Consumer demand rising; continued growth depends on accurate labeling, education and year-round availability of high-quality product from American farmers

Pocantico Hills, NY (April 19, 2017) – Triggered by explosive growth in the U.S. grassfed beef market, a new study finds an urgent need for accurate labeling to ensure that consumers are getting what they think they are buying, including the humane treatment of animals and environmental and health benefits. The study follows on the heels of recent consumer demands for improved practices, including cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free meat.

The study reveals that much of the meat sold in the United States as “grassfed” is from cattle raised in enclosed environments, where they are fed grass pellets in “grass feedlots,” rather than grazed on healthy pastures. “The U.S. market for grassfed beef has grown at 100 percent per year for the past four years, yet consumers don’t realize that much of this beef is coming from cattle that haven’t actually spent the whole of their lives on open pasture, eating real grass,” said Jill Isenbarger, CEO of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, one of the partners behind the study.

“Back to Grass: The Market Potential for U.S. Grassfed Beef” offers a comprehensive look at the U.S. grassfed beef sector, with a focus on market and economic dynamics. It bridges the gaps that currently exist between the USDA’s data on grassfed beef production prices and the pockets of information held by private sector organizations.

Among its findings: The price of grassfed beef could come down significantly if the industry were to establish well-managed grass-finishing operations that take advantage of economies of scale in processing, distribution and marketing. But these operations must be based on high standards for the humane treatment of animals and for land and water stewardship.

“We need a stronger standard for grassfed beef so that consumers know what they’re buying,” said Bill Niman, founder and president of BN Ranch. “Producers who follow best practices stand to earn a premium, but we need to first iron out the inconsistencies and confusion.” Currently a number of labels and standards confuse the marketplace and the consumer, as they conflate excellent management practices with poor ones.

The report brings together available data on the current state of the grassfed beef sector, identifies barriers to growth and highlights actions that will help propel further expansion. It examines whether grassfed beef can scale up to the point where it could displace a significant portion of the conventional, grain-fed beef system in the United States.

With input from one of the world’s leading chefs, the report also takes on some misconceptions about taste. “Grassfed beef has a taste that’s clean and rich, and undeniably beefy,” said Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, ranked among the top 50 restaurants in the world. “It’s flat-out wrong to believe grassfed beef is chewy or dry. It’s not, if it’s prepared right. And whereas a grain-fed steak tastes the same whether it’s raised in New York or New Mexico, grassfed beef tastes different based on the pasture the cattle were eating—which means it varies by farm and even time of year.”

The report was produced through a collaboration of Stone Barns Center, Armonia LLC, Bonterra Partners and SLM Partners. On April 19, Stone Barns Center hosted a one-day summit to introduce the overarching benefits of grassfed beef to more than 100 chefs and beef purchasers and retailers from around the country—people who have the ability to influence the development of a more robust market for grassfed beef in the United States.

Read the report online here.

For more information, contact:
Martha Hodgkins
Communications Director

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a nonprofit organization working to advance sustainable agriculture and create a culture of eating that can support it. In our quest to change the way America eats and farms, we train farmers, educate food citizens, convene change makers and experiment with agroecological farming practices.

Armonia LLC is a certified B-Corp with a mission to restore harmony through long-term investments.

Bonterra Partners is an investment consulting firm specializing in sustainable agriculture and other natural capital investments.

SLM Partners is an investment management firm that focuses on ecological farming systems.