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Canadian beef - grass fed or grain fed? (split from Ontario board)

jayt90 Dec 15, 2011 01:30 PM

Grain fed beef is a U.S. method. Most Canadian beef is raised on grass and hay, with a short finishing period on grain, not corn.

  1. Flexitarian Dec 15, 2011 04:56 PM

    Where in the world did you read that? Not true!

    11 Replies
    1. re: Flexitarian
      jayt90 Dec 15, 2011 05:05 PM

      Didn't read. Visited farms and talked to farmers. Live among them. If there are factory beef feedlots I would like to know where they are in Canada.

      1. re: jayt90
        Flexitarian Dec 15, 2011 08:52 PM

        Of course there are farms you can visit in Canada where the cows are fed primarily grass but this is anecdotal and by far the exception and not the rule. Some of these types of farms supply Cumbraes and other niche meat retailers or brands. You would hardly be paying the low prices for beef that you do in Costco, Loblaws, Sobey's and many butcher shops if the cows where that beef came from were fed primarily grass. Also, for clarification, grass 'finished', where the cow is merely fed grass in the few days before it is slaughtered while being fed grain before that, is totally different from grass-fed where the cattle is fed primarly grass throughout it's life where possible. This is precisely why grass-fed beef costs 2-3x that of the grain fed beef you find in those stores (and also where grass-finished beef commands a premium, albeit lower than that of grass-fed). I sure wouldn't be paying that premium if I could get it at Costco where I also shop!

        Just because a farm is not an industrial 'factory beef feedlot' type operation does not mean that the farm is not feeding them grain. The beef production in Canada is primarily based on corn (Ontario) or barley (Western Canada). This information is not anecdotal but comes from a trusted source, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (see http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/beef/news/vbn0804a3.htm). Also you might want to check Canada Beef Inc, which represents 90,000 Canadian beef cattle producers and which is partially funded by the Canadian Government (see http://www.canadianbeef.info/us/en/ab...), where under the somewhat misleading heading 'Canadian Beef Advantage' it is noted that 'Canada is one of the largest grain producers in the world. High quality feed grains contribute to well-marbled, flavorful and tender meat with firm, white-coloured fat, highly desirable traits recognized by customers in over 100 countries around the world.' No mention of grass-fed beef at all. If you do more research you will find more about how the Canadian beef industry is centered around the production of grain fed beef.

        As with everything, you get what you pay for, but the important thing is to know what you are paying for, whether it be at Cumbraes, Costco, Loblaws or your local butcher shop so you can make the choice that is best for you.

        1. re: Flexitarian
          jayt90 Dec 16, 2011 04:32 PM

          Your internet research will not tell much about Canadian beef farming. A drive along Hwy 401 will show hundreds of farms with grazing cattle, alfalfa and timothy foliage, bales, and blue silos. The cattle are raised on grass, and finished for 45 days on mixed grains and silage from the foliage. There are no factory finishing corrals, here or in the west.

          I have had grass finished Ontario beef many times, and it has always been tough, unmarbled, and overpriced.

          A fine piece of beef results from good breeding, foliage, silage and grain finishing, and graded processing. It is not necessary to go to a health food store for this.

          1. re: jayt90
            Flexitarian Dec 16, 2011 07:19 PM

            I don't doubt you have had grass-fed beef, nor do I doubt you've anecdotally seen such farms. It just isn't the norm which is why beef labelled grass-fed is so much more expensive. Funny though, you say all Canadian beef is grass fed but you now say you don't like it. and that it is overpriced. Yet, Costco sells Canadian beef at very low prices. But, how could that be as you say it is grass fed, which you say is overpriced. You are blowing hot and cold at the same time. And, are you also saying you only buy US beef here in Canada since you find that our Canadian beef (which you claim is only grass fed) is not something you like?

            Anyway, what you are saying is that the Ontario government and the only association that represents 90,000 Canadian beef farmers is lying? Fine. Dream on.

            1. re: jayt90
              t
              TexSquared Dec 16, 2011 07:23 PM

              OK, now I don't know who to believe, you or Canada Beef Inc. But hear me out on this.

              If in fact all beef in Canada was raised on grass only as you state, which is a selling feature that commands higher prices, wouldn't Canada Beef be pitching this and saying "that's why we're better than the Americans, and why you should buy our product"?

              But on their website they come right out and tell us they feed them corn, which is a negative to you and others. If they are exclusively producing 100% grass-fed beef they are stupidly shooting themselves in the foot by lying (and lying in a way that will HURT sales), and I doubt they're stupid. Why would they lie, which is what you're suggesting? Even then, generally advertisers lie (or stretch the truth) to make a product look better than the competition, not worse....

              At least we do have the option in this country to seek out farms/butchers that put out superior beef (or conversely, seek out lower prices if you don't mind grain-fed); the same can't be said about dairy....

              1. re: TexSquared
                jayt90 Dec 17, 2011 07:25 AM

                A major difference between the grading systems of US and Canadian beef is fat color. The US product has more yellow trace color from the corn, but the USDA does not rate this. The Canadian beef is rated for whiteness of fat among other things, and grain finishing promotes better color than corn finishing. I don't know why the Ontario Ministry is promoting corn fed beef, but there is plenty of forage and grain finished beef in Ontario, and of course, the majority of our beef, 60%, comes from Alberta:

                http://albertabeef.org/industry/beef-...

                This link provides good information on the Alberta operations, which include large feedlots, I have to admit!
                There are three phases to production.
                1. Cow-calf ranches. The calf is milk fed and weaned onto forage, to 500 lb.
                2. Backgrounding on forage, still on the ranch, to about 750 lb.
                3. Finishing for 100 days on forage and grains to 1100 lb. in a feedlot .

