In the last couple years, you may have noticed labels in the beef section of the grocery store touting “100% grass-fed” or “completely pasture-raised”. Do you know the difference between these two terms? And does either qualify as organic?

Over the last few years, conventional cattle production has come under increased scrutiny due to its effect on the environment, the added hormones and often inhumane treatment of the animals. There’s a lot of overlap between organic, pasture-raised and grass-fed beef, so it may be confusing to know which is the best, healthiest option for your family. Let’s break down what each label means.

Grass-fed Beef
Grass-fed is relatively simple – it means cattle is allowed to graze for their own fresh food and there is no supplemental grain-fed diet. This method aims to mirror the closest thing to a natural diet. Grass is high in essential vitamins and nutrients, which results in healthier, leaner meat. If it is important to you that the cattle’s diet was as nature intended, go with grass-fed beef.

When the label has “pasture-raised” on it, this is specifically referring where the cattle eats. If it is important to you the cattle lived in its natural environment, this is the logical choice. Typically, pasture-raised cattle are supplemented with a grain-fed diet, especially during the cold winter months.

Organic Beef
Unlike grass-fed or pasture-raised labels, an organic label typically describes all the ways cattle cannot be raised. To be certified as organic, the cows cannot be exposed to pesticides, antibiotics hormones, GMOs or fertilizers. Furthermore, the cattle may not be confined for extended periods of time or kept in unsanitary conditions.

There is overlap between grass-fed, pasture-raised and organic beef; they are not mutually exclusive. For example, certified organic beef can also be raised on a grass-fed diet. All three practices are dedicated to raising healthier, less contaminated meat. Depending on is most important to you, each provides a better alternative to conventional factory farming.