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What is a better burger?

Better burgers can be made in a number of ways. Better beef burgers start with using domestic, organic* and/or grass-fed beef from well-managed animals raised humanely on pasture without the use of routine antibiotics or hormones. You can make them even better by replacing 30-50% of the meat with mushrooms or veggies to make a blended burger. By using less meat, you can cut a burger’s carbon footprint and afford better quality, healthier, third party certified beef. Better veggie burgers can be made using all organic veggies, legumes & grains.

Ideally, beef in a better burger should be domestically sourced from local and regional farms or businesses** that are either certified by third-party auditors, including USDA Organic, American Grass-Fed Association (AGA), Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Grass-Fed by A Greener World (AGW), Global Animal Partnership (step 4-5+), and Food Alliance (see below for more info on these certifications).  If third-party certified meat is not readily available, meat should be sourced from known farms that raise predominantly grass-fed animals on pasture with no routine antibiotics, hormones, growth-promotants or GMO feed. You can find a database of ranches that fit these criteria to source from here. A better burger should aim to use no more than 2.8 ounces of beef.

*For farms and businesses that are certified USDA Organic, confirm that those farms do not qualify as CAFOs, as they do not have strong animal welfare standards in their certification.

**Meat from local farmers & regional farms/businesses comes from within 500 miles of the institution and from farms/businesses that are independently owned, gross less than $50 million per year, and do not qualify as CAFOs.

Why eat or serve better burgers?

A better burger is better for your health, animals, farmers AND the planet! We sum up all the benefits of a better burger in this infographic. Serving a better burger can also attract new customers. A recent Mintel study, found that 80% of consumers would pay more for a burger made with premium ingredients, and 39% of consumers want to know the origin of the beef in their burgers – including 68% of Millennials, who are the most likely generation to choose a restaurant based on its healthy menu offerings. In addition,  43% of consumers want more grass-fed burgers on restaurant menus.

Why are better burgers better for the environment?

Better burgers are produced with meat sourced from domestic regenerative producers who raise animals on well managed pastures or grasslands. Well-managed pastures can sink large amounts of carbon and the animal waste becomes a potent source of organic nourishment for soils and crops — rather than a source of pollution as it is on factory farms. Well-managed animals who eat grass and other vegetation contribute to healthy plant growth, healthy soils, increased carbon sequestration, and healthy habitat for many beneficial critters — including bees and butterflies. Healthy soil enables better water absorption and holding capacity and it allows the land to withstand the growing periods of drought and floods that climate change brings. Animals provide natural pest and weed control, reducing the need for pesticides.

Why are better burgers better for the farmers and ranchers?

Four large meat companies control over 80% of the meat market. Independent ranchers are often at the mercy of these concentrated markets and cheap competition, making it difficult to secure a fair price and get their healthier, more humane animal products to market. And while consumer demand is surging, US producers are losing out on critical market share as increasing amounts of pastured meat are being imported from abroad at cheaper prices. The better burger campaign aims to help build new, fair markets for domestic regenerative producers who raise animals more humanely on well managed pasture lands.

Why are better burgers better for health?

When you eat meat, what the animals eat matters a lot for your health. Unlike most industrial beef, which comes from grain-fed animals, better burger meat comes from animals that eat primarily grass. As a result, grass-fed beef has higher levels of the better Omega-3 fats, lower levels of the Omega-6 fats, and an average ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3s of 1.5 to 1, While the overall levels are important, consuming the right ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 is even more important for our health, since high Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios in our diet  are associated with higher rates of inflammation and inflammatory related diseases.  According to this meta study, grain-fed beef has an overall average of 7.65 to 1 ratio of Omega 6.  A healthy diet should consist of roughly one to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.

Grassfed meat also has higher levels of antioxidants, including  beta-carotene, conjugated linoleic acid and Vitamin E. and is produced with no added hormones, growth additives, or routine antibiotics. And blending pasture-raised beef with plant-based proteins, mushrooms, and veggies increases dietary fiber, lowers the calories, cholesterol and fat.  Blended burgers are a great way to get kids to eat more healthy vegetables. Finally, by eating less meat overall, you can reduce your risk of obesity and diet related diseases that are associated with higher levels of industrial meat consumption: heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

Grass-fed better burgers, produced without GMO crops, will likely also have much lower levels of pesticide residues than those from an industrially produced grain-fed burger. Pesticide residues that remain on animal feed accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and eventually can make their way into those who eat the animals. Certified orgfanic meat does not allow the use of any toxic pesticides. While not strictly prohibited, most grass-fed operations certified by American Grassfed Association and Animal Welfare Approved use limited amounts of herbicides and pesticides.

