raised without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other artificial agents. In order to sell products labeled as “Organic,” the producer must be certified by the USDA. The definition does not mention anything about what the animal ate. The definition also doesn’t cover whether the animal was raised outside, in a large feedlot, or on a factory farm. 

Both GrassFed and Organic are valuable terms when deciding what type of meat is best for you, but neither one tells the whole story about what the cow ate and how it lived. The more you know about how your food is grown, harvested, and processed, the better you will be able to decide which option is better. 

Side-by-Side Comparison: Grass Fed vs. Organic Beef

Grass Fed would be for people who want their beef raised in as natural a setting as possible, while still ensuring that the animal doesn’t have a large chance of being eaten by predators or dying in a natural disaster.  People are taking care of the animal to a large extent. And most of the time, Grass Fed also means that the animal is not raised with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and the like, but you should always check with each individual producer to make sure. 

Organic would be for people who want their beef to be raised without the use of chemicals or other artificial agents. There are a certain amount of certified organic cattle that are raised on grain but most often organic can also mean that the beef animal was raised on grass at least for a portion of its life. 

This also answers the question: Is Grass Fed the same as Organic?  In short, it is not, the definitions of Grass Fed and Organic often overlap to a large extent, but they are not the same. 

There is also a question about the difference between organic grass fed and regular grass fed. Most times, the definition of ‘organic’ grass fed states that the growing practices are certified by the USDA. Regular grass fed doesn’t require the farmer to mention if the growing practices have been certified or not.  Regular Grass Fed therefore relies on more communication between the producer and the consumer to understand the farm’s growing practices. A regular grass fed farmer can expect to have more one-on-one communication with his customers. So as a customer, you might expect to get a more personal response from a smaller, regular grass fed farmer. 

It can take up to three years for a farmer to get “Certified Organic” status, and the process is often difficult and sometimes arbitrary.  In many cases, myself included, the certification process and the costs keep the small farmer out of the ‘certified organic’ sphere. 

Grass Fed


Feed: Mother’s milk and grass or similar forage only. 

Nutrients of feed: High in lignin, active chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals. 

Nutrients of product: Higher concentration of Omega 3 fats, More vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Less fat overall but this can vary widely. 

Time from birth to slaughter: 18-30 months.

Stress level:  Low, the animal lives its entire life on pasture. 

Feed: Mother’s milk to start with.  After that the feeds could contain or consist totally of grains or any other feeds desired.  Excepting only that the feeds may not contain chemical fertilizer, pesticides, or other artificial ingredients. 

Nutrients of feed: Could be the same as Grass Fed but could also could include high starch grains as long as the grains were raised organically. 

Nutrients of product: Could be the same as Grass Fed but could also have a higher concentration of Omega 6 fats. 

Time from birth to slaughter: Could be the same as Grass Fed but could also be 12-18 months depending on the feed.  

Stress level: Could be t4he same as Grass Fed but doesn’t have to be.  The animal could be raised in a high stress organic feedlot. 

So is grass fed beef better than organic beef? 

The answer to this question depends on what feed the Organic cattle were fed and the quality of life the animals have.  If they were fed a diet that is very high in grains then the meat quality will not be as good as the Grass Fed meats.  

The only way to truly answer this question is to ask questions of the producer.  What did he feed his animals?  How do his animals live?  Can he show you pictures of how the animals live?  Are the animals on pasture or outside? Are they crowded? 

There is no shortcut to actually knowing where your food comes from.  Knowing where your meat comes from can help you develop a more healthy relationship with your food.  If you are curious about finding healthy, local meat, check out our guide to finding a nearby farmer.

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