What makes free range beef?
Navigating the different terms and labels for meat products might seem simple . . . Free range, feedlot, grass-fed, grain fed, organic, regenerative . . . Until it’s not. While phrases such as free range meat, grass fed beef and paddock to plate might seem reasonably self-explanatory, things aren’t always as they seem. In this article we explain exactly what free range truly means when used to describe meat products, as well as what you can ascertain about products that don’t make this claim.
The term free range will likely evoke imagery of animals grazing vast, rolling hills of lush pasture, with room to roam freely as they please. However, there are many different ideas as to what constitutes “free”, especially in relation to beef. Unfortunately, many meat companies liberally use the term free range to describe the production of meat that they sell. Due to the convoluted supply chain of meat the retailer may often have – in reality –no real knowledge of this status. The real source story may involve something very different and the animal conditions associated with meat that is misleadingly labelled free range are often a far cry from Provenir’s highest welfare standards. This situation can make it extremely challenging for the consumer to make informed ethical food choices.
What is the definition of free range?
The Cambridge definition of free range is;
Relating to or produced by farm animals that are allowed to move around outside and are not kept in cages
This definition (along with others) is certainly open to interpretation, and that’s where the challenges begin. For example, what constitutes a cage? For large animals such as beef cattle, simply being able to move around outside – not necessarily freely – doesn’t quite stack up to the romantic images of happy cows peacefully grazing large, lush paddocks. For beef production things are just as vague as the generic definition. There is currently no existing legislation or definitive labelling guidelines surrounding the use of free range labels on beef products. Of course, companies shouldn’t mislabel beef grown in a high-density feedlot as free range, however that’s not to say that it doesn’t ever happen. Most commonly, butchers purchase meat from wholesalers with the “hope” that it is free-range – and then sell it as such. For other meat products such as chicken and pork, there exist some guidelines dictating the maximum density of animals in order to classify as free range. While there are a few different organisations that publish these free-range guidelines, they are just that – guidelines.
If this is the case, how do we know whether or not meat is free-range?
Unfortunately for consumers, there are few shortcuts in finding clear information regarding the provenance, growing conditions and the animal welfare of the meat that we purchase. The surest way to access conclusive information regarding meat production practices is to do your research. While many of the online butcher businesses that you may find in your search will not be forthcoming with their sourcing information (often because they don’t actually know), there are a small number of retailers that freely disclose their source story on their online butcher store and website. If key information is missing you can contact the company directly or perhaps draw your own conclusions.
If you’ve come so far to read this article then perhaps you know a little about Provenir already. If not, you can learn more about us and the Provenir philosophy at About Provenir.
How is the meat grown if the label doesn’t provide information about animal conditions?
While most beef cattle are usually born and spend their first months in a free range paddock, most don’t finish life this way. In Australia, 99.9% (or more) of the beef that is produced is processed at large scale, fixed commercial abattoir. Much of this beef spends significant time in an industrial feedlot being fed a high energy grain diet, which believe it or not – can still be called grass fed. Feedlots involve an intensive feeding regime (consisting mostly of grain, which provides for rapid weight gain and fat addition) and small confined spaces to restrict movement. These unnatural environments coupled with an unnatural diet can create high animal stress, the lack of movement proliferates bacteria from faeces and potential disease. This high energy diet from a largely grain based food intake rapidly develops unhealthy fats in the cattle. Most meat available for purchase in Australia, that isn’t labelled free-range is produced this way.
So how do I know that Provenir meat is genuinely free range?
Our Provenir Six Star Promise (read on for more information) guarantees that all of our meat is ethically produced. However, we understand that a simple promise is not enough – each pack of Provenir’s free range meat includes a QR code which reveals sourcing information for that individual pack of beef. From the label you can access information regarding provenance, breed of cattle and – via our Meet the Farmers page – information on the individual farming practices applied to the production of that individual pack. Producing Australia’s highest welfare beef is at the core of our ethos. Aligned with this, our overarching goal is to produce ethical meat – a process which includes providing transparency for the consumer.
How does Provenir ensure that they are sourcing ethically produced beef?
At Provenir we process all of our meat on farm through our mobile processing unit, which means that we have a close and transparent relationship with our beef farmers. In order for farmers to partner with Provenir their animal husbandry and stock management practices must meet several key criteria –
Provenir farmers must produce truly free range beef. From birth to maturity, Provenir beef cattle are able to freely graze pastures in spacious paddocks, often hundreds (or even thousands) of acres in size. This doesn’t mean that cattle are never herded into a yard – this is occasionally necessary for animal health or veterinary purposes. What this does mean is that unlike beef feedlotting operations, the animals return to their paddocks immediately afterward and are allowed to live freely and peacefully for the entirety of their lives.
Provenir beef is hormone free – farmers that supply our farm to table beef must not use any growth promotants or hormones in their animals. All Provenir meat is allowed to grow naturally and slowly, the way nature intended. This means heathier meat for you, the consumer.
Provenir beef is grass fed. Unlike the unnatural grain-fed diets of most beef cattle, our free-range and grass-fed beef is allowed to mature slowly. Cows fed on grass pastures are much higher in nutrients and healthy fats. See an excerpt from our previous article Why is grass fed beef better? below.
While grain-finished beef has animal welfare implications, there are also significant differences in the quality of grass-fed meat. The unnatural diets and fast growth of feedlotted cattle result in similarly unnatural development of both muscle and fat – the latter being the key difference.
Grass-finished beef has a very different fat constitution to grain-fed beef – grass-fed beef is lower in overall fat content (approximate 65% less than grain-fed counterparts), but is proportionately higher in healthy fats, including many that are known to prevent cancer referred to as Omega 3s Omega 6s and CLAs.
Grass-fed beef is;
- Approximately 65% lower in total fat
- Lower in trans fats
- Higher in fat-soluble vitamins
- Three to five times higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – a well known anti-cancer fat with anti-inflammatory properties
- Higher in vaccenic acid (which converts to CLA)
- Higher in beta-carotene, a potent antioxidant which has anti-cancer properties
- Four times higher in vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol), which is essential for good for cardiovascular health and is also an anti-cancer vitamin
- About five times higher in total omega-3 fatty acids which are good for the cardiovascular system, anti-cancer and improving mood
- A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids – good for cardiovascular health, anti-cancer, better mood and reduced potential for obesity
- Lower in the specific types of saturated fats (palmitic acid and myristic acid) that are linked with heart disease
- Contains about four times more anti-cancer selenium, which may also improve mood
The Provenir Six Star Promise
Provenir allows consumers to buy beef direct from the farmer and delivers a six star promise;
Provenir farmers utilise low stress handling techniques and raise their livestock on open pastures within a familiar herd structure; allowing the animals to express their natural character.
Instead of the livestock being transported, the abattoir comes to the farm. Eliminates unnecessary stress on animals associated with live transport. Less stress means less adrenalin produced, and thus more retained glycogen stores in the meat, leading to exceptional eating quality, taste and tenderness.
Full traceability & true provenance
Provenir oversees the whole operation from purchasing livestock on farm direct from our partnering farmers, to the on-farm processing, into our butchery and on to you. By processing on-farm and utilising the latest in digital traceability technology we are able provide full transparency and guaranteed provenance.
Grass-fed & free range
Provenir partners with farmers who raise their livestock free range and grass-fed. For cattle and lamb this means they are fed on natural grasses, pasture, hay or silage.
Exceptional eating quality
Our on-farm process and artisan butchery techniques ensures that the quality of the meat is retained and maximised throughout the whole process.
No and hormones, herd antibiotics or intensive feedlots
Provenir farmers raise their livestock naturally: they do not feedlot, nor do they add hormones or antibiotics to the feed as growth promotants.
How to Purchase Provenir
If you do care about animal welfare, and of course great tasting, high quality meat, visit the Provenir online butcher shop now and find out for yourself why people are trusting Provenir. Provenir enables a connection between you and the farmer, via a unique QR code on each meat pack, that tells you the entire paddock to plate story behind each cut of meat.
You can also keep up to date with Provenir news by signing up to the Provenir newsletter.
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Where to buy
You can have Provenir home delivered, purchase in-store, or experience it first hand at select restaurants.
Order online and receive Provenir beef delivered to your door.
Find Provenir beef in grocery stores and butchers.
Experience Provenir beef cooked to perfection.
The Provenir journey – it’s the ‘how’ (not just the cow) that makes highest welfare, ethical meat