Our trip down the processed food aisle has revealed a wide range of tricks, gimmicks and ruses on package labels. So when we steered our shopping cart over to the meat case, expectations for truthful labeling were low.
In this, the feedlot industry does not disappoint. The folks at onlygrassfed.com have chronicled the many ways these labels commonly mislead:
“All Natural: As defined by the USDA, ‘natural’ or ‘all-natural’ means the meat has been minimally processed and contains no preservatives or artificial ingredients. This simply means that no chemicals can be added to the meat during or after processing (although using a chemical disinfectant bath during process to try to reduce E. coli on the carcass is allowed). Since virtually all fresh beef conforms to these standards, the term has no real significance. The ‘natural’ label does not exclude meats raised using feed-grade antibiotics or hormone implants, nor does it exclude animals raised in a feedlot. The USDA does not even regulate this term on labels, meaning that meat labeled as such is not given any additional inspection. Beef bearing the USDA’s ‘natural’ label can be grown, fed and handled in the same way as other common cattle.
“Organic: Beef that carries the USDA organic logo has met the department’s standards, which prohibit the use of growth hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified feed, and animal byproducts. However, the standards do not require a grass-only diet; the animal can still be fed an unnatural and unhealthy grain based diet.
“Pasture Finished: Means a producer can feed his animals a ‘grain-based diet’ as long as animals have access to pasture. The problem is that merely opening a gate from the feedlot into an adjacent ‘small’ pasture qualifies as Pasture Finished. Unfortunately, cattle are similar to humans and prefer sweet foods like grain and corn to grass. They will, therefore, spend the majority of their time at the feed trough and a minority of time eating grass . . . if there is grass to eat.
“Grass-fed: According to the USDA, ‘grass-fed’ means an animal must have ‘access’ to grass and pasture during its life, and the animal must get the majority of its nutrients from grass. However, there is no restriction on the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides, and the program is voluntary, which means a producer may use ‘grass-fed’ on its labels without verification. True grass-fed beef should be pasture raised from beginning to end.”
More in our next post.