Meat and poultry labels are confusing these days. What does “Natural” on that package of chicken breast mean? Why does “Certified Organic” cost so much? What’s a meat-eater to do? Our green guide to meat and poultry will help you make choices that are best for you.
Organic standards prohibit all use of antibiotics and hormones. (Hormone use in poultry and pork production—even conventional—has been banned since 1959.) All feed is vegetarian and certified organic—including pastureland—which means that it is not treated with pesticides or herbicides and cannot be genetically modified. Animals have access to pastureland, sunlight and enough land for exercise, and grazing is done in a manner that does not degrade the land through erosion or contamination. Animal cloning is forbidden.
Health benefits: Since USDA-certified organic labeling requires that animals be traced from birth to slaughter (including feed sources and medications), problems related to animal diseases and human foodborne illness can be easily traced to the source.
Eco-benefits: Organic standards ban the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, which leach into groundwater and ultimately end up in public water supplies.
Is it regulated? The USDA regulates the Certified Organic standard and independent agencies conduct farm inspections.
Keep in mind: Organic doesn’t necessarily mean grass-fed; however, certified organic livestock generally graze on open-range land three to six months longer than conventionally raised livestock to reach market size.
This label guarantees that animals have freedom to move and prohibits crates and tie-downs in stalls, as well as artificial means to induce growth, such as continuous barn lights for broiler chickens.
Eco-benefits: Certified Humane prohibits the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, two factors in groundwater pollution.
Is it regulated? Yes. Certified Humane standards are endorsed by several animal-rights organizations, including the ASPCA and the Humane Society. Producers are audited by third-party groups.
Keep in mind: This label does not mean animals are certified organic.
No additives or preservatives were introduced after the meat or poultry was processed. (Certain sodium-based broths can be added to poultry and pork labeled “natural.”) This term does not ensure organic feed. The term “natural” is often confused with “naturally raised,” a voluntary claim established by the USDA that means the animals were not given antibiotics and/or growth hormones.
Health benefits: Natural meats have no nitrites or nitrates, preservatives that have been linked in some children and women to various types of cancer.
Eco-benefits: “Natural” has no substantial environmental benefit.
Is it regulated? It is a term defined by the USDA but not regulated.
Keep in mind: “Natural” alone says nothing about how an animal was raised.