Waiting for organic, grass-fed beef

Taste tests overwhelmingly come out in favor of organic grass-fed beef.

Tevya’s Ranch (photo credit: TEVYA’S RANCH)
Tevya’s Ranch
(photo credit: TEVYA’S RANCH)
 The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released some surprising data on Israel in 2014 – though probably not in the area you would think.
Regarding the year’s consumption of meat by the hungry populations of more than 200 member countries, Israel was found to be one of the largest meat consumers – after Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Australia and the US.
Israel’s meat consumption is approximately 99.2 kilograms per capita; to put this in perspective, it is the equivalent of every person eating 198 burgers a year.
Contrary to media reports of health issues connected with beef consumption, demand for the foodstuff has risen around most of the world. While logistical issues have slowed the production of organic chicken and beef products in Israel, other countries have been witnessing a dramatic increase in organic meat sales. US sales of “natural” beef grew 23 percent in 2014 while organic meat sales increased by a hefty 75 percent, according to market research firm IRI.
An increase in the Israeli population and household economic improvement account for much of the growing demand for meat. Helpfully, the falling price of a kilo of beef is also apparently fueling demand. Before Rosh Hashana, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel announced, “With the holiday season approaching and the increased demand for meat, we are compelled to take action to ensure that every household in Israel will be able to buy meat at fair, reasonable prices.”
Unfortunately, reports show that consumers weren’t quite so lucky. In the final days of shopping, there was little choice in beef brands. Limited supplies forced shoppers to take whatever was on the shelves. The advertised prices were often for branded beef that was out of stock.
WHAT ARE our primary sources for brisket and steak? The largest providers are Australia, Romania and Hungary; small quantities are also imported from Latin America.
Animal rights group Anonymous Israel confirmed that approximately 60% of the meat consumed in Israel is imported frozen. The cost of frozen and fresh meat is virtually identical.
Intriguingly, Israel has an unusually large number of vegetarians, a growing number of vegans – and many meat-eaters. Vegetarians number less than 5% in most of the world, yet in Israel, recent reports show the number who categorize themselves as vegetarian or vegan has grown to around 13%. In February it was reported that army kitchens had started serving food that is suitable for the IDF’s 500 vegan soldiers.
From shuk to supermarket, affordable organic fruit and vegetables are readily available along with grain-fed organic chicken. At the same time, those who still enjoy their kofta (Middle- Eastern style of meatball/ meatloaf) are also pleased to consider healthier varieties of meat – and this is where the grass-fed organic beef market is now expanding.
Why the delay in bringing healthier organic grass-fed beef to the market? Mainly because consumer demand for burgers and steak is so high that profits override eco-farming.
All cattle start their lives by grazing on pasture for six months or so, but commercial cattle are then fed at a feedlot on a concentrated mix of corn, soy, grains, and other supplements, plus hormones and antibiotics, with a fair dosage of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), so that the animal is ready for the slaughterhouse in 16 months. A factory farm has an economic incentive to produce cattle that is ready for slaughter eight months earlier than a grass-fed animal.
Arguably, consumers want to make healthier eating choices given the issues at stake (pun intended). Grassfed organic beef is a simple choice, and simplicity is needed – because labels are magnificently confusing.
“Antibiotic-free” only means that the animal wasn’t given antibiotics within 24 hours of being processed. “No antibiotics administered” doesn’t reflect whether there were antibiotics in the feed, and “100% pastured” doesn’t mean the cattle were grassfed.
Ten years ago, Jo Robinson authored a book on the subject; still pertinent today, Pasture Perfect educated readers on key issues relating to pasture-raised animals, “If you eat a typical amount of beef per year, which in the US is about 67 pounds [30.4 kilograms], switching to grass-fed beef will save you 16,642 calories a year.”
Grass-fed organic beef is better for the planet because, in temperate climates, less energy goes into growing grass than grain. The meat is a better choice for you and your family because there is less overall fat and cholesterol, and more omega-3 and other “good” fats in the beef. Finally, you can do what’s best for the animal, steering away from harsh and often inhumane feedlot practices.
UNFORTUNATELY THE kosher meat industry is no more restrictive than conventional slaughter when it comes to the farming of non-organic animals for food. This past June, the Agriculture Ministry ordered the indefinite closure of Dabbah, the country’s largest slaughterhouse, following an investigative report by Animals Australia, exposing cruel treatment of the animals by the abattoir.
“I will show zero tolerance towards harming animals,” Minister Ariel vowed at the time, and Dabbah received a list of corrections required by the ministry, including the correct installation of cameras and disciplinary action against the employees involved. The slaughterhouse then reopened.
Nevertheless, consumers are responding enthusiastically to glatt kosher, grass-fed, organic, antibiotic- free beef produced by herds that are handled in a more humane way from start to finish. In September, Uruguayan beef producer Tevya’s Ranch launched a new product line for the American market, offering four varieties of affordable beef farmed in this way. A family-owned company, the business is growing rapidly.
It is predictable that Tevya’s Ranch is farming cattle in Uruguay, as this has been the birthing ground of grassfed beef due to the vast prairie lands.
Moreover, the seasons are mild, enabling all-year grazing.
The organic cattle are fed on pastures that glisten under the sun and stars. They are never fed hormones, and antibiotics are not given to healthy animals. Grass-fed organic cows from Uruguay are allowed the time to fatten naturally, so they are not too lean, which would produce beef with less flavor.
Uruguay prides itself on progressive techniques for managing its cattle; government regulations exist to manage the use and disposal of pesticides used in animal health. The country has never had an outbreak of mad cow disease since, among other preventive measures, there is compulsory veterinary inspection of food products of animal origin. Additionally, the import and manufacture of veterinary drugs for growth promotion, or fat promotion in cattle, is illegal and cattle are raised in open pastures.
Taste tests overwhelmingly come out in favor of organic grass-fed beef.
When cooking it, put steaks on a higher flame for less time, but roasts on a lower flame for more time.
A Tevya’s Ranch farmer shared the company vision, “Our production line is now producing meat that is sustainable, healthy and lean with less of the bad fats such as saturated fat, and more of the good ones like omega-3, vitamin E and CLA. People are not educated in this, but grass-fed beef has less fat than fish and less fat than skinless chicken. There’s no more worrying about your cholesterol level when enjoying a good steak!”