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by Guest Author December 21, 2018 6 min read

 

 


 
  by Thomas Kennedy

 

I’m guessing you’re here because you’ve heard about the health benefits of grass-fed beef.

If you’re not sure what those are, do yourself a favour and check out this infographic.

Now, you might be wondering, which one of these “grass-fed” steaks in Coles is the healthiest? Or which grass-fed mince from Woolworths should I buy for my spag-bol?

In this article i’ll take out all the guesswork by breaking down:

  • The Pasture-fed Cattle Assurance System (PCAS): What it is and why it's important;
  • The different grass-fed offerings you’ll find in Coles and Woolworths; and
  • How to shop for grass-fed beef at farmers markets/butcheries.

Let’s go!

The Pasture-fed Cattle Assurance System

These days, food companies are able to use all kinds of loopholes to label their products as ‘natural’ and ‘organic’, when in reality they’re anything but.

Luckily, new certifications are in place which allow us to be more certain about the quality of the meat we’re buying.

The Pasture fed Cattle Assurance System (PCAS) is the current industry standard for grass-fed beef in Australia.

It is administered by the Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) who are responsible for setting the standards and making sure that farms using the PCAS logo comply with those standards.

To be eligible, cattle must:

  • Have access to graze open pasture their entire life;
  • Have not been fed separated grain or grain by-products at any point in their life (although their diet can be supplemented with things such as hay and roughage);
  • Have not been confined for the purposes of intensive feeding for production;
  • Be fully traceable for their entire life; and
  • Be guaranteed to eat well, based on MSA (Meat Standards Australia) [13].

The PCAS optionally allows cattle to be certified as hormone growth promotant (HGP) and/or antibiotic free. If the meat producer has met these requirements, you will see the additional tags underneath the PCAS logo.

You can read more about the PCAS standard here.

The PCAS standard forms the basis for the grass-fed offerings you’ll find in the major supermarkets, which i’ll take you through now.

Graze (Coles Only)

Graze

Coles’ grass-fed beef products can be found labelled as Graze (pictured above).

The steaks usually come vacuum-sealed, making them appear darker. This is due to the myoglobin having no oxygen to pull into the muscle. Once out of the packaging, the colour usually returns within 10-20 minutes.

The Graze certification Coles has created, whilst technically different to the PCAS (for reasons beyond the scope of this article), contains all the same requirements e.g. access to pasture, feed-lotting, traceability and dietary supplementation [14].

Like the PCAS, cattle can also be optionally certified as Antibiotic and/or HGP-free. Look for these labels on the packaging.

Coles makes sure their standards are being upheld through the use of independent auditors such as AUS-MEAT.

The Graze range now contains over 10 products including rump, scotch fillet, eye fillet, burgers, meatballs, sausages, mince and stir fry.

Also on the blog: Find Grass Fed Butter in Australia

Cleavers Organic (Coles and Woolworths)

Cleaver’s Beef

Cleaver’s produce a range of organic/free range products and have their own standard called the Cleaver’s Certified Organic Grass Fed Assurance (CCOGA).

Like Graze, Cleavers insists on grass-feeding and finishing standards in line with the PCAS.

However, unlike Graze, all Cleavers products must be free of hormones and growth promoters, so there is no need to look for additional labels regarding these topics.

Furthermore, to be classified as CCOGA cattle, the animals and the farm they came from must be certified under the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) Standard [14].

The ACO certification contains many strict provisions regarding soil standards, water management and processions facilities. You can read more about the ACO standard here.

 

Australian Grasslands (Woolworths Only)

Grasslands beef

The Grasslands products you’ll find in Woolworths are accredited by Teys (Australia’s second largest beef producer), who have developed their own standard for grass-fed beef.

All that is required to gain entry is an initial self-assessment, where if no major issues are flagged, the producer will be given a Grasslands accreditation [17].

After that, twice yearly, a random sample of producers will be audited to ensure they are complying with the standard, with all the costs borne by Teys.

This is unlike the PCAS, where producers are required to undergo an initial on-farm audit as well as a yearly self-funded audit in order to maintain their accreditation.

As for the standards themselves, all the beef sold under the Grasslands label must have never been fed grain (or grain by-products), have had full access to pasture its entire life and be completely antibiotic/HGP-free.

Again, these are virtually the same requirements as the PCAS, but the PCAS remains the higher standard because of its stricter auditing and accreditation processes.

So Which Should I Buy?

The short answer is, most of the time, it won’t matter.

The three standards I’ve taken you through are nearly identical so no matter which you choose, you’ll immediately be able to start enjoying the health benefits of grass-fed beef.

You’re much better off spending your time and energy in the supermarket looking for the best deals (ie. close to date) or the most delicious-looking cuts.

If you’re a purist (I know I am) and want the highest possible quality, you’ll want to head to your nearest organic and/or ethical butcher/grocer and check out their selection.

They’ll often know the producer directly (sometimes they even are the producer!) and will be able to tell you exactly where the beef is from, what is was fed, how it was kept and exactly how to long it took to get to you.

Don’t be afraid to use terms like grain-finished and antibiotic/hgp-free and ask whether the farm itself is certified organic. The butcher will appreciate it and might even be able to do you a better deal if you buy in bulk.

Here’s some more tips for how to shop at butchers/markets and avoid the hucksters.

How to Shop at Butchers/Markets

Grass-Fed beef should be easily identifiable from the following characteristics:

  • Darker Meat: Grass-fed steaks are often a dark, rich red colour [11] which is a result of their diet being higher in beta-carotene, vitamins and trace minerals.
  • Creamy-Coloured Fat: Beta-carotene is the pigment responsible for giving foods such as carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes their distinctly orange colour. When a cow’s diet is rich in beta-carotene, the fat takes on a much creamier, in some cases (link to Alderspring Ranch) even yellow/orange colour. By comparison, the fat of ordinary steaks is much whiter.
  • Less Marbling: Marbling refers to the streaks of fat that run through the meat, giving it an appearance similar to a marble pattern. This is the last place that fat will be deposited on a cow, and the first to be used as an energy source [12]. While it has a positive effect on eating quality, it is usually only achievable through grain-feeding leading up to slaughter. As grass-fed steaks are generally leaner, they have less marbling than grain-fed steaks [11].

If you suspect someone is telling you their beef is grass-fed when it’s really not, do yourself a favour and keep browsing until you get to the real deal.

Happy Shopping!

 

References

  1. Connor WE. Importance of n-3 fatty acids in health and disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000;71:171S–5S.
  2. Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S.A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J. 2010 Mar 10;9:10. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-9-10. Review. PubMed PMID: 20219103; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2846864.
  3. Whigham L,Watras A,Schoeller D.Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 May;85(5):1203-1211.
  4. IP C, Scimeca JA, Thompson HJ. Conjugated linoleic acid. Cancer Supplement. 1994;74(3):1050–4. [PubMed]
  5. Kritchevsky D, Tepper SA, Wright S, Tso P, Czarnecki SK. Influence of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) on establishment and progression of atherosclerosis in rabbits. Journal American Collection of Nutrition. 2000;19(4):472S–7S. [PubMed]
  6. Raifen R, Altman Y, Zadik Z. Vitamin A Levels and Growth Hormone Axis. Horm Res 1996;46:279–281.http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/185101
  7. Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, Chandra N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2010;4(8):118-126. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70902.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911
  8. Descalzo AM, Rossetti L, Grigioni G, Irurueta M, Sancho AM, Carrete J, Pensel NA.Antioxidant status and odour profile in fresh beef from pasture or grain-fed cattle. Meat Sci. 2007 Feb;75(2):299-307. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2006.07.015. Epub 2006 Sep 28. PubMed PMID: 22063662.
  9. Ponnampalam EN, Mann NJ, Sinclair AJ.Effect of feeding systems on omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and trans fatty acids in Australian beef cuts: potential impact on human health. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2006;15(1):21-9. PubMed PMID: 16500874.
  10. Choice (2014). What’s Your Beef? From Paddock to Plate - Your Steak’s Journey. Retrieved from  https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/meat-fish-and-eggs/meat/articles/whats-your-beef
  11. Reagan, J. O. Carpenter, J. A; Bauer, F. T. Lowrey, R. S. Packaging and Palatability Characteristics of Grass and Grass-Grain Fed Beef. Journal of Animal Science. 1977;45(4):716-721.
  12. Meat Standards Australia (2013). The effect of marbling on beef eating quality. Retreived fromhttp://www.mla.com.au/Marketing-beef-and-lamb/Meat-Standards-Australia/MSA-beef/Grading
  13. Cattle Council of Australia (2015). Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System Standards. Retreived fromhttp://www.pcaspasturefed.com.au/assets/PCAS%20Standards.v5.6%20010915%20(Final).pdf
  14. Coles (2015). The Coles Graze Grass-Fed Beef Standard. Retreived fromhttp://grazebeef.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/ColesGrazeStandard2014.pdf
  15. Cleaver’s Organic (2015). Cleaver’s Certified Organic Grass Fed Assurance. Retrieved fromhttp://cleaversorganic.com.au/cleavers-standards/
  16. https://austorganic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/ACOS_2017_V1.pdf
  17. https://www.beefcentral.com/news/teys-to-launch-its-own-pasturefed-standard-as-alternative-to-pcas/

Guest Author
Guest Author

This article was contributed by a guest author with expert knowledge in their field.



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