Murky Meat Labels Leave Customers Craving Answers


Your trips to the supermarket have probably been confusing ones the past few years because of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) signed off on in 2009. The agency approved a label that permits producers to market their meat as being “naturally raised”– if they don’t stuff the animals’ feed with animal byproducts or antibiotics, or choose to inject livestock with additional hormones. Unfortunately, the government is still permitting companies to use the word “natural” on their meat products. That word is very-loosely regulated and has surely confused many customers while diluting the interpretation of the “naturally raised” label, indicate sustainable food advocates.

The Process

The USDA gave permission for meat producers to call their products “naturally raised,” but did not say when the labeling guidelines would be implemented in full effect. “The addition of USDA’s new ‘naturally raised’ standard alongside the meaningless ‘natural’ label will confuse consumers and undercut the efforts of responsible producers,” said Margaret Mellon, food and environment program director at Union of Concerned Scientists, at the time.


Food labeling is oftentimes tough to figure out, especially with so many alike terms and loose regulation being used. You can know which foods to trust, though, by looking at these three tips showing what means what on food labels:

“Natural” means just about nothing

That’s right, so don’t be fooled– the obscure term can be slapped on just about anything without taking into account things like how the animal was raised. Instead, it refers to what happens after the animal is killed, like the fact that it wasn’t heavily processed and no additives were used.

Naturally raised is superior to natural

The USDA didn’t initially allude to when you’d begin seeing this label on meat, but now that it’s available, choose “naturally raised” over “natural” label claims.

Go for the gold (standard)

USDA organic meat and dairy animals don’t receive antibiotics, hormones, or genetically engineered crops in their feed. But some are given organic grain, which isn’t necessarily part of the animals’ normal diet. The best option is buying from a local farm that carries pasture-fed animals and uses only organic methods.


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