Why are better burgers better for the animals?

Better burgers come from animals that are raised primarily outdoors on pasture or rangeland, eating a natural diet of pasture and dried grasses.  Ideally, choose meat that comes from grass-fed organic and/or third-party animal welfare certified. Pasture-based grass fed animals enjoy a much better life than animals that are raised in confined, industrial-scale feedlots–– sometimes in their own excrement––without space to enjoy their natural behavior. Most animals start out on pasture or range but spend the last five to six months in confinement where they are are switched to an unnatural diet of mostly GMO corn and soy as well as a range of unspecified “by-product feedstuffs,” both of which can cause acidosis and other painful digestive issues––one reason that feedlot cows are given routine antibiotics. Feedlot animals are also often injected with growth hormones and growth promoters, like ractopamine which carry risks to animal welfare and human health. Multiple studies have shown that ractopamine contributes to increased numbers of “downer” animals and is linked to significant health and behavioral problems, such as cardiovascular stress, muscular skeletal tremors, increased aggression, hyperactivity and acute toxicity. Better burger meat is not produced with these harmful drugs.

Where can I find better meat and organic food products?

To find better quality local and regional  animal products and organic veggie options in your area, see eatwellguide.org or eatwild.com. To find farmers near you raising pastured animals check out the Local Harvest website or consult our long list of regional suppliers.

What certifications are included in the better burger criteria and what do they mean?

Certified Grass-fed by American Grass-fed Association:1) No confinement, 2) No antibiotics, 3) No added hormones, 4) A forage based diet throughout the lifetime of the animal after weaning.

Certified Grass-fed by A Greener World: Ruminant animals raised outdoors on pasture for their entire lives, with an entirely grass and forage diet; Animals raised according to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the U.S. and Canada; High-welfare handling, transport, and slaughter of animals–including an annual review of slaughter facilities

USDA Organic: Born and raised on certified organic pasture, never receive antibiotics, never receive growth-promoting hormones, are fed only certified organic grains (corn is a grain) and grasses, and must have unrestricted outdoor access.

Animal Welfare Approved: Growth hormones and antibiotics prohibited (antibiotics required to treat diseased animal), animals must be pasture-raised, cannot be finished in feedyards, maximum transport time of 8 hours.

Global Animal Partnership step 4 or 5: Growth hormones and antibiotics prohibited (even to treat diseased animal – any animal who has received antibiotics cannot be sold under GAP), must have access to pasture but feedlots are permitted through step 4.

Food Alliance: This program scores farms based on a range of criteria related to healthy and humane animal treatment with no added growth promotants or subtherapeutic antibiotics; soil and water conservation; integrated pest, disease, and weed management; pesticide risk reduction; wildlife habitat and biodiversity conservation; and safe and fair working conditions. Rather than requiring farms to meet 100% of the criteria, farms are approved based on an average score from the various criteria.

Why mushrooms and other veggies?

The texture of mushrooms nicely mimics ground beef and the mushroom-beef blend is known to have a very attractive flavor profile. Taste tests have shown that people often prefer blended burgers to regular burgers. Besides tasting good, mushrooms have potent antioxidant properties, Vitamin D, bioavailable B-12, as well as minerals including riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, copper, phosphorus, and selenium. Substitution with mushrooms or other veggies is beneficial for weight management, and daily consumption of mushrooms can easily provide 25% of daily fiber needs. Eating organic mushrooms is especially important, as USDA tests of conventional mushrooms found 11 common pesticide residues. Because mushrooms are so porous, they easily soak up chemicals while growing. One fungicide, Thiabendazole, considered a “bad actor” pesticide, was found on 50 percent of mushroom samples. Thiabendazole is considered a known to have adverse pre-natal effects and causes disruption of endocrine levels associated with body metabolism.

Is pasture raised beef less resource intensive?

Pastured meat systems generally use less irrigation water and fewer pesticides and fertilizers than conventional meat production. But while organic and well-managed pasture-raised meat and dairy are better alternatives, they do require more land than factory-farmed meat — and still consume large amounts of resources, especially compared to plant-based proteins. However, well-managed pasture raised beef can provide additional ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, soil restoration, and better habitat for biodiversity, which distinguish them further from industrial factory farm beef. Furthermore, land used for cattle is often unusable for food crops. No matter what kind of meat you choose, eating less is key to a healthier planet.

Why organic?

