Decoding Meat Labeling

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Image of man looking at meat

The labels on our food can be overwhelming. Meat labels can be especially tricky to decipher. When you are standing in the meat department trying to figure out what type of meat to purchase these thoughts might go through your head: “Is this a quality piece of meat? Is it on sale? Is it good for your family? Is it easy on the environment? and Did the animal live a good life?”-  Wait…. what? Meat buying has become much more complicated. The constant flow of information before us has made it hard to decide what to choose. Well, let’s talk about the facts and what each of these claims mean. Then you can decide what is most important for you and your family.

No Added Hormones, usually refers to claims that cattle and lamb are raised without added hormones. This claim can be used without a third-party verification.

Raised with Antibiotics, usually refers to claims that pigs, chickens, cattle, and lamb have not received routine or even one-time use antibiotics throughout their lives. This claim can also be used without a third-party verification.

All Natural refers to any meat product and is referring to how it is processed. The USDA definition only encompasses additives to the product or processing of the product but does not describe how the meat was raised. This is a confusing claim that is not verified by a third-party.

Grass Fed usually refers to cattle, lamb, goats, and bison. It claims that the animal’s diet has exclusively consisted of grass from the time it was weaned from its mother’s milk. This claim can also be used without a third-party verification.

Grass Finished includes cattle, lamb, goats, and bison that have been fed gain at any point during their lifetime. This claim can be used as long as it is accompanied by the percentage of grass to grain. This claim can be used without a third-party verification.

Pasture Raised claims that the animal was able to roam free and have access to a pasture throughout its lifetime. This claim can also be used without verification by a third-party.

USDA Organic refers to animals and meat that have come from a farm and processor that has been certified by a USDA approved agency to meet the USDA’s organic standards. This standard excludes antibiotics, growth hormones, synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, and genetic engineering practices. This is a claim that is verified by a third-party against a set of published protocols.

Non-GMO claims typically mean that the animal’s feed does not contain a GMO product. This claim requires verification by a third-party source and the USDA has published recommendations regarding this claim.

While this may shed some light on the claims that decorate the packaging of your meat products there is still one important thing to consider when purchasing meat. “Is it nutritionally healthy for myself and my family?” In this case, none of these claims are inherently healthier than the other. Here, the most helpful label to read is the nutrition facts, which is a verified and regulated label. When it comes to meat, reviewing the fat and sodium content to determine if it will fit into you and your family’s diet.

In all cases, it depends on what you and your family personally value. With these simple tips, you can find a little ease in navigating the meat department at your local grocery store. For more detailed information visit the NC Choices website and review the “What Do All These Label Claims Really Mean?” guide. Feel free to contact Olivia Jones, Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences at 232-2261 or olivia_jones@ncsu.edu with any questions.