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Reading Labels: Meat and Poultry

Posted Mar 01 2011 8:00am

As a cook with a conscience, I keep evolving.

I like meat, but I want to know how the animals have been treated before cooking with them. My friends and family have a hard time understanding why I eat the way I do, but in the back of my mind, I know it’s the right thing to do. It makes me proud to know I am doing the right thing ethically, but it also comforts my soul in knowing that I am feeding my body the highest quality ingredients that I possibly can.

One of the most common emails that I receive on a weekly basis is from people looking for advice on how to choose sustainable and ethically raised meat and poultry.

1. When possible, buy meat from local farmers.

But first, find out how the animals are grazed, fed, and treated, because these factors affect the quality of meat that you eat.

2. Fortunately, Organic certification standards exist for meat and poultry products.


For farmers and ranchers to receive these certifications, their animals must graze on organic fields and eat 100% organic diets.  The animals must be raised from birth without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. When shopping for meat or poultry products, look for the USDA Organic Seal.

If these products are not available, your next best choice is to find meat that comes from animals that are ethically raised and free of added growth hormones and antibiotics. It should be prominently displayed on the package, but if you have questions, be sure to ask your butcher. You should ask how the animal is fed, raised, aged, and butchered.

3. The term natural indicates how the animal was raised.

Naturally raised meat and poultry comes from animals that have been raised from birth without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. There should also not be any animal byproducts in the animals feed.

4. Grass fed is a term used to signify livestock that have been raised from birth on a grass and/or forage diet.

In other words, grass fed livestock do not consume grains as part of their diet. Since the term “grass fed” only refers to the animals diet, it does not necessarily mean that the meat qualifies as natural or organic.

5. The term free range or cage free applies to chickens and in theory means something good for them.

However, the designation of “free range”  only means that a bird has spent a minimum of two and a half hours outside of its pen. It does not guarantee that the bird was organically or naturally raised or that it was humanely treated.

ASK QUESTIONS! Do not settle for something that doesn’t meet your standards!

6. Pasture raised refers to animals raised on open land, with space to graze and natural grasses to feed on.

These animals may spend time in corrals or enclosures, but they spend most of their lives in a natural environment.

So what do I buy?

Personally, I only buy grass fed beef. I’ve learned that if a rancher is putting putting enough effort into assuring that his cattle are on a strict diet of natural grasses, it is doubtful he is going to administer antibiotics or hormones to his animals. I buy my grass fed beef from the Whole Foods in Birmingham, AL and I know for a fact that they get their grass fed beef from White Oak Pastures .

How do I know?

I ask questions. When you are buying your meat and poultry, I highly suggest you do the same thing.

As for poultry, I normally buy organic or local from Whole Foods. I don’t really eat a lot of chicken, so paying a little bit more doesn’t bother me.

If you’re worried about the cost of buying quality meat and poultry, simply eat less of it. You don’t need to be eating meat everyday! By simply cutting down on your meat consumption, you’re going to cut down your grocery bill as well.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me !

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