Consumers are interested in sustainable, humanely raised meats, but terms like organic, cage-free and grass-fed can confuse.
These labels and programs are driven by health-minded consumers who seek wholesome meat and poultry products, raised with limited exposure to drugs, hormones and pesticides, as well as in a sustainable and humane fashion.
“Sustainably produced meats are becoming more common, along with consumer awareness of the importance and use of these labels,” said Stacia Clinton, a registered dietitian and healthy food program coordinator for the global coalition Health Care Without Harm.
Nearly 60 percent of consumers report that they want grocery stores to inform them about how foods, including meats, are grown and raised, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. Meat and poultry producers are required to submit their claims for review for truth and accuracy to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and subsequent approval before they can be marketed.
Here is a guide to some labeling terms for meat and poultry:
1. Organic: Producers and processors of domestic and imported meat and poultry that carry the organic label must be certified and meet these standards established by the USDA:
• Animals must be produced and processed by a USDA-certified organic farm and processor.
• Livestock must be fed 100 percent organically grown feed produced without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or genetically modified seeds, or animal by-products. The land used to raise animals must also adhere to these requirements.
• Animals must be raised without the use of synthetic hormones and vaccinations, and are not treated with antibiotics.
• Animals must have access to the outdoors, and livestock and milking cows are required to graze on pasture for at least four months per year; chickens must have access to the outside, direct sunlight, fresh air, and freedom of movement. Continuous confinement of animals is prohibited.
2. Natural: The term may be used on any meat or poultry product that is “minimally processed” and contains no artificial ingredients, including flavoring, added colors, chemical preservatives or any other synthetic ingredient. The natural claim has no relevance to how the animal was raised or fed.
3. No antibiotics administered: The FDA standards state that no meat sold in the U.S. is allowed to contain antibiotic residues; however, farmers and ranchers may use antibiotics to treat livestock. Meat producers making claims such as “no antibiotics added,” “no antibiotics ever” or “raised without the use of antibiotics” must seek approval from the USDA-FSIS prior to label placement.
4. Hormone-free: While animals produce hormones naturally, synthetic growth hormones may be given to cattle in order to increase growth rates. Although the USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration claim these hormones are safe, there is growing concern that hormone residues in meat may be harmful to human health, animal health and the environment. Since federal regulations prohibit the use of added hormones in poultry, hogs and veal calves, manufacturers making the “hormone-free” claim on their packaging are required to include the statement, “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”