PureInsight | August 15, 2005
The USDA has meat-labeling regulations. When shopping for food, you may notice a number of different terms and labels to describe the quality of food. Among them are:
NATURAL: No artificial ingredients or added color, and only minimally processed.
NO HORMONES: The producer has shown sufficient documentation proving no hormones have been used in raising the animals. Hormone use in pork and poultry is not allowed and therefore not advertised on the packaging, but producers can say, "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."
NO ANTIBIOTICS: "No antibiotics added" may be used on red meat and poultry packaging if producers can provide the documentation proving their claim.
FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING: All this means is that the animal has been allowed access to the outside. There is no time requirement.
ORGANIC meat, poultry, eggs and dairy: Products "produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones."
Just because food is labeled free range or organic does not necessarily mean that the meat you are buying is from a well-managed farm. When shopping for food, the best way to ensure quality is by knowing the farmer and asking the right questions. These days this is much easier, since many farms have websites where you can get the answers. You can also go to your local farmers' market and ask the farmers there.
Denise Warren of Stone & Thistle Farm recommends asking if the animals eat organic grain, and if it is their primary food source. The cow's natural diet is grass. If the meat comes from a grain-fed cow, the balance of its essential fatty acids is disrupted, causing it to be less healthy and making the quality of the meat go down. For example, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is about 15:1 in grain-fed beef, whereas the ratio in pasture-fed beef is about 2:1. A Western diet tends to be too high in omega-6s and lacking in omega-3s. A more thorough discussion of this topic may be found at http://www.pureinsight.org/pi/articles/2005/8/8/3205.html.
Ask farmers how many days of the year their animals spend outside. The standard for free range or free roaming is very low. All it means is that the animal has had access to the outdoors.
Ask farmers if they de-worm their animals. They should not have to if they are managing their grazing fields well. If their animals are continually grazing in the same pasture, they will end up getting worms, but if the farm has a rotation system or has their chickens roaming on the pasture to eat the worms, then they can avoid the use of "Ivomec," a powerful de-wormer.
When we eat food from truly organic farms, then we will help protect the environment from further damage.