Mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles—most of us know what we like on our burgers, but do we know what’s actually in them? Beef cattle farming is by far the largest segment of American agriculture, and its practices are as numerous as its scale is large. So how does that all-American beef patty go from farm to fridge—and what goes into it?

  • Conventional cattle farming generally involves raising cattle in large indoor/outdoor Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), or feedlots, where they’re fattened quickly on a diet heavy in grains and fed growth hormones and antibiotics to prevent disease in overcrowded and often dirty conditions.
  • Organic cattle farming differs in that no antibiotics, growth hormones, or GMOs are used, and cattle must be given exclusively organic feed (grass or grain) and given access to the outdoors. Because use of antibiotics is prohibited, organic cattle farms must be maintained to a higher standard to prevent disease and infection in the livestock.
  • Grass-fed or pastured beef is made from cattle fed a natural diet of grass and allowed to graze outdoors for food. Many grass-fed cattle are then “finished” on a diet of grain to increase their weight before slaughter. Look for beef labeled “grass-finished,” which means that cattle lived their full lives on a grass diet.

And there’s more you can look for to support safe and responsible cattle farming and beef production practices. When shopping for beef at the co-op, look for Certified Organic options, and choose beef from cattle raised humanely and sustainably (“Certified Humane” is an Animal Welfare Approved label that can make spotting the best beef easier). Labels such as “no antibiotic” and “all natural” beef are often used, though they’re unregulated.

Ask a co-op staff member for more information if you’re not sure. They’ll be happy to help you find the quality meat—and the tasty hamburger—you’re after.


Reprinted by permission from Find articles about your food and where it comes from, recipes and a whole lot more at