When you see a cut of beef labeled “grass-fed,” do you wonder, “What else would the cow eat besides grass?” Or what about “natural” meat?
Meat package labels aren’t always clear and don’t tell the whole story about how animals were raised and the resulting environmental problems. To help you make more educated choices, here are definitions of commonly seen terms.
Grass-fed beef is from animals that have eaten nothing but their mother’s milk and fresh grass or grass-type hay from birth.
- Grass-fed animals have an overall better quality of life, grazing on open pastures and engaging in natural behaviors.
- Grass-fed animal products contain higher quantities of beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids and are lower in calories and fat.
- Animals receive absolutely no antibiotics, hormones, animal byproducts or other unnatural substances and therefore they do not pose serious risks to human health like antibiotic resistance or Mad Cow Disease.
In order for animal products to be labeled “organic,” producers must adhere to specific guidelines outlined by the USDA’s National Organic Program.
- They must be given organically produced feed, but not necessarily grass.
- Animals must have access to the outdoors.
- Antibiotics and growth hormones are strictly prohibited, eliminating many serious risks to human health like antibiotic resistance.
- Animals are only fed an organic diet free of animal byproducts and are therefore unlikely to be a source of Mad Cow Disease.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that foods with “no artificial ingredients or added color and are no more than minimally processed” may be considered natural.
Generally, the American natural meat industry sets standards above and beyond the USDA definition and claims:
- Antibiotic and growth hormones are strictly prohibited, eliminating many serious risks to human health like antibiotic resistance.
- Animals are fed a vegetarian diet free of animal byproducts and are therefore unlikely to be a source of Mad Cow Disease.
The “industrial” method of animal production usually refers to CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations.
CAFOs are giant factory-like farms where up to hundreds of thousands of cattle are raised using a variety of methods, mainly manipulation of the feed, for “maximum efficiency.”
- Cattle are fed a grain-based diet (usually corn) instead of grasses or other plants cows naturally eat.
- Manure is kept in lagoons often causing environmental and health problems for neighboring communities