Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP s...

Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP standards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regular readers of this blog have experienced my thoughts, as well as others, on food (primarily vegetables) and nutrition.  So, today, after hearing about so many stories about “mystery meat” or “pink slime”, I thought I would help the meat industry by pointing out that all meat ain’t all bad!  Just like everything else we consume we have to continually be on the watch as for how our food is handled and prepared.

Because I am not so smart that I am an expert on everything I went online to WebMD and found a great article that was packed with a few things I needed to know.  You know how it is, you are at the supermarket in the meat department and you’ve got several choices to buy for your dinner.  The label on the chicken breast package says “Natural”, so do you think that it never had plastic surgery?  What does “Certified Organic” mean in the beef section?  Is it the same certification that is used in the produce department?  So, thanks again to WebMD we will all be able to make the smart choices when buying meet.

Grass-Fed and –Finished (beef, lamb, bison)

Grass-fed animals eat nothing but their mother’s milk, fresh grass and cut hay for their entire lives versus animals raised conventionally, which graze until they reach a certain weight, then are sent to feedlots, where they are “finished” on grain diets until they reach market size.

Health BenefitsSome research suggests that grass-fed meats are richer in omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than those raised on grains.

Eco-benefits:  Grass-fed-meat farms voluntarily certified by the American Grassfed Association ( do not use antibiotics (which can end up in water systems) or grains (which require land to grow them and fuel to transport)

Is it regulated?  A definition of “grass-fed” proposed by the USDA is still in a comment period.  Many, including the AGA, consider the USDA’s proposed definition too lax as it allows for hormone and antibiotic use and some grain feeding.

Keep in mind:  “Partially grain-fed” means cattle are grain-finished.  Not all grass-fed beef is organic.

Certified Organic (beef, pork, lamb, bison, poultry)

Organic standards prohibit all use of antibiotics and hormones.  (Hormone use in poultry and pork production—even conventional—has been banned since 1959.)  All food is vegetarian and certified organic—including pastureland—which means that it is not treated with pesticides or herbicides and cannot be genetically modified.  Animals have access to pastureland, sunlight and enough land for exercise, and grazing is done in a manner that does not degrade the land through erosion or contamination.  Animal cloning is forbidden.

Health benefits:  Since USDA-certified organic labeling requires that animals be traced from birth to slaughter (including feed sources and medications), problems related to animal diseases and human food borne illness can easily be traced to the source.

Eco-benefits:  Organic Standards ban the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, which leach into groundwater and ultimately end up in public water supplies.

Is it regulated?  The USDA regulates the Certified Organic standard and independent agencies that conduct farm inspections.

Keep in mind:  Organic doesn’t necessarily mean grass-fed, however certified organic livestock generally graze on open-range land three to six months longer than conventionally raised livestock to reach market size.

Certified Humane (beef, pork, lamb, poultry)

This label guarantees that animals have freedom to move and prohibits crates and tie-downs in stalls, as well as, artificial means to induce growth, such as continuous barn lights for broiler chickens.

Eco-benefits:  Certified Humane prohibits the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, two factors in groundwater pollution.

Is it regulated?  Yes.  Certified Humane standards are endorsed by several animal-rights organizations, including the ASPCA and the Humane Society.  Producers are audited by third-party groups.

Keep in mind:  This label does not mean animals are certified organic.

Natural (beef, pork, lamb, poultry)

No additives or preservatives were introduced after the meat or poultry was processed.  (Certain sodium-based broths can be added to poultry and pork and be labeled “natural.”)  This term does not ensure organic feed.  The term “natural” is often confused with “naturally raised,” a term proposed by the USDA that would mean the animals were not given antibiotics and/or growth hormones.

Health benefits:  natural meats have no nitrites or nitrates, preservatives that have been linked in some children and women to various types of cancer.

Eco-benefits:  “Natural” has no substantial environmental benefit.

Is it regulated?  It is a term defined by the USDA but not regulated

Keep in mind:  “Natural” alone says nothing about how an animal was raised.

Most consumers—including myself—don’t have as many options when buying produce or meat.  Urban supermarkets focus strictly on what is selling or what the community buys as a whole.  The shelves are not loaded with esoteric items like pine nuts or artichokes and as for the meats; your best hope is that it is fresh and safe.  But as the urban culture changes and their tastes expand, it can’t be too far off that we will find ourselves having to make the choices that are presented here.  So continue to read the labels so that you will make wise choices on what you are eating and feeding your family…Bon Appetit!