Understanding the weird world of meat labels,
shopping local and asking the question “Can I visit this farm?”
The Lady Jaye Meat Dudes Podcast: Episode 4! Thanks to special guest Sean So from Preservation Meat Collective for sourcing the best local meat and helping us out with this podcast
Why are meat labels so hard to understand?
Meat labels can be confusing, and it’s not always easy to know what you’re getting. Here are a few reasons why:
No standardization: Different organizations and producers may use different labels to convey similar information, making it difficult for consumers to compare products.
Technical language: Meat labels often use technical language that may be difficult for consumers to understand.
Lack of clarity: Some labels may not provide clear information about the meat.
Deceptive marketing: Some producers may use labels in a misleading way to make their products appear more desirable.
What do Meat Labels Mean?
Let’s take a closer look at some common labels and what they actually mean.
Pasture Raised: This label refers to a farming system where animals, such as cows, pigs, or chickens, are raised primarily on pasture or open grazing land. However, since there is no official standard or certification for pasture-raised products, the exact conditions and level of access to pasture can vary between farms. When smaller, ethical farmers say “pasture raised,” they usually mean the animals spend 85-100% of their time on pasture.
Hormone-Free: The USDA does not allow the use of hormones in the production of pork or poultry, so all pork and poultry in the United States can be considered “hormone-free.” However, the use of hormones is allowed in the production of beef, and the term “hormone-free” is not regulated by the USDA, which means some producers may use this label in a misleading way. To ensure that the meat is truly hormone-free, consumers can look for third-party certifications such as the USDA Organic certification or the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label.
Certified Organic: This label is a reliable indicator that the meat meets strict standards established by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). To be certified organic, meat must come from animals that have been raised on a diet of organic feed and have not been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. However, don’t let this label deter you from visiting local small farms that are not certified organic. While this label is obviously good, many small farms can’t afford the certification process.
Grass-Fed: This label refers to meat from cattle that have been raised on a diet primarily composed of grass and other forage, rather than grain. Grass-fed beef is typically leaner and has a slightly different flavor compared to grain-fed beef. However, like “pasture raised,” there is no official standard or certification for grass-fed products, which means the exact conditions can vary between farms.
The term “natural beef” is a label claim used in the meat industry to describe beef that has been minimally processed and contains no artificial ingredients or added colors. According to the USDA, beef can be labeled as “natural” if it meets the following criteria:
- Minimally processed: The beef has not been significantly altered in any way from its natural state.
- No artificial ingredients: The beef contains no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or other synthetic ingredients.
- No added colors: The beef has not had any colors added to enhance its appearance.
- Raised without antibiotics or hormones: The animals from which the beef comes were not given antibiotics or hormones (except for approved ionophores used as feed additives).
- Fed a natural diet: The animals were fed a diet consisting solely of forage (grass, hay, silage) and/or grain, with no animal by-products.
What it really means: This one is pretty bad don’t you think? Shouldn’t ALL beef be Natural? If a label has to say “Natural Beef” it probably means they just needed to put something on the label. Most small, ethical farms DON”T need to use this label.
Where does your meat come from?
Understanding these labels is a good start, but there’s more you can do to ensure that you’re getting high-quality meat. Consider shopping locally and asking if you can visit the farm to see the conditions for yourself. This way, you can develop a relationship with the farmer and know exactly where your meat is coming from.
“If you call the farm and ask them if you can visit, are you even ALLOWED to?”
Most big commodity farms won’t even let you get close to the property, let alone film anything.
So take charge of your meat sourcing and become an informed consumer. Do your homework, visit the farm, (or see if they will even let you), and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly where your meat comes from.