Wherever you shop, you have to rely on meat labels if you want to eat humanely. Here are 5 commonly-found meat labels that say something about how the animals were raised.
Keep in mind that the first 3 labels can vary in their meaning — you’ll need a bit more information. However, these labels are a good starting point for learning more about a farm or food company, because they indicate that an alternative to standard factory farming was used.
A Humane Guide to Meat Labels
What about “humanely raised”?
Farmers and food companies might use the term “humanely raised” to make their products sound appealing, but as noted elsewhere on this site, there is no generally accepted definition of “humanely raised,” nor is there any governmental regulation of that term. Even a standard factory farm could use “humanely raised” on their products. Try to ignore this buzzword and seek out products with one of the 5 labels above.
What about “cage-free”?
The cage-free label is only used on eggs. When you see this phrase on a meat product, it doesn’t mean anything because in America meat animals aren’t raised in cages.
What about “local” or “locally raised”?
“Local” simply refers to food that is grown or raised within the state or region in which it’s being sold (or within a 100-mile or 250-mile radius). “Local” offers no information about how the animals were raised.
If you want to know more…
See Behind the labels to learn about label enforcement and accountability. Also, the Animal Welfare Approved program has a guide to meat labels (.pdf) that is quite comprehensive and discusses more obscure labels, such as heritage breed and biodynamic.
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Like politicians and personal ads, some meat labels can't be trusted. The following labels offer no insight into an animal's living conditions:
Natural: This means the meat has no artificial coloring, flavoring, chemical preservatives, or artifical or synthetic ingredients. Nothing to say about the animals.
Naturally-raised: These animals didn't receive antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed containing animal by-products. While such things can be harmful to animals (and people), this label says nothing about animals' living conditions.
Antibiotic-free/No added hormones: Industrial farms use antibiotics and hormones to prevent illness and promote rapid animal growth. Unfortunately, there's evidence that this is encouraging the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans. But this label says nothing about animals' living conditions.
Farm fresh: By definition, a farm is "a tract of land where plants or animals are raised." But factory farms - where animals never touch land or see the sun - are unfortunately called "farms," too. Don't be fooled by pretty farm fresh labels!