Are all cows fed on grass?
Let’s talk biology. Cattle are ruminants, a group of plant-eating mammals that also include sheep and goats. Ruminants have the unique ability to digest large amounts of grass, forage and other plant materials that we, as humans, cannot, and convert it to nutritious meat and milk. Ruminants are particularly useful because they can produce high-quality food from non-human edible crop residues and land that cannot support human-edible crops.
All ruminants naturally eat grass and most cattle, sheep and goats spend the majority of their lives eating grass and forage. However, in intensive farming systems, farmers replace some or all of the grass with energy-dense grains such as maize and barley and high-protein feeds such as soya to make the animals grow faster or produce more milk, for example.
In the most intensive beef cattle systems, where the aim is to maximise weight gain as quickly as possible, grains and high-protein feeds can form the entire diet once the animals enter the final ‘finishing’ stage before slaughter. While occasionally feeding small quantities of grain to ruminants isn’t necessarily harmful, feeding a significant amount can lead to severe health and welfare problems, such as acidosis—a serious form of heart burn which can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, liver disease and general ill health.
What does grassfed mean?
“Grassfed” (or grass-fed, or pasture-fed) is a term used to describe farming systems that raise animals on a 100% grass- and forage-only diet. Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of what foods can be called ‘grassfed’ in the UK, so it is important to make sure you are buying food that matches your expectations. (See ‘Where can I buy grassfed meat?’ below.)
Up until the 1940s, most beef and dairy farmers raised their cattle on a basic grass or forage diet, as countless generations had done before. In the 1950s, farmers and agricultural companies—particularly in the U.S.—began to exploit the fact they could fatten cattle far more quickly by feeding grain to increase the yield of milk and meat. As time went by, many beef and dairy farms also increased the numbers of animals they raised, relying less and less on outdoor grazing.
Although this resulted in dramatic increases in productivity, over the years it became clear the intensive growing and feeding of cereal/high-protein diets was responsible for a wide range of animal welfare and environmental concerns, such as water pollution from fertiliser run-off and greenhouse gas emsissions associated with livestock feed production, as well as the destruction of rainforest in countries like Brazil to grow soya for animal feed.
A Greener World’s grassfed programme—Certified Grassfed by AGW—applies to dairy and beef cattle, sheep and goats. We’re the only grassfed label in the UK that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100% grass and forage diet, raised outdoors on pasture and managed according to meaningful animal welfare and environmental standards on an independent farm—without harmful deforestation practices.
What are the benefits of grassfed meat and dairy?
Studies from around the world show that meat from grassfed animals has two to four times more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grainfed animals. Grassfed meat and milk also contains three to five times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than similar products from animals fed grain-based diets. Scientists now believe that CLA may be one of our most potent defenses against cancer. Research has also shown that grassfed meat is higher in vitamin E than meat from grainfed animals. In humans, we know that natural vitamin E in the diet is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
Some people claim that feeding grains to beef cattle is more ‘efficient’ because you need less land and less time to raise each animal; or that grassfed beef is less environmentally friendly because grassfed cattle produce more methane gas. But scientists now recognise that grassfed farming systems can actually have a net positive effect on greenhouse gas emissions through a process called carbon sequestration. As cattle and other ruminants graze pasture they stimulate the grasses to grow and produce more leaves; as the grass grows it absorbs more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and creates a mass of roots under the ground, effectively storing the CO2 it has absorbed in a much more stable form of carbon within the soil, where it can remain for centuries.
Is all grassfed the same?
Unfortunately, there is currently no legal definition of what foods can be called ‘grassfed’ in the UK. This means a business could use a “grassfed” label on meat and dairy products as long as their animals were ‘predominantly grassfed’. But this could mean that grass and forage only made up 51% of the animal’s diet, with grain making up the rest.
With ever-increasing demand for grassfed meat and dairy products there is obviosuly a risk of a proliferation of so-called “grassfed” claims that do not meet consumer expectations.
Our trusted Certified Grassfed by AGW label helps consumers to easily identify meat and dairy products from animals raised on a 100% grassfed diet—and never any grain. While other grassfed labels exist, we’re the only label in the UK to combine a 100% grassfed and forage diet, environmental management and the highest standads for farm animal welfare under a single label—fully meeting consumer expectations for the grassfed label.
