Organic, Grassfed and All-Natural ... What's the Difference?

As CEO of Nolan Ryan's Beef, I get questions all the time from customers. I’m always happy to inform consumers on our products and services. Kroger customer, Mary M. sent me a good question recently about the differences in organic, grassfed and all-natural beef, so I’m sharing my answer.

“Nolan Ryan’s Beef sells two brands of fresh beef and they are slightly different in their specifications.

1. Nolan Ryan’s Premium Reserve Beef, which is sold in Kroger stores and some restaurants
2. Nolan Ryan’s Guaranteed Tender Beef, which is sold in Super S Stores and Sun Harvest stores, and in many dining establishments

Both brands meet the USDA definition of all-natural. The cattle in both brands are born on ranch pastures and raised on their mothers on grass until they reach a weaning age – usually around 550 pounds and seven months of age, but that can vary tremendously with weather conditions and the amount of available forage. When the calves are weaned, they are moved to grass pastures where they continue to grow until they reach a weight of around 850 pounds, which is usually around 18 months of age. Again, this can vary a great deal. At that point, they are moved to a feedlot for the finishing period which lasts about 140 days, up until harvest.

Grain feeding is what gives beef the consistent tenderness and flavor that most consumers expect. Grain feeding is the most efficient way to produce quality beef and has a much smaller carbon footprint than a range finishing program, because it takes less time and uses much less water, land and labor. As far as the cattle’s welfare is concerned, it would be hard to design a place much better for a cow to live. A feedlot has all the feed, water, shade, space and companionship that cattle seem to crave. So, while the cattle in both programs spend 70-80 percent of their lives on grass, they are not grass finished.

The two programs differ in that the cattle in the Premium Reserve program never receive any added growth hormones or antibiotics. The cattle in the Guaranteed Tender program don’t receive an added growth hormone or a therapeutic antibiotic within 100 days of harvest. These differences create differences in the price point of the two products. Both of them are very high-quality beef products and both programs represent a very disciplined and science-based approach to producing a safe and nutritious product in the most humane way possible.

Neither of our programs is organic. Organic beef production is an entirely different beast. In these programs the cattle must be born on ranches that do not use commercial fertilizers, fungicides or pesticides and they must be fed only grain that is grown on cropland that is never treated with commercial fertilizers, fungicides or pesticides. In our research of these programs, we have learned that there simply is not a reliable supply of organically grown corn in this country, chiefly because it is so inefficient and has such a high carbon footprint. Consequently, most organic programs in this country are either grass finished programs, or they are sourcing beef from other countries like Uruguay, Nicaragua, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia where land labor and water are more plentiful and less expensive. We just decided to stay out of that end of the business.

To read more about our program, visit the all-natural page on our website.”