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Why Most Grass-Fed Beef Sold in U.S. Comes from down Under

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's CAFO's vs. Free Range page and our All About Organics page.

Beef from cattle that have only grazed on pasture is in high demand - much to the surprise of many meat retailers, who didn't traditionally think of grass-fed beef as top-quality.

George Siemon, a founder of Organic Valley, the big organic food supplier, says the push for grass-fed beef started with activists who wanted to challenge a beef industry dominated by factory-scale feedlots. In those feedlots, cattle are fed a corn-heavy diet designed to make the animals gain weight as quickly as possible.

Today, Siemon says, grass-fed has grown beyond that. "It has a naturalness that seems to attract the mainstream market," he says.

But if you look carefully at the labels on grass-fed beef, especially in mainstream supermarkets like Safeway and Stop & Shop, you'll notice something peculiar. Quite a lot of this beef is coming to the U.S. from half a world away, in Australia.

Patricia Whisnant knows about this through personal experience. She and her husband own Rain Crow Ranch in southern Missouri, which has become one of the country's largest grass-fed beef producers. Several thousand cattle graze on more than 10,000 acres of grassland on the ranch itself and other farms nearby. "They roam around; they actually live a life that's behaviorally and biologically appropriate for that ruminant animal," says Whisnant.

The Whisnants have some big customers, including Whole Foods. A couple of years ago, an even bigger potential customer came to visit. It was a meat broker, a company that wanted to supply this increasingly popular product to mainstream supermarkets. The visit went well, but as Patricia Whisnant tells the story, the brokers also located another supplier that was bringing in grass-fed ground beef from Australia.

That Australian beef was 75 cents or a dollar cheaper per pound. And Whisnant lost the deal. "They said, 'We're sorry, you can't match that price, so we're going with them,'" Whisnant recalls.  


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