Is it really possible a label on food is more important than civility? I think not. Is it likely marketing on healthy foods is just as challenging as marketing on junk food? You decide for yourself, but after 15 years of researching the topic, I’d say absolutely. Let’s get to the bottom of it. There is no singular right way to raise meat. A label should not infer superiority or inferiority. A brand making those marketing claims on food labels is best avoided, in my opinion. Marketing on labels is confusing and leads to guilt.
You decide what is the right meat for you based upon your family’s needs and priorities. Not on brand, label claims, guilt or status symbol.
Janeal Yancey, a Ph.D. meat scientist at the University of Arkansas explains the differences between three meat labels.
- Organic: Animals must be only fed organic feed and allowed to graze only organically-managed pastures. They are not to be given hormones or any other growth-promoting agents, and only allowed to be given vaccines when they are not sick (nothing else). There are requirements that they must be allowed access to outdoors. All of these regulations are certified by agencies accredited through USDA. In order to place the USDA organic seal on the label of a product, it must be made with 95 percent or greater organic ingredients. Meat labeled as “organic” is very expensive because it costs a lot to produce.
- Natural: Lots of people think that ‘Natural’ is the same as ‘Organic’. It is not. According to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, a product with the word ‘Natural’ on the label must be “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).”
- Grass-fed: Producers feed cattle grain for the last three or four months of their life, an efficient way to get the cattle to gain weight and fatten to a point where American consumers like to eat beef. Most of us like juicy, tender beef, and that comes from marbled beef. Grass-fed beef is generally leaner and has a stronger flavor than grain-fed beef. To be labeled ‘grass (forage) fed’ meat (most likely beef or lamb), the animal must have only been allowed to eat grass or hay for its entire life (except milk when they are babies). Grass feeding takes a longer time to get cattle large enough to slaughter, and there is not as much meat on grass-fed beef. So, it costs more.
Personally, I choose conventionally raised meat with as few marketing claims as possible. Science supports this choice and I find conventionally raised to be the most responsible for animal welfare, as well as more sustainable – considering the waste that occurs with organic meat. Those are my standards. What are yours?
Read more at Food Truths from Farm to Table to arm yourself with 25 truths you urgently need to know about food so you can shop without guilt, confusion, or judgment. A new book, Food Bullying, releases November 5 to upend the way you think about eating choices.