In 2013, in partnership with the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, Grass Run Farms and its collaborating cattle producers coordinated laboratory analysis of grass-fed beef primals to provide more authentic information to the retail consumer and put actual numbers to the discussion of grass-fed beef’s nutritional variation from conventional grain-finished beef.
This grant concluded in May 2014, one year from the design and implementation of the project. Samples were taken in June and July 2013, and nutritional analysis data were received in December 2013. Synthesis of the raw data (namely the creation of Nutrition Facts panels that are recognizable to the consumer) and promotion of the project began in January 2014.
Effective January 1, 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires vendors of raw beef muscle meats to make nutritional labeling available to the consumer at the point of sale, either as a poster displayed near the meat case in your grocery store, or on the package label.
- The available data doesn’t actually represent grass-fed beef production, widely understood to affect the fatty acid profile of livestock, thereby misleading the consumer.
- The scattershot nature of the database and lack of grass-fed beef data points doesn’t accurately represent the evolution of grass-fed beef production, which has expanded to meet consumer demand and now produces much more consistently finished product with intermuscular fat and a mature fatty acid profile.
Our goals were simple:
1. Collect good samples
2. Synthesize the data resulting from laboratory analysis
3. Broadcast the results to our marketplace
Twelve cuts of beef were sampled across three harvest dates, representing three distinct producers of 100% grass-fed beef. For each cut, nine samples were collected and compared – three from each date. Results were then averaged per cut to produce a composite for comparison with published USDA data for beef nutritional content (source: National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26 | USDA Agricultural Research Service).
Samples were taken by USDA-inspected processor Unger Meats, Vadnais Heights, Minn., and analyzed by the laboratories of Iowa State University Department of Animal Science. Sampling specifications were developed in collaboration with Iowa State University staff, and testing was verified accordingly.
Data were synthesized by Grass Run Farms staff to create Nutrition Facts panels, Fact Sheets by cut of beef, spreadsheets representing the cattle used in sampling, and resources for further adaptation of the data in the retail marketplace.
Promotion of these deliverable results is ongoing.
Today’s finished, marbled grass-fed beef really does compare favorably with conventional beef!
Highlights — Averaged per 4 oz (113g) serving — include:
? Lower in total calories
? Lower in calories from fat
? Lower in total fat
? Lower in saturated fats
? Higher in protein
? Higher in iron
? Higher in zinc
? Higher in potassium
? Higher in Omega-6 Fatty Acids than Organic Whole Milk
? Higher in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) than Organic Whole Milk
These results have been published as Nutrition Facts by other meat companies on USDA-approved labels, promoted through press releases to print and digital media, and submitted to major consumer news sources for inclusion in future coverage of grass-fed beef.
Impact of Results/Outcomes
In addition to the materials highlighted in the Outcomes above, the data resulting from this project have been synthesized in ways that are useful to our target beneficiaries:
Educational & Outreach Activities
Results of this analysis are downloadable as Fact Sheets from www.grassrunfarms.com/nutrition.
All resources, including a promotional press release, are downloadable from this project’s profile in the SARE virtual database.
The data found in this analysis have been incorporated by Grass Run Farms into retail product labeling and have been requested and used by four other private grass-fed beef resources at the time of this writing.
We continue to push these findings to mainstream and social media, bloggers in the food industry, and grass-fed beef resources, such as EatWild.com and BeefRetail.org.
This small sampling and its findings should inform future analysis of grass-fed beef, ideally of a sample size that could be included in the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
The sample analysis and its presentation, conducted during the academic year in the laboratories of Iowa State University, also shaped meaningful research work for the college students who coordinated the analysis on campus.
Meat sampling and analysis are complicated and expensive. The analyses completed in this project represent but a handful of data points and were not sampled widely enough for direct inclusion in the USDA database. We also ran into study design variables that may have resulted in our meats being tested using different procedures than the USDA’s.
Cholesterol in our study, for example, was measured in a composite of whole muscle tissue — including any cell membranes in connective tissue. This resulted in our cholesterol data appearing consistently higher than USDA values, which do not include the amount of cholesterol contained in connective tissue.
In the end, we are confident that this snapshot of grass-fed beef production and its effect on the nutritional content of the resulting meat is a useful barometer for grass-fed beef producers, as well as consumers who seek accountability in the sourcing of their food.
We predict that as domestic and imported grass-fed beef expands in the marketplace, consumer interest in current nutritional information will also increase, and we recommend that future studies in this area limit sampling specifications to fewer cuts of meat across a wider sampling base so that relevant data gets into national resources at regular intervals. We recommend basing sampling protocol on this FDA Nutrition Labeling Manual.