Confused about what the labels on packaged meat mean? Here's a guide to decoding labels on beef, chicken, and pork products in the supermarket, including organic, natural, free-range, cage-free, grass-fed, and certified humane.
When you choose to include meat in your family’s meals, the many different labels can make it difficult to know which are the best choices. Here, a decoder to bring along on your next supermarket trip:
Cage-free: Flock is able to freely roam within their shelter with unlimited access to food and fresh water
Free-range: Flock is provided with shelter but given continuous access to the outdoors (may be fenced or netted), as well as unlimited access to food and fresh water
Grass-fed: Received the majority of its nutrients from grass, but diets may have been supplemented with grain
Grass-fed organic: Grass-fed and free of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides
Natural: No synthetic or artificial ingredients or added color. Not fed animal by-products, animal waste by-products, or aquatic by-products. Minimally processed. No growth promotants, and no antibiotics (other than one used to prevent parasitism)
No antibiotics (red meat and poultry): No antibiotics used in raising the animals
No hormones (beef): No hormones added or used in raising the animals
No hormones (pork and poultry): Contains no artificial ingredients or added color; minimally processed
• Produced without excluded practices (e.g. no genetic engineering, no irradiation)
• Produced using only allowed substances and without prohibited substances
• Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations
• No antibiotics
• No growth hormones
• 100 percent organic feed
• Animals had access to the outdoors
Not official regulated USDA labels:
Pasture-raised: Not an official regulated USDA label
Certified humane (Humane Farm Animal Care): Meets the Humane Farm Animal Care program standards: nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones; animals raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors.
Animal Welfare approved (Animal Welfare Institute): Cattle grazed on pastures; sows could build nests before giving birth; ducks were able to swim in clean water; chickens could forage, dust-bathe, and spread their wings. Awarded only to family farmers.
Sources: Animal Welfare Institute, Certified Humane, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service
The Many Benefits of Meatless Meals