                I would still like to find out more about typical Ontario beef production, as I have not seen large feedlots here; however I'm disappointed to learn that corn is used for finishing as well as grains and legumes.

                1. re: jayt90
                  Flexitarian Dec 17, 2011 08:25 AM

                  If there was any grass fed beef available in our supermarkets, butcher shops and Costco then you would find it labelled as such so they could justify the much higher premium for grass fed and the lower premium for grass finished. As such it is extremely hard to find (I've seen it only in Whole Foods, Cumbrae's and an Argentinian butcher shop) and then for online ordering from a few farms in Ontario (and I am thinking a very high end shop like McEwans might have it). When I ask at those places above I am constantly told they don't carry it. When I do find it in those other shops the prices are sky high. I only asked because of your post, but Costco confirmed to me yesterday when I was there that all of their beef is indeed grain fed, not grass fed so you might want to talk to them about that since you were under the impression you were buying grass fed even though the label does not say that.

                  Where do you get the 60% figure being Alberta grain fed beef in Ontario? That would mean the other 40% was grass fed, yet you hardly find it anywhere in Toronto. If I am wrong, please let me know the supermarkets, butcher shops, etc where you have found it readily available and labelled, advertised or referred to as such by the butchers.

                  I think if you do more research you will find that the contribution of those farms in Ontario that raise grass fed beef to the overall supply of beef in Ontario is extremely low and that pretty well all of what is available to us is grain fed. If not it will be labelled so in order to justify the much higher price.

                  1. re: jayt90
                    t
                    TexSquared Dec 17, 2011 08:33 AM

                    :"I don't know why the Ontario Ministry is promoting corn fed beef"

                    Maybe because the majority of Ontario beef sold is raised on corn? They're interested in promoting overall sales of Ontario beef to keep business at home, not just for the select few farms that feed the cows grass only. If they promoted grass-fed only, the farmers (majority) that are using corn would be rightfully upset at being slighted by their own government.

                    "there is plenty of forage and grain finished beef in Ontario"

                    I'll give you that, but to get it you have to go to certain butchers such as Cumbrae's, look for it to be specially labelled as such in supermarkets (if they even have it), or buy directly from the farm, and of course pay a premium price for it. It won't be in with the regularly (lower) priced stuff at Loblaws, Sobey's, Metro, or your beloved COSTCO.

                    "I'm disappointed to learn that corn is used for finishing as well as grains and legumes."

                    I don't understand why you tried to pass off the Canadian beef sales team as liars but... now you're backtracking on that.

                    Corn/barley feeding allows more people access to (affordable) beef -- those cows grow much faster so it's cheaper to produce. If all Canadian beef was grass-fed (by law and/or by cartel decision), the supermarkets, restaurants, and definitely Costco would just import American corn-fed beef in order to satisfy customer demand for lower prices. Grain-feeding is keeping our guys in business. Nothing wrong with that.

                    If someone wants to pay less for beef to feed their family or supply their burger joint they have that option. If they want beef raised on organically grown grass and are willing to pay for it, they have that option too. The same can't be said for dairy, however....

                    1. re: TexSquared
                      Flexitarian Dec 17, 2011 09:08 AM

                      Very well said.

                      I'm all for people paying a fair price for what they are getting and knowing what they are getting by proper labelling. There are some incredible deals at Costco (and at times other retailers having sales can beat their price) and I shop there too, but mainly for dry goods as I rarely find any of their fruits and vegetables are organic, which I primarily buy, and i don't eat farmed fish and almost no meat.

                      Most people are not interested in grass fed beef once they see the high price and this is fine. Low demand at the high price is what makes it so scarce. A small minority actually prefer the taste of grain fed, which suprises me but then part of that is that they are so used to eating grain fed beef all their lives they think beef should only taste a certain way. It may be surprising to some but before about 60 years ago almost all beef was grass fed in North America. Argentina is one of the few countries which still raises almost all its beef on grass, but that too is slowly changing there. I had some incredible grass-fed steaks in Buenos Aires earlier this year and it was readily available everywhere.

                      1. re: Flexitarian
                        t
                        TexSquared Dec 18, 2011 11:04 AM

                        Going a bit off-topic but since this is no longer on the "local" board it should be OK:

                        "There are some incredible deals at Costco"

                        Just thought I'd post this as a warning -- Costco may be a great place to shop all year, except for one day, BOXING DAY. Costco ignores Boxing Day. They put NOTHING on sale including Christmas decorations, they act like it doesn't exist (other than being open). Don't waste your time going to Costco on December 26 unless you're just buying gas. Shop elsewhere that day.

                        Go figure, when Sam's Club was around, they had the best Boxing Day sales. We're still using Christmas lights we bought there. It's too bad they gave up on us so fast....

                        1. re: TexSquared
                          Flexitarian Dec 18, 2011 12:30 PM

                          I didn't know that but I avoid Boxing Day anyway. The reason Costco does not have a boxing day sale is because their philosophy is to charge exactly the same mark-up on every product in the store (which is why the price on every product does not end in 0.95 or 0.99). As for sales they prefer to make them random and have people discover them when they arrive. That is all part of the Costco experience. Costco's everyday prices are already very low (but again, as I mentioned before, don't always beat a sale price from another retailer) and so they figure that having a Boxing Day sale would only make people wait until that day to get something even cheaper. It just doesn't fit in with their philosphy. Also, it is not like people are going to take out memberships just to be there for the Boxing Day sale. And, they aready have enough crowds as it is who shop regularly and just don't need the hassle of marking things down and then back up again for just one day. It makes total sense to me for a place like Costco.

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