The science is clear, organic farming practices protect us from toxic pesticides and conserve the precious soil, water, and biodiversity that we need to feed the world for generations to come. In times of drought and flood, organic agriculture outperforms industrial agriculture – conserving water, saving energy, and capturing more carbon in the soil. Organic meat is not produced with added hormones, additives, or antibiotics. The pesticides used to grow GMO crops fed to conventional livestock bioaccumulate in the animals’ fatty tissues, and these pesticide residues are then consumed by humans.

Why Non-GMO?

Corn and soybeans, the primary feed crops for animals, are grown with genetically engineered seeds (94 percent and 89 percent respectively in the U.S.) that are designed to tolerate massive applications of a highly toxic herbicide. While agrichemical companies have promoted glyphosate as safe, the World Health Organization recently determined that it is a probable human carcinogen. By serving and eating grass-fed burgers, produced without GMO crops, you we can significantly reduce the pesticide exposures people get from eating an industrially produced burger.  You can also avoid any other potential health impacts from GMOs. There is no scientific consensus on the safety of agricultural GMOs. More than 300 scientists, physicians and scholars state this clearly in a joint statement, and the World Health Organization concurs.

How do you get your school, institution, workplace or local restaurant to make a better burger?

See our tips for advocates or PDF for a 10 step list of how to get you local food establishment engaged in the Better Burger Challenge. Here is the short version: Find out who is in charge of food services for your school or workplace,or who the head chef is at your local burger restaurant. Send an or call to ask for a meeting to discuss and ask if he/she is willing to take part in the challenge! Provide the infographic, tips for chefs and encourage them to explore the website for more details. Be courteous and patient and let us know if you need more tips for your discussion.

How do you make a better burger at home?

It’s easy! First you dream up an idea for a blended burger (using our database of recipes as inspiration if you like), then buy the ingredients ideally organic veggies and beef that meet our sustainability requirements. (See our resources for how to find source better meat or organic veggies) Then construct and cook the burger, taking care to make sure it is beautiful and delicious – (we taste with our eyes also!) Take a photo and share your recipe on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the Hashtag #BetterBurgerChallenge. Then, thoroughly enjoy your awesome burger! Sharing your new Better burger recipe is a great reason to host an educational house party or dinner and invite your friends to learn more about the benefits of a better burger!

What does pasture-raised mean?

Pasture-raised animals are raised outdoors on range or pasture and receive a significant portion of their nutrition from organically managed pasture and stored dried forages. Unlike 100% grass-fed cows, pasture-raised cows may receive supplemental organic grains, both during the grazing season and into winter months. Supplemental organic grains can include any of the following: corn, soy, oats, barley, triticale and other small grains. Animals also receive necessary mineral supplements that sometimes include non-iodized salt.”

Should you be concerned about antibiotic use in meat production?

Yes! Animals produced in confinement live in cramped, filthy conditions and are highly prone to disease and infection from living in such close quarters. Livestock consume the same antibiotics as humans, and if we eat meat produced with antibiotics our bodies can form antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic use in livestock is a public health concern. Companies raising animals in confinement the will treat their livestock with antibiotics routinely, to prevent rather than treat existing disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two million Americans fall ill annually from drug-resistant bacteria, and of those two million, more than 23,000 of them die.

Can you make better burgers out of other types of meat besides beef?

Yes, of course! Keep in mind that beef and lamb have the highest carbon footprint of all meat, followed by pork, turkey, and chicken. Because of this we’re focused on reducing the impact of America’s classic burger. A comparison of the carbon footprint of different kinds of meat types can be found here.

Can you put cheese on your burger?

Ideally, no. Beef has the second worst carbon emissions of all animal foods produced, and cheese has the third worst. Beef production releases 26.5 kg of carbon dioxide per pound of edible weight, while cheese produces 9.8 kg of carbon dioxide per pound of edible weight. If you want to craft less carbon-intensive burgers, you might want to avoid using cheese. Creative veggie-based sauces are a great flavor replacement!

What are regenerative practices?

Regenerative agricultural practices protect and build, rather than deplete soil, water, and biodiversity resources.  “Regenerative organic agriculture improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them. It is a holistic systems approach to agriculture that encourages continual on farm innovation for environmental, social, economic and spiritual wellbeing.” – Rodale Institute

Who created the challenge?

With inspiration from the James Beard Foundation and Menus of Change, the Better Burger Challenge is a collaborative effort co-created by Friends of the Earth and Turning Green.  Hundreds of chefs around the country have already created tasty recipes that take advantage of the dynamic flavor created by blending mushrooms and beef as part of the James Beard Foundation Better Burger Project. This challenge makes blended burgers even better by sourcing only from regenerative and organic farms and ranches.  We invite partners to join us. Please contact us if you would like to help promote the Better Burger Challenge. More information on Challenge partners is here.

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