Thursday, April 12, 2012

And Now For Something Entirely Dull

Oh but my last post was fun wasn't it? And so many of you just jumped right on that "follow me-follow you" bus did you not? The one who benefited most of course was me with seven new followers in just a couple days. So a great big Midlife Farmwife welcome to...oh you know who you are. Just THANKS for joining.

But life can't be a barrel full of junkies all the time can it? (I'm talking blog junkies, relax)
Some of us have to work for a living. Last night for example, at a farmers group meeting we belong to,  I worked myself into a real bind again by opening my mouth and volunteering (why can't I SHUT UP!!?!) to do a list explaining the difference between all the crazy meat labels floating around in the US.

So since I had to do it anyway I am sharing it with you . (Hmmm, I'm working myself right back down that follower number aren't I?)

Still here ? Good. Then after reading would love to know what's going on in your area/county/state/country as far as goofy labels seen on meat products in the store. In fact, maybe later I'll do my own interpretation of these labels. Could be a hoot.     Thanks so much.

Common Meat Label Jargon

Real vs. Hype

All Natural          Applies only to processing and indicates that no artificial or synthetic products have been added. The legal definition does not have anything to do with how the animal was raised. “Natural” feed may or may not have antibiotics or other additives.

Beyond Organic                              A fabricated term that is not substantiated by any certifying group. Farmers who use the term often state they meet the organic standards (as they perceive them) but are not currently certified organic. If used on meat labels may be subject to fine by the NOP (National Organic Program)

Cage Free            Term not substantiated by any certifying agency. Implies animals (often poultry) are raised outside of cages. Animals may or may not still be raised in very crowded indoor conditions just without individual cages.

Free-Range         Another term not substantiated by a certifying agency. Implies animal is outside but does not indicate in what conditions (pasture? Dirt lot?) or for what time frame each day.

Grass Fed            Currently a voluntary situation. Any farmer can call his meat” grass fed” Two agencies do certify grass fed farmers. USDA grass fed is least stringent, requires that beef animal is forage/grass/pasture raised its entire life, no grain but allows antibiotics, hormone and pesticide treatments. The American Grass Fed Association (AGA) is stricter. Same as USDA but in addition: PROHIBITS antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.

Heritage              Animal Considered being a rare and endangered livestock. A purebred animal. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) responsible for majority of Heritage Breed Registrations, Breed identifications and public education.

Humanely Raised             Third parties such as the Animal Welfare Association and Humane Farmed exist to audit or certify farms. The label wars against overcrowding, early weaning, and denying access to pasture to name a few.

Local                    No legal definition. Implies the farm or producer lives within 50 miles of the consumer. Some Chicago area restaurants consider Livingston County products as “local”

Natural                               See All Natural definition above.

No Hormones Added      Generally another marketing scheme as it is illegal to use hormones in the raising of poultry and hogs in the US anyway. Still allowed for beef production.

Non-Confined   Implies animals are not in a feed lot situation however some farmers feel as long as their animal is not in an individual cage they are “non-confined”

Organic                The most controversial and highly regulated agricultural term to date. Through the USDA, the National Organic Program (NOP)  regulates