American lamb is unique for two reasons. First, the average lamb
that is slaughtered for meat in the U.S. weighs 135 lbs., which
is considerably larger than slaughter lambs in other countries.
This results in larger cut sizes (e.g. bigger loin chops!) and
a higher meat-to-bone ratio. A high percentage of U.S. lambs are
finished ("fattened") on grain. This generally makes
the meat more tender and milder flavored. American lamb is usually
prefered by panelists in taste tests. Almost eighty percent of
the restaurants in the U.S. that serve lamb serve American lamb.
HERE to learn
about Fresh American Lamb.
of the lamb sold in retail markets is USDA Choice. USDA Prime
lamb has more marbling, so it is the most tender and flavorful.
The protein, vitamin, and mineral content of lamb are similar
in all grades.
If the phrase "Spring Lamb" is on a meat label, it means
the lamb was produced between March and October, but lamb is available
all the time. Though the label has much less significance nowadays,
spring lamb is usually from younger lambs (3-5 months old).
Organic Sheep Flock in Vermont
are increasing concerned about the food they eat and how it is
produced and processed. One of the fastest growing segments of
the food industry is organic food. There is disagreement
as to whether certified organic food is any healthier than conventionally
produced food or that organic practices, in general, result in
healthier food products. Organic food gives consumers the opportunity
to purchase food on the basis of their own values and beliefs.
Organic food products usually sell for a premium price because
they come with assurances that they have been produced in a certain
learn about the
National Organic Program
of Organic Food
to USDA, "Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize
the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and
water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.
Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals
that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides;
petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers;
bio-engineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be
labeled organic, a Government-approved certifier inspects the
farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following
all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies
that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local
supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too."
More Compassionate Standards
many producers are responding to the growing consumer demand
for organic products, one of the obstacles to producing lamb
organically (in the United States) is that USDA organic standards
prohibit the use of anthelmintics (anti-parasitic drugs); whereas
in the United Kingdom, sheep farmers are allowed to use anthelmintics
to treat parasitized (wormy) and other at-risk animals. A study
showed that 64 percent of organic farmers in the British Isles
use anthlemintics, 91 percent in conjunction with other management
practices. While various alternatives to anthelmintics are being
investigated (and some progress is being made), most sheep farmers
still need anthelmintics to ensure the health and welfare of
the use of anthelmintics, many
lambs will succumb to stomach worms.
is no legal (USDA) definition for what is natural
meat. In many cases, products labeled "natural" are
very similar to organic products, except the farm has not received
third party certification. In other cases, natural products are
produced more conventionally, but without the use of supplemental
hormones, growth promotants, subtherapeutic antibiotics,
and prophylatic anthelmintics. "Natural"
lamb is usually grass-fed, but supplemental feeds, especially
those fed to the ewe flock, may be from conventional sources.
Bluefaced Leicester lambs on pasture
Trial & Error
lambs grazing in Maryland
producers and organizations are touting the advantages of grass-fed
products. Not only is grass a more natural diet for sheep and
other ruminants, but it results in more healthful products. Grass-fed
animals accumulate more Omega-3 type fats in their
meat. They have more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), an anti-fat,
cancer-fighting fatty acid. Grass-fed meat is higher in protein,
vitamin E, and beta carotene than grain-fed meat. Grass-fed is
also deemed better for the environment because grasslands protect
against soil erosioin and nutrient run-off and have countless
other ecological benefits.
USDA has not come up with a legal definition for "grass-fed."
Some grass-fed lambs consume 100 percent grass diets, while others
receive some grain while they are grazing pasture.
lamb is usually more tender and has a milder, less "gamey"
flavor and aroma than grass-fed lamb. In consumer taste panel
tests, grain-fed lamb is usually preferred to grass-fed lamb.
In the United States, a majority of lambs receive grain at some
point in their lives. In most other countries, lambs are grass-fed.
Grain and grass-fed lamb are oftentimes marketed to different
lambs eat both grass and grain.
Lambs play"King of the Hill"
on a farm in Southern Maryland
The purpose of "humane" certification
is to ensure customers that farm animals have lives which are
free from pain and distress, that they have the freedom to display
their "natural" behavior," and have adequate shelter,
food, water, and veterinary care. However, while scientists, producers,
and animal welfare organizations agree on many points, there are
many disagreements as to which practices are the most humane.
Thus, receiving "humane" certification simply means
that the producer has complied with the standards established
by the labeling organization. Lack of humane certification does
not imply that lambs are produced in a less humane manner. There
are many ways to raise sheep which maintain high standards of
animal welfare, and most producers have genuine concern for the
welfare of their livestock.