Understanding Labels on your Meat Posted on 01 May 21:57

Have you been overwhelmed at the grocery store while selecting meat and produce? I sure have! What do all of the labels and terms mean? Are they true? Have they been verified or is it the agricultural equivalent of “greenwashing” marketing terms?

It can be confusing. Clear standards are essential to ensuring consumer confidence in the agricultural market for things like “grass-fed” and “organic”. We’ll help you decode some of these labels and definitions.

“Grass-fed”
Industrial animal farms rely on corn and soy as a cheap source of protein-rich feed. However, cows’ stomachs were built to digest grasses and other forage. Therefore, when these animals are fed a grain heavy diet, they often have digestive problems, poor liver health, and can get more sick more often. Grass-fed animals eat grass from weaning to slaughter and therefore, they should not eat grain, animal byproducts, or synthetic hormones. Because grass-fed cows are eating what the stomachs of cows were intended to eat, they have a tendency to be healthier and require less (if any) antibiotics to prevent disease.

“Pasture-raised”
In general, pasturing is a traditional farming technique where animals are raised outdoors in a humane, ecologically sustainable manner and eat foods that nature intended them to eat rather than being fattened on a feedlot or in a confined facility. There is no agency that certifies and approves the use of this term.

“Organic”
In order to be labeled “organic”, a product, its producer, and the farm where the ingredients come from must meet the USDA’s organic standards and must be certified by a USDA-approved food-certifying agency. Organic foods cannot be grown using synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, or sewage sludge, cannot be genetically modified, and cannot be irradiated. Organic meat and poultry must be fed only organically-grown feed (without any animal byproducts) and cannot be treated with hormones or antibiotics. Ruminants (cows) must have access to pasture but don’t actually have to go outdoors.

Learn more about new rules approved in January 2017 and Tyner Pond Farm’s approach here

“Natural”
The “natural” label on meat and poultry does not validate anything about how the animal was raised or the food and additives that it was fed however “natural” should mean that the meat does not have any added artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and should be only “minimally processed” as defined by the USDA.

“No Added Hormones”
By law, hogs and poultry cannot be given growth hormones — so the use of the label on these meats is just marketing. To ensure that other meats were raised without added hormones, ask your farmer or butcher.

“Antibiotic-Free”
Antibiotic-free is not a label that is approved by the USDA. Typically, this label means that the animal has not received antibiotics seven to fourteen days before slaughter.

“Cage Free” (Chickens)
Chickens marked cage-free have the ability to roam freely. Cage free chickens differ from free-range chickens as they are still in an enclosed area, typically a grow house, barn, or shed.

"Free-Range" (Chickens)
Free-range does not guarantee that a chicken is also grown organically or is freely foraging for food. A number of free-range chickens are raised in grow houses with both limited and unlimted access to the outdoors. SustainableTable.org, a not-for-profit that promotes and provides education for sustainable agriculture, suggests looking for chicken that is both free-range and organic, and suggests looking for a label that says “Pastured” or “Pasture-raised” if you want to buy eggs or poultry that were raised outdoors.

If this is still overwhelming, Tyner Pond Fond suggests keeping it simple! Try buying meat from a local, sustainable farm so that you know where your food is coming from and how it was raised. All Tyner Pond Farm meat is grass-fed, pasture-raised, free-range, antibiotic-free, and natural. 

Sources:

http://gracelinks.org/media/pdf/glossary_of_meat_production_ho_20090422.pdf

http://www.sustainabletable.org/1649/the-meat-to-eat