As more and more people are considering how their meat is being raised, food producers are making more and more claims about their practices. We don’t blame you if you find it all a little confusing! Here’s a quick run-down of all the terms you might encounter, and what they do (and don’t) tell you about your meat:
Organic guidelins are regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP) and certified by third party agencies. Organic meat and poultry: eat only organic feed (by definition, organic feed is non-GMO and not sprayed with chemical pesticides or herbicides unless they are on the OMRI ‘acceptable substance’ list); were never given hormones or antibiotics for any purpose; and must have “access to the outdoors, including access to pasture for ruminants” (in practice this can mean a door on the side of a barn that, while it may be open, animals may never be encouraged to use it). Learn more about the National Organic Program (NOP) here.
Pastured or Pasture-raised
While this term is not certified by the USDA, it is the one phrase you can look for if you want meat that has been raised outdoors on actively managed pasture using the techniques of rotational grazing on nutrient dense forage crops. "Free-range" doesn’t necessarily mean that the animals are actually “ranging” – for this, look for the words “pastured,” “raised on pasture” or “grass-fed.” Pastured meat may be fed some grain as a supplement to their grass-based diet, especially in the winter when it is harder to meet nutritional needs through hay and silage.
Animals must eat only forage grasses after they are weaned; they may never be fed any grain or grain products. During the growing months this can come from outdoor pastures; in the winter, animals may eat hay, silage or other crop residues as long as they do not contain grain. Read the USDA Standards here.
Grass-finished or grain-finished
“Finishing” refers to achieving a full weight and desirable marbling (little ribbons of fat in the muscle tissue that contribute to the juiciness and flavor of the meat). Some farmers prefer to finish their cattle on grain because it helps the animals gain weight and increases the marbling of the meat, making it more tender as well. Feeding cows grain at the end of their lives does not erase the benefits of raising them on pasture, and it is not the equivalent of keeping them in a CAFO their entire life. Grow and Behold will offer both grass-finished and grain-finished meats. Grain-finished beef can be brought to finished weight more quickly than grass finished meat and is more tender. The jury and the science is still on out which is better for the environment, as grass finished cows live long and emit more methane gas over the course of their life. Grow and Behold Pastured Beef are generally finished on a diet of about 50% grain, with the remainder being high quality forage. This is a safe amount of grain for the cow’s stomach to handle, and allows us to consistently finish cattle year-round. Raising animals for meat is complex, and we don’t have all the answers yet. At Grow & Behold Foods, our first goal is to produce the most environmentally friendly, best tasting, highest quality meat in a transparent manner. So you can make the decision on what is best for you and your family.
Free range or free roaming
Producers must demonstrate that the poultry has access to the outdoors. However, it’s quite likely that your free-range chicken never actually spent anytime outside. Most chickens raised for meat in the this country are bred to grow quickly, not to forage through the grass. Chickens can be raised in a pen with a small door that gives them access to the outdoors and be called free-range. Unfortunately, these chickens don’t have to ever leave the barn, and usually don’t. Our Sara’s Spring Chicken are raised outdoors, on grass. Chicken they way it is meant to be raised!
A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural. To label meat as natural it only needs to be raised without hormones.
The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in raising poultry. For beef, hormones are allowed, and frequently used to speed up growth. Hormone-free beef means that no hormones were used, and the producer provides documentation to support this claim.
When animals are raised in confinement, disease is common. Cows and chickens are fed antibiotics as preventative measures—whether they are sick or not. Many consumers worry about the excessive use of antibiotics in livestock raising and its potential effect on human health. “No antibiotics” means that the animals were never fed antibiotics.
Certified by a third party agency; refers to the kind of animal, the method of slaughter and preparation of the meat. Read more about the process of making kosher meat and Grow and Behold’s kosher supervision here.
Information on hormones and antibiotics in meat
Food Stafety and Inspection Service Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms