There is considerable buzz about grass-fed beef - which I admit I don't think I have tasted. Now the USDA wants to standardize the term. Yeah, this is going to go smoothly...
From Michael Pollan's new book, Omnivore's Dilemma to a flood of newspaper articles, the much-talked-about image of pastured cows can be attractive to upper-scale consumers worried about their food - who are more numerous than you might think.
Understandably, the farmers who have pasture-raised cattle don't like the proposal because it devalues the "grass fed" label, barely separating it from conventional beef as far as consumers are concerned. They propose a more specific definition of "grass" and a minimum amount of time that the cows must spend grazing in pasture each day. The Agriculture Department says those rules are too strict and that their standards put less strain on ranchers, particularly in years of bad weather or drought when pastures may suffer.
Under the Agriculture Department's standards, more beef labeled "grass fed" will reach the market. But will consumers want it, or be willing to pay a premium for it, if it has no distinction from conventional?
While I would like to see some results from sources like America's Test Kitchen, it should not preclude a personal taste test. I'm not even sure where to get the stuff locally. meanwhile we have been eating less beef anyway. Actually that's working out OK as well, but then I'm prime heart-attack material, so maybe I'm talking myself into changing my tastes. Anyhoo, most of the tests I have seen don't show much enthusiam by the consumer, but that could change.
The flavor of grass-fed is different from grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef will have a more wild taste and, as with wine, the flavor varies by region. In a blind taste test at University of Nebraska comparing top grass-fed beef from Argentina to grain-fed U.S. beef, about 50% of the study's participants preferred the grain-fed, but 20% preferred the grass-fed. [More]The larger question is how the beef industry will respond to the growing corn appetite of ethanol plants. Will grass fed beef be a way to cut feed costs as corn prices rise? Where will all this high-quality pasture come from as we plant more and more corn?
This could be interesting.