Use this handy comparison chart to see how we compare with other grassfed labels, and to help you find products that meet your expectations.
Does organic mean ‘grassfed’?
Under UK organic production standards, organic livestock farmers can feed a certain amount of energy-dense and high-protein diets to their animals as long as the feed ingredients are certified organic. Due to significant shortages of UK-grown organic cereals and protein crops, organic feed is often imported.
While some organic farmers are also 100% grassfed, it is important to look for the Certified Grassfed by AGW logo—or ask the organic farmer/supplier for verification that they follow a 100% grassfed feeding protocol—if you want to make sure you are buying organic grassfed meat and dairy products.
Where can I buy grassfed meat?
Looking for suppliers of Certified Grassfed by AGW meat and dairy products—including grassfed meat?
Search our online directory for farms, restaurants and retailers selling high-welfare, sustainable meat, dairy, eggs, fish and fiber produced to the highest welfare and environmental standards.
If you’d like to know more, get in touch—we’re always glad to help.
What is Certified Grassfed by AGW?
Certified Grassfed by AGW is an optional, additional accreditation for Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW (AWA) farmers and ranchers to certify they are also raising animals according to a grassfed feeding protocol. Certified Grassfed by AGW is only available to farms that also meet the existing AWA high-welfare and environmental standards for the species concerned.
Why did you launch Certified Grassfed by AGW?
We developed the original Certified Grassfed by AGW standards for Canadian farmers in 2013 following significant consumer and farmer demand in Canada for a label to distinguish authentic grassfed products in a confusing marketplace. Following significant interest from farmers and ranchers south of the border and in other parts of the world, we decided to offer this service across the U.S. — and now globally.
How does Certified Grassfed by AGW accreditation compare with other grassfed labels claims?
Certified Grassfed by AGW is the only grassfed label claim in the U.S. and Canada that requires farms to provide their animals with a 100% grass and forage diet and meet a range of practical and trusted farm environmental standards and high-welfare welfare standards from birth through to slaughter.
What are the benefits of Certified Grassfed by AGW accreditation?
Recent research shows that demand for grassfed beef has increased by 25–30 percent every year over the last decade. AWA is already widely recognized and respected as a trusted brand when it comes to farm animal welfare, outdoor access and sustainability. Holding Certified Grassfed by AGW certification proves the meat from your farm or ranch not only comes from animals raised entirely on a grass and forage diet, but that you are also managing them according to the highest possible welfare standards. No other grassfed label can offer producers, retailers, and consumers this breadth and level of integrity and assurance. AWA is also the only farm animal program in the U.S. that is accredited to international standard ISO 17065, adding to our credibility in the marketplace.
What does the Certified Grassfed by AGW accreditation require farmers and ranchers to do?
To gain Certified Grassfed by AGW certification, you must feed your animals only grass and other forages from weaning onwards. As with non-grassfed AWA certification, you must also raise your animals outside on range or pasture for their entire lives. No growth hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics are permitted and all AWA-certified animals must be slaughtered at a recommended slaughterplant.
Please contact the main office for information about fees for grassfed certification. Once certified, all farmers in the program have access to a range of technical, marketing, and other support services.
What species does Certified Grassfed by AGW accreditation cover?
Certified Grassfed by AGW Accreditation applies to specific ruminants—including beef cattle, dairy cattle, meat and dairy sheep, meat and dairy goats and bison—whose unique digestive systems allow them to digest grass and other forages to provide all the nutrition that they need.
Where can I find the Certified Grassfed by AGW standards?
To ensure complete transparency, all our standards are readily available on our website. Before applying please ensure you read both the Certified Grassfed by AGW and the species-specific AWA standards for the livestock you are applying for.
Will there be a different logo for Certified Grassfed by AGW farms?
All farms approved in the AWA program can use the AWA logo to promote their farm and products. However, farms that meet Certified Grassfed by AGW requirements can use an additional Certified Grassfed by AGW logo (see above) alongside the AWA logo on product labels according to your species. AWA’s Labeling Coordinator can supply the new logo options for your artwork—or even help you to design a new label. Click here for more information.