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Meat Labels

Meat labeling has become as intricate as freelance writing these days and not many people know what the meat labels actually mean when they read them.  Do you need to buy grass-fed?  Is natural meat the same as organic meat?  Read on to find out!

Meat labels with ORGANIC written on them have been strictly government regulated.  Organic meat labels verify that the meat is hormone free, antibiotic free, and no animal by-products were given to the animals.  It also verifies that the animals have access to pasture land for exercise and fresh air.

NATURAL meat labels simply mean that there are no artificial ingredients in the meats.  This is not a controlled label so many companies use it just to mean that there aren't any colorings added to the meat.  Read your label carefully!

If the meat labels state ANTIBIOTIC-FREE it means that the animals were never given antibiotics.  People became concerned with antibiotics in their meat because of the widespread overuse of antibiotics in our society.  This overuse could lead to the formation of many antibiotic resistant bacteria which is a health risk.

HORMONE-FREE meat labels refer to meat from animals that were not given any hormones to stimulate growth.  Studies have not proven that hormones found in meat are harmful, but at least this label gives you the choice to choose meat that doesn't contain these hormones.  By law, chickens and pigs cannot be given growth hormones so if the meat labels on pork or chicken read hormone-free then it's just being repetitive.

Meat labeling that includes FREE-RANGE in it means that the animal was able to access the outdoors for most of its life.  Just because the animal had access doesn't mean it took advantage of the opportunity. 

GRASS-FED animals were given grass to eat for at least some of its life instead of feed with animal by products.  Studies have shown that grass-fed meat has more vitamin A and more vitamin E than non grass fed animals.  More omega-3 fats are also found in grass fed meat.

ANIMAL COMPASSIONATE meat labels have become more prominent in grocery stores such as Whole Foods and in some restaurants.  This meat label is placed on meat where the animals were raised in a humane manner before being processed for human consumption.

COOL (Country of Origin)  These particular meat labels reveal where the animals were bred, raised and processed.  If multiple countries were involved then they all should be listed.  This has become popular since the chef, Jamie Oliver led a campaign to have this labeling when it was discovered that meat processed in countries under methods illegal in the UK could be brought to the UK and labeled as British meat.

Next time you're shopping for meat, check the meat labels carefully.  Use the information found here to help you make informed decisions about what meats to purchase and whether or not you really want to spend the extra money just for a "label".

Reference:  "Making Sense of Meat Labels", Parents, July 2007, pg. 34.