Meat labeling: Organic, all natural, hormone free?

Maneuvering through the grocery store now a days can be challenging when trying to make good decisions about the foods you are buying. Is it worth the splurge on organic apples versus regular apples?  Or what about the non GMO cotton candy grapes? Organic meat vs all natural meat? Though it is wonderful there are so many options at the grocery store, it can be a little overwhelming if you are not informed about what the different labels on foods mean. We recently touched on how misleading certain health claims can be with our post on nutrition labels. Today specifically I wanted to talk about meat and the different health claims you can find on meat products.

The USDA is the government agency that is responsible for meat labeling and according to their website, there are 19 different labeling terms that can be used on meat products sold in the US!


The most widely available type of meat is “conventionally” raised meat. This means animals can be treated with antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals. There are no stipulations on living conditions for the animal. There is not a special label for this type of meat, though unless otherwise labeled, it is likely to be considered conventionally raised.

The following are synopses of definitions from the USDA website.

  • All Natural: contains no artificial ingredients or added colors, minimal processing.
  • Certified:  The USDA Food safety inspection team has evaluated meat products for class, grade or other quality characteristics
  • Free Range: animal was given access to outside
  • Fresh:  product has never been at temperature below 26 degrees F
  • No Hormones (beef only): No hormones have been used in raising of the animal
    • Hormones are prohibited by the USDA in all poultry and pork. The label “no hormones” is not allowed on these products.
  • No antibiotics (beef and poultry): No antibiotics have been used in raising on the animal
  • Grass Fed (beef): grass and forage in primary food source for lifetime of the animal (except milk when weaning from mother). Grain sources of food are not permitted. Animal can be fed vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • Organic: Animal is fed organic feed, no antibiotics, hormones etc, though may be supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Must also have access to outside

So what should you be buying? This is a personal decision that you must make based on your beliefs, health concerns and budget. In a perfect world, buying all organic meat or grass fed beef would be ideal, though this comes at an increased cost and is not always an option.

I am often asked what foods it is worth it to buy organic and what foods you can get by with conventional. Personally, I would rank the importance of organic foods as follows: meat, dairy, produce. I almost always buy organic meats, milk and yogurt. As far as produce, I try to stick to buying the Dirty Dozen organic, and the Clean Fifteen  conventional. This does not always happen, though these are the “rules” I try to stick with.


Another way to save money is to shop what is on sale. Often times, certain types of organic meats will be on sale and are close to the price of the conventionally raised meat. If you happen to find a great deal on a certain type of organic meat, stock up and freeze some. You can do the same with some produce, like summer berries at the end of the season. Eating healthy does take advance preparation and planning, though the argument that eating healthy is too expensive is not necessarily true!

Talk to us: Do you buy organic? 




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