Is Laura’s Beef Humane? A Close Look at Laura’s Lean Beef Production Practices

Laura’s Lean Beef was founded in 2003 by Laura Freeman as a company dedicated to providing consumers with natural, humanely-raised beef products The company quickly grew in popularity due to its lean, tasty beef that met a growing consumer demand for more ethically and sustainably produced meat However, some questions have arisen over the years about whether Laura’s Lean Beef is as humane and ethical in its practices as it claims. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the production practices behind Laura’s Lean Beef and examine whether it meets standards for humane livestock treatment.

A Brief History of Laura’s Lean Beef

Laura Freeman grew up on a cattle farm in Lexington, Kentucky and learned the beef industry from the ground up. In 2003, recognizing the growing consumer interest in healthier, natural meat products, Freeman founded Laura’s Lean Beef and developed a production model focused on raising cattle without hormones or antibiotics. She trademarked the phrase “95% lean” and set rigorous standards for leanness in Laura’s Lean Beef products. The company initially marketed its lean ground beef directly to consumers online and quickly developed a cult following

As demand grew, Laura’s Lean Beef expanded into retail, landing deals with major grocery chains like Kroger to carry its products. The company emphasized its unique production practices as a selling point to customers, promoting its beef as being humanely raised, all-natural, and environmentally sustainable. At its peak around 2014, Laura’s Lean Beef reached over $300 million in annual sales and was considered one of the pioneers in humane, natural beef production.

However, the company also attracted some controversy regarding whether its practices were as humane as claimed. In 2011, the American Heart Association dropped its endorsement of Laura’s Lean Beef due to testing that revealed fat content exceeded label claims. Some critics also questioned if the company’s feedlot-based production model met the highest standards for humane livestock raising. As consumer interest in regenerative, grass-fed beef grew, Laura’s Lean Beef was perceived by some as not going far enough on animal welfare.

In 2015 Laura’s Lean Beef was acquired by Meyer Natural Foods a larger natural meat producer, although it continues to operate as a distinct brand. The acquisition has sparked additional scrutiny of the brand’s production practices as consumers evaluate if the takeover compromised Laura’s Lean Beef’s integrity and commitment to humane livestock practices.

Key Differences Between Conventional and Laura’s Lean Production

While clearly distinct from conventional feedlot beef production, Laura’s Lean Beef differs in some ways from small-scale regenerative cattle farms focused on 100% grass-fed beef. Here are some of the key differences in how Laura’s Lean Beef is produced compared to both large feedlots and small grass-fed farms:

  • No added hormones or antibiotics: Cattle raised for Laura’s Lean Beef are never given artificial growth hormones or routine antibiotics, whereas conventional feedlots frequently utilize both to maximize growth rates. However, antibiotics are still administered to treat illnesses.

  • Grain-finished, not 100% grass-fed: After weaning, Laura’s Lean cattle spend 4-6 months grazing on pasture but are then moved to feedlots for finishing on a high-energy grain diet prior to slaughter. This differs from grass-fed beef where cattle eat only grass and forages their whole lives.

  • Higher stocking densities: Laura’s Lean cattle are fattened at feedlots with more crowding and less space per animal than regenerative rotational grazing models. However, their feedlots are less densely packed than typical industrial feedlots.

  • Primarily continental breeds: Laura’s Lean cattle are breeds selected for lean muscle growth like Limousin and Charolais, whereas small grass-fed farms favor heritage breeds. Conventional feedlots also predominately use continental breeds.

  • Third-party audits: Laura’s Lean feedlots and slaughter plants undergo third-party audits for animal welfare, unlike conventional operations. But audits are less frequent than with strictly grass-fed beef suppliers.

So in many ways, Laura’s Lean Beef represents a middle ground between mainstream feedlot beef and grass-fed beef from small family farms. Their practices are an attempt to balance efficiency and lean meat production with greater humane animal treatment than conventional feedlots. But regenerative ranchers would argue Laura’s Lean model still depends on unnatural, crowded feedlots to fatten cattle quickly for slaughter.

Do Laura’s Lean Practices Meet Humane Standards?

With consumers increasingly seeking out the most ethical meat options, does Laura’s Lean Beef qualify as humane? As a midpoint between industrial feedlots and grass-fed beef, there are arguments on both sides:

In Favor of Laura’s Lean as Humane

  • Elimination of hormones and routine antibiotics is more humane
  • Third-party auditing creates accountability for animal welfare
  • Feeding stage on pasture, even if brief, is more humane than pure feedlot
  • Laura’s Lean cattle likely have lower stress and mortality rates than conventional feedlots

Against Laura’s Lean as Humane

  • Grain-finishing in crowded feedlots is inhumane compared to grass-finishing
  • Continental breeds have higher rates of illness requiring antibiotic treatment
  • Short pasture stage doesn’t provide full benefits of 100% grass feeding
  • Lack of transparency on slaughter process and frequency of third-party audits

Overall, it seems fair to characterize Laura’s Lean Beef as representing an incremental improvement in humane practices compared to conventional feedlot beef production. However, regenerative ranchers focused on holistic, grass-fed cattle raising would likely argue the feedlot-dependent model does not fully align with humane, environmentally sustainable principles.

Laura’s Lean Beef offers customers meat raised to moderate animal welfare standards that are clearly higher than industrial feedlots but fall short of the small farm approach. Consumers seeking beef produced as humanely and regeneratively as possible may want to look for 100% grass-fed, grass-finished beef from audited local ranches instead. Yet Laura’s Lean remains an ethical step up from generic grocery store beef.

5 Indicators Laura’s Lean Cattle Experience Less Stress

While not as ideal as cattle raised solely on pasture, there are several reasons cattle raised for Laura’s Lean Beef likely endure less physical and psychological stress than those headed for conventional feedlots:

  • Weaned more gradually: Calves are weaned more gradually from their mothers vs abrupt separation on industrial feedlots.

  • Initial pasture raising: Laura’s Lean cattle get to experience normal grazing behaviors and socialization with other cattle during the early pasture stage, supporting better mental health.

  • No physical alterations: No painful physical alterations like dehorning or castration that add stress on conventional feedlots.

  • Fewer crowding stressors: Stocking densities are capped at 10 head per pen compared to potentially 100+ head crammed together on industrial feedlots.

  • Enhanced illness treatment: While antibiotics cannot be used preventatively, cattle with illnesses still receive medical treatment to reduce suffering.

These factors combined likely result in a less stressful, less distressing life for cattle raised according to Laura’s Lean protocols compared to conventional systems, though room for improvement remains compared to small grass-fed farms.

Would Cattle Choose Laura’s Lean Production if Given a Choice?

An interesting thought experiment is to imagine if cattle could consciously choose between being raised for conventional beef, Laura’s Lean Beef, or 100% grass-fed beef. Which system would they logically prefer?

Based on bovine behavioral motivations and the desire to experience as little distress, fear and pain as possible, here is the likely preference cattle would choose if possible:

  1. Grass-fed, grass-finished on a regenerative, free-range ranch
  2. Laura’s Lean Beef protocols
  3. Conventional feedlot and confinement feeding

The natural environment and social structures of a grass-fed ranch would likely be the ideal existence for most cattle compared to feedlots crowded with stressed, lonely cattle. Between Laura’s Lean and conventional models, the additional pasture time and medical care for illnesses would likely be appreciated. So while Laura’s Lean has room for improvement, it does seem to be a better quality of life than the industrial feedlot alternative.

How Laura’s Feedlots Compare to Conventional in Cattle Welfare

Laura’s Lean Beef cattle spend most of their lives in feedlots similar to conventional beef production. However, there are some key differences that likely improve animal welfare:

  • Lower stocking densities: 10 head per pen maximum at Laura’s Lean vs. up to 100+ head per pen typically seen in industrial feedlots

  • Daily exercise time: Laura’s Lean cattle get daily outdoor access to briefly walk and socialize; rare in conventional feedlots

  • Shade and cooling: Laura’s Lean feedlots have shade structures, misters and ample airflow; industrial feedlots often lack any cooling or relief from elements

  • Third-party audits: Laura’s feedlots undergo occasional third-party audits for animal welfare; industrial feedlots receive little to no oversight

  • Enhanced medical care: While antibiotics cannot be used preventatively, treatments are administered for illnesses; sick cattle often neglected on industrial feedlots

While still far from an ideal environment for bovine well-being, Laura’s Lean feedlot conditions seem markedly better for the physical and psychological health of cattle when compared to intensive, high-density industrial feedlots

Welcome To Laura’s Mercantile – Laura Freeman, Founder of Laura’s Lean Beef and Laura’s Mercantile


Is Laura’s lean beef humanely raised?

Leading the industry since 1985. Laura was a pioneer in the cattle industry, making the brave choice to raise cattle without the use of added hormones or antibiotics, while the industry was increasing the use of hormones to speed the growth of livestock and provide bigger, fatter cattle more quickly.

Is Laura’s lean ground beef healthy?

Laura’s 96% Lean Ground Beef is certified Heart-Healthy by the American Heart Association®.

Is all grass-fed beef humanely raised?

Many people also believe grass-fed beef to be a more humane option. Beef certified by the American Grassfed Association comes from cattle that spend their lives grazing in pastures. Conventionally raised cattle start their lives in pastures but then are shipped to feedlots for several months to a year.

Is Laura beef grass-fed?

Laura’s 85% Lean 15% Fat Grass-Fed Ground Beef is a flavorful, quality beef you can feel good about serving to your family. Our beef is sourced from cattle that NEVER EVER receives antibiotics or added hormones.

Do You Believe in Humane farm animal care and humane harvesting?

As responsible consumers who want to coexist harmoniously with nature instead of dominating and depleting it, we believe in humane farm animal care and humane harvesting. Keep reading to understand: What is humane meat?

What is humane meat?

The term “humane meat” is used to refer to meat that has been produced with high regard for animal well-being. The intent is to maximize animal comfort by creating conditions that are as natural and respectful as possible.

What is Laura’s mercantile?

The farm is a fraction of the problem, and we seek to solve the whole. Laura’s Mercantile is a job creator, and we hire locally, from east Kentucky counties when possible. We have restored a building in our bypassed small town of Winchester, turning it into Wildcat Willy’s Distillery and Farm-to-Table Restaurant.

Leave a Comment