How to Read Meat Labels
Written by Michelle Stern, author of What’s Cooking with Kids
First thing’s first – let’s not confuse Natural with Organic.
We’d hope that naturally produced foods were organic, but officially that is not so. We talked about natural products with chicken above. But what does Organic Food Production mean?
The USDA defines the national organic program as one that “is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
Organic meat is meat that is raised according to the National Organic Standards which means that:
- All ingredients must be 100% organically produced. No chemicals were used, unless the animal needs to be treated. That animal must, by law, be sold to the conventional food market and never be labeled as organic.
- 100% organic feed is required (the food was produced with no herbicides, pesticides, or petroleum based fertilizers)
- No added growth hormones are allowed
- No genetically modified feeds are allowed
- No animal by-products of any form allowed in feed
- No antibiotics are allowed. If antibiotics are used to treat a sick animal, then that animal is marketed through conventional channels and is not sold as organic.
- Restrictions on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers
- No genetic engineering methods, ionizing radiation or sewage sludge for fertilization
- No synthetic chemicals, artificial preservatives or harmful additives such as sodium nitrite allowed in processing
- Annual inspection of producers and processors required for maintaining certification
- Third party assessment required
While some people may shy away from buying organic because of a “crunchy or hippy” stigma, there are a few key points to remember: When chemicals are used in farming to control insects and weeds, they leach into the soil, air, water and into the farmers growing the food. Organic farming protects growers, food consumers, and the physical environment from any such chemicals. This provides an immediate benefit and a long-term one. And it is clear from our obese nation that people are not typically thinking long-term…and we should.
Organic foods tend to cost more than conventional foods because they meet stricter guidelines and undergo testing and evaluation. They tend to be more labor intensive, because farmers do not take chemical shortcuts. But the overall cost reflects healthier animals, plants, farmers, and most likely consumers. If the long-term costs of health care and environmental clean-up were factored into “cheap” factory meats, it is likely that they would actually cost more than their organic counterparts.
The big picture:
- Know who grows your food, or at least find a vendor at your local farmer’s market who can tell you about how their animals were raised and what they ate.
- If you can’t know your producer, the next best choice is to look for these labels: Certified Organic AND 100% Pasture Fed and Finished
Michelle Stern is the owner of What’s Cooking with Kids, a certified green mobile cooking school for children, and author of The Whole Family Cookbook – Celebrating the Goodness of Locally Grown Foods. To learn more about meat labels and What’s Cooking With Kids please visit, Michelle’s site.