For those who do not know me, my name is Dan and I am a butcher by trade and am constantly asked by all my customers various questions on cuts of beef and the quality of beef we use. In my time in the business I am both fascinated and shocked by how many people are concerned with the "quality of their meat and what is added to it" when I then proceed to look down in their shopping cart and see they have soda and cheese doodles piled high in it. As we know for most bodybuilders and power lifters beef is an important source of protein for us and I would like to offer some of my knowledge and insight to all my fellow brothers to get a better understanding of what they are consuming.
I would like to first start off by establishing there are roughly over 800 different breeds of cattle, the most common cattle used for consumption here in the States are Angus Beef Cattle.
There are 8 different grades of beef
U.S. Prime – Highest in quality and intramuscular fat, limited supply. Currently, about 2.9% of carcasses grade as Prime.
U.S. Choice – High quality, widely available in foodservice industry and retail markets. Choice carcasses are 53.7% of the fed cattle total. The difference between Choice and Prime is largely due to the fat content in the beef. Prime typically has a higher fat content (more and well distributed intramuscular "marbling") than Choice.
U.S. Select (formerly Good) – lowest grade commonly sold at retail, acceptable quality, but is less juicy and tender due to leanness.
U.S. Standard – Lower quality, yet economical, lacking marbling.
U.S. Commercial – Low quality, lacking tenderness, produced from older animals.
The first three grades listed are the most common you will find in your supermarket or local grocery store, choice being probably the most common.
Lets get into the common terms that you often hear associated with your beef
-All Natural Beef
-Angus- Simply refers to one specific breed of cattle with two variations Red Angus Cattle and Black Angus Cattle. Here in the US Black Angus Cattle is the most frequently used cattle for beef consumption. For instance the supermarket I work at only sells "All Natural Angus Choice Beef" meaning our beef is all natural, the breed is Angus, and the grade is choice. Most supermarkets will distinguish what grade of beef they sell but wont always disclose the breed of cattle, when you go to a supermarket the beef may simply say "choice beef" which means it is choice grade and may not be specifically Angus cattle but simply one of the other common breeds of cattle used for consumption. Some of the other common breeds of cattle used for consumption are as fallows, Charolais, Hereford, Simmental, Limousin, Maine-Anjou, Salers, Gelbvieh, and Shorthorn.
-Organic beef- For a piece of beef to be label organic it has to be approved by the USDA before they certify it as organic. To certify cattle as organic farmers must fallow these guidelines set by the USDA:
Born and raised on certified organic pasture
Never receive antibiotics
Never receive growth-promoting hormones (sorry no Test, D-Bol, or Superdrol for these cattle )
Are fed only certified organic grains and grasses
Must have unrestricted outdoor access
-All natural beef- Here is where the label gets tricky, the term "all natural" seems to be used every where now a days but there is an actual distinction between organic and all natural. The USDA defines “natural” beef as all meats raised for human consumption without additives and minimally processed. Natural Beef producers may choose not to use antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones, but there is no third-party verification system required by the USDA. Beef from feedlots can be labeled natural, according to the USDA’s definition. Beef that bears a "natural" label can mean numerous things depending entirely upon the producers. The "natural" beef label can be misleading. It does not take into consideration what the cow has consumed throughout its lifetime or its living conditions. Common practices in conventional agriculture include: feeding cattle plastic pellets for roughage; using feed containing animal byproducts, urea and manure; denying cows access to pasture; and housing cows in overcrowded conditions. Some natural beef producers only restrict hormone and antibiotic use in the 100 to 120 days prior to slaughter. So in essence farmers can give their cattle antibiotics and growth hormones up until 100 to 120 days prior to slaughter in order to label their beef "All Natural' compared to cattle that has to be weened off antibiotics and growth hormones only 30 days prior to slaughter that are not labeled "All Natural".
-Free Range Beef- Traditional American usage equates "free range" with "unfenced," and with the implication that there was no herdsman keeping them together or managing them in any way. Legally, a free-range jurisdiction allowed livestock (perhaps only of a few named species) to run free, and the owner was not liable for any damage they caused. In such jurisdictions, people who wished to avoid damage by livestock had to fence them out; in others, the owners had to fence them in. The USDA has no specific definition for "free-range" beef, pork, and other non-poultry products. All USDA definitions of "free-range" refer specifically to poultry. No other criteria-such as the size of the range or the amount of space given to each animal-are required before beef, lamb, and pork can be called "free-range". Claims and labeling using "free range" are therefore unregulated. The USDA relies "upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims." In a December 30, 2002 Federal Register notice and request for comments (67 Fed. Reg. 79552), USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service proposed "minimum requirements for livestock and meat industry production/marketing claims". Many industry claim categories are included in the notice, including breed claims, antibiotic claims, and grain fed claims. "Free Range, Free Roaming, or Pasture Raised" would be defined as "livestock that have had continuous and unconfined access to pasture throughout their life cycle" with an exception for swine ("continuous access to pasture for at least 80% of their production cycle"). This proposed rule making is still in play. In a May 12, 2006 Federal Register notice (71 Fed. Reg. 27662), the agency presented a summary and its responses to comments received in the 2002 notice, but only for the category "grass (forage) fed" which the agency stated was to be a category separate from "free range." Comments received for other categories, including "free range," are to be published in future Federal Register editions.
I would like to also note that "Free Range" does not mean it is necessarily "Organic", farmers may use certain pesticides on there land which would in return void the idea of the feed being organic.
-Grass fed beef-Grass fed or pasture-fed cattle, grass and other forage compose most all or at least the great majority of the grass fed diet. The debate is whether cattle should be raised on diets primarily composed of pasture (grass) or a concentrated diet of grain, soy and other supplements. The issue is often complicated by the political interests and confusion between labels such as "free range," "organic" or "natural." Cattle raised on a primarily forage diet are termed grass-fed or pasture-raised; meat or milk may be called grass-fed beef or pasture-raised dairy. However, the term "pasture-raised" can lead to confusion with the term "free range" which does not describe exactly what the animals eat. Another term is "grass-finished."
-Grain fed beef-Cattle called "corn-fed," "grain-fed" or "corn-finished" are typically fattened on maize, soy and other types of feed for several months before slaughter. As a high-starch, high-energy food, corn decreases the time to fatten cattle and increases yield from dairy cattle. Some corn-feed cattle are fattened in CAFOs concentrated animal feeding operations. In the United States, most grass-fed cattle are raised for beef production. Dairy cattle may be supplemented with grain to increase the efficiency of production and reduce the area needed to support the energy requirements of the herd. A growing number of health and environmental proponents in the United States such as the Union of Concerned Scientists advocate raising cattle on pasture and other forage. Complete adoption of farming practices like grass-fed beef production systems would increase the amount of land needed to raise beef but reduce land used to grow soy and corn to feed them.
-Antibiotics-Antibiotics are commonly used in the food production system as a way to control the growth of potentially harmful bacteria. Potential benefits from the use of antibiotics include the prevention of diseases, increase in food and water uptake, and increase the digestive effectiveness of the animal. There are concerns however about residues of the antibiotics getting into the milk or meat of cattle. In Canada, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) enforces standards which protects consumers by ensuring that foods produced will not contain antibiotics at a level which will cause harm to consumers. In the United States, the government requires a withdraw period for any animal treated with antibiotics before it can be slaughtered, to allow residue to exit the animal. There are two distinctions between the clinical and nonclinical use of antibiotics in cows. Clinical use of antibiotics refers to the treatment of cows due to sickness. However, corn-fed cattle draw attention to the nonclinical use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to promote growth and treat sick cattle, yet the cattle would not get sick if they were not fed a corn-based diet that subjects them to diseases caused by the malfunctioning of their rumen.
-Growth Hormones-The use of growth hormones is controversial. The benefits of using growth hormones includes improved feed efficiency, carcass quality and rate of muscle development. It is argued that with the use of growth hormones more plentiful quality meats can be sold for affordable prices. Growth hormones are often not well looked upon due to the use of synthetic hormones and also fears about the consumption of these hormones from the meat products. Due to the fact that synthetic hormones are unnatural, there are concerns about how it could affect the bodily functions of consumers. The long term effects of the consumption of synthetic hormones have not been thoroughly examined. Using hormones in cattle costs $1.50 and adds between 40 and 50 pounds to the weight of a steer at slaughter, for a return of at least $25. American regulators permit hormone use on the grounds that no risk to human health has been proven, even though measurable hormone residues do turn up in the meat we eat. These contribute to the buildup of estrogenic compounds in the environment, which some scientists believe may explain falling sperm counts and premature maturation in girls. Recent studies have also found elevated levels of synthetic growth hormones in feedlot wastes; these persistent chemicals eventually wind up in the waterways downstream of feedlots, where scientists have found fish exhibiting abnormal sex characteristics.
I figured this was a great way to inform anyone who was a bit confused on all the terminology surrounding beef, I may be wrong on certain views and aspects discussed here in this post so feel free to contribute and share your opinions.