The Myth of 100% Grassfed Whey Protein Powder
100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein -
Did you know, even the best of the best grass-fed dairy farms around the world are not able to reach grassfed % levels (grasses on natural pasturage only) greater than 95%. There are several reasons for this and even more reasons as to why an industry saturated with brands making this claim would not want us to disclose the truth around this "100% grassfed whey protein" falsity.
"100% Grass-Fed" According to the USDA -
According to the definition per the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (also known as FSIS), diet claims refer to ONLY what the animals feed on leading up to harvest & processing. In terms of the grassfed name, this definition is essentially the same as a grassfed "finished" diet. The irony of this claim on a giant plastic tub of whey protein is that it ONLY applies to meat products and has no place in a dairy context.
Without a clear definition of how dairy farm animals are fed and managed by the USDA & FSIS, we highly recommend seeking independent third-party assurances & certifications before purchasing any so-called "grassfed" whey protein product.
Certified Grassfed by A Greener World (AGW) is the only label to guarantee animals are managed to high welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range, as well as being 100% grassfed for life.
Is My Current Protein From Grass-Fed Cows?
Honestly, probably not. But it depends on what is meant by the claim. Other than what the brand markets, what verifications there to prove it to yourself?
Every day, brands come to life intending to profit off this unregulated loophole utilizing the marketing term, "Grass-Fed." Taking full advantage of the lack of regulation in this space. Here are a few examples of the various interpretations of this "100% grassfed whey" term commonly used by even the famous brands, with zero supporting details -
- 100% Grassfed = The only Whey in this tub/pouch is what we (the brand) defines as "grassfed" Whey, thus "100% grassfed Whey" inside.
- 100% Grassfed = The product name is literally, "100% Grass-fed Whey", might as well call it "The Best Whey Protein Ever," as they both contain equivalent levels of truth.
- 100% Grassfed = The Cows were 100% grass-fed finished, meaning 14 - 90 days before milking, the cows are fed (finished) dry grass. Being fed dry grass is not the same as being free to graze on pasture.
The point is, the "100% Grass-Fed" claim is entirely and unfairly, unregulated. Any brand making this claim is worth the respectful challenge to provide the documentation to back it up or to clarify intent. There are serious health issues that can occur by leaving a cow to a grass ONLY diet when concentrations ("high-moisture" silage) are needed to support specific needs.
There are no farms in the USA or abroad that make this claim (with this inference) as they understand the practicality of it, so it is slightly odd and very concerning that so many supplement companies do, and without a challenge, counting on us to trust blindly.
There are exceptions. Some farms that practice high standards of sustainable farming, albeit again, not 100% do indeed meet the requirements to be technically called 100% grassfed. If you take a look at some of the certifications in the space of providing claimable titles around grassfed dairy standards, a few are called "100% Grassfed." Very similar to naming a product "100% Grass-Fed Whey," if the certification name is also "100% Grassfed", it would be nice if the standards behind it were intuitive to the inference made by the site of the certificate.
What is "Pasture Raised" Whey Protein?
Unfortunately, this is another marketed claim that often sits front and center to sell protein supplements. This particular claim carries with it no legal or regulated definition what so ever.
Similar to the 100% Grass-Fed claim, "Pasture-Raised" Implies animals were raised outdoors on pasture. The implication of high animal welfare practices, in this case, is, in fact, false. Unless a third-party certification program defines and regulates this term, there is no way to ensure the legitimacy or accuracy of its use.
AGN Roots "Greater than 95% Grassfed Promise."
AGN Roots Whey comes from cows that dine on a diet of at least 95% grass with natural clover for added nutrition and digestion. This 95% is live grasses and also dry silage (cut grasses from our farms) used as feed during a few winter months and or erratic inclement weather. The other 5% (or less) comes from concentrates (see below) to enhance specific nutrients to support our animals during critical stages in their development, such as late gestation and early lactation.
To deprive the animals of optimal nutrition during these critical developmental stages, we consider inhumane. Thus we are incredibly proud to claim "entire life on pasture - 95% grassfed".
The other 5% Explained - "Concentrates."
This 5% or less, is made up of what we call "concentrates." Our concentrates are still grasses from our farms; HOWEVER, instead of "dry" grass, this is "high-moisture" high-quality silage (Grass) that we pack for fermentation (to make dense the nutrients in the wet middle). This practice essentially allows the animal to receive the nutrients it needs without having to eat a ton in the case her appetite hasn't reached the levels required by her lactating body to stay healthy and without strain and stress.
"Entire Life on Pasture" Certified Grassfed -
The globe's most reputable assurance programs responsible for Grassfed Certifications like the AGA (American Grassfed Association) & AGW (A Greener World) require "entire life on pasture" for the animal to be certified. Although many "grass-fed" brands source from grassfed-finished dairy outfits, you are unlikely ever to see that spelled out on the label. Full disclosure is facts like grassfed finished Whey only doesn't all the same premiums as a plastic tub that screams in bold font - "100% grass-fed whey protein concentrate".
Entire Life on Pasture - Defined
A life on pastures means our animals thrive solely off of perennial and natural annual grasses outside. Nutrient-rich grains and other concentrates are devastating over the long haul on a ruminant's digestive tract.
The point is, no matter where the farm, being 100% grassfed, does not provide a well rounded enough diet for the animal to flourish, nor does it speak to anywhere on the planet known for grassfed dairy farms. Every quality grassfed dairy farm operation in existence has naturally cut grasses with other vegetation.
Although it's a common marketing ploy to represent products as "100% Grassfed", for those in the dairy industry, this claim is also wildly offensive. The reality is that when you read a whey protein product label that claims, "grassfed protein," if the label/website doesn't specify what percentage of their herd's diet is grass/silage, OR if the label claims "100% grassfed", you should simply walk away. At this point, it's fair to question the brand's integrity.
Of course, we fully recognize the exceptions; if the brand makes the distinction of what 100% grassfed whey protein means, then, of course, credibility increases. AGA, for example, offers a "100% grassfed diet" certification; however, this still doesn't justify a front-principle display claim of "100% grass-fed whey protein" on any packaging.
The reality is, 99% of brands are simply repackaging a product from a turn-key ingredient company (middleman) and have zero ties or visibility to the upstream supply chain (farms) that produces the milk and takes care of these "100% grassfed" animals.
Would you pay the same premium price for a protein that's "80% Grassfed" vs. 100%?
Not so common knowledge, but Fonterra is the 5th largest dairy company in the world and consists of over 10,500 dairy farms in New Zealand. If you buy Grassfed Whey sourced from New Zealand (the world's largest exporter), there's a good chance it comes from a Fonterra owned industrial farm. Fonterra is essentially the dairy outfit that supplies China with milk.
Regardless of the ultra-high-temp-short-time (UHTST) processing temperatures which optimize exporting capabilities and shelf-life over quality, Fonterra's definition of "grassfed" is a targeted 80% diet of grass silage, hay, and forage crops. This level of detail will not, however, be on the package along with any other component of the farms or source of exact origin.
Without the Right Location, 95% let alone 100% Grassfed Whey Protein isn't Realistic -
Now depending on the farm's location, the natural percentage of grasses to various other vegetation can vary. For example -
- Ireland - Perennial rye-grass ("Lolium Perenne") & clover dominate the southeast coastal farms where AGN Roots Grassfed Whey is sourced.
- North America - Pastures endemic to North America however, tend to be dominated by legumes, forbs, & brassicas, with annual grasses being very seasonal.
The geographical location of the farm can also give the consumer information as to how long the herds are supported by hay, haylage, silage, and ensilage during periods of inclement weather or low forage quality. In an area like northern California, where droughts cause the vines to produce wide variants (vintages) of wine depending on the year's climate, grassfed dairy operations also output a similar variance in quality year over year.
Sustainable Grassland -
Healthy and sustainable grasslands also require a specific climate. They need rainfall to support a genuinely grassfed livestock year-round. Examples of popular and very legitimate Grassfed dairy farms:
- Ireland ~1200 mm per year average precipitation
- New Zealand ~ 800 - 1600 mm per year average precipitation depending on the coast
- Wisconsin ~ 875 mm per year average precipitation
- Northern California ~ 500 mm per average precipitation
As you can see, there are plenty of locations around the globe capable of supporting a lush grassland, given the precipitation requirements.
Where Ireland becomes superior – The soil remains alkaline no matter how much rain has fallen and thus is naturally beneficial for consistent grass-growth. When comparing to the other locations, whether it's a drought in California, or 3,500 mm of rain in Auckland, the consistency of the grass is wildly impacted and requires massive intervention due to climate variants.
By "Intervention," we mean chemicals laid down and sprayed by the farmers to re-balance the soil. These chemicals are the reason why heavy metal testing has become so popular and a necessity. With every pesticide for pest control and every element added as fertilizer carries with it bio-persistent heavy metals.
Truly Grassfed Whey Protein versus a 100% Grassfed Whey Protein (fake) -
Remember, the FDA & FTC do not regulate the "grassfed" claim. If there are no certifications or assurances around the 100% Grassfed Whey protein claim, you can rest assured, the claim is false.
Grassfed whey protein is susceptible to denaturing and spoiling via heat and Ultra Violet exposure. For the same reasons, craft drinks come in UV barrier ( green or brown) glass bottles that are naturally resistant to sunlight. Grassfed Whey sold in containers made of non-thermally protective foil pouches or clear plastic tubs is an excellent indication that the supplier/brand does not have the expertise needed to source or handle such a product.
Please see our blog on grassfed Whey and how color matters - "Why is my Grassfed Whey Slightly Yellow in Color?".
Source of Origin -
Truly 100% Grassfed whey operations would love to share the details around cultivation, environment, and farms in particular. If the brand casually mentioned "grassfed" and then it's never supported, enough said.
What is rBST/rBGH?
rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) and rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) are hormones used to boost milk production in dairy cattle. Research suggests that rBST/rBGH has profound welfare implications for dairy cattle and ultimately ends up in the milk.
The Claim "rBST/rBGH Free" in Grass-Fed Whey
Did you know - there is currently no independent third-party verification and no legal or regulated definition of what this common claim even means when printed on whey protein tubs.
To date, ONLY three 3rd-party certifications prohibit rBST/rBGH use -
- Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener Worlds
- Certified Humane by Humane Farm Animal Care
- 100% Organic Certifed by USDA
Ask questions and respectfully challenge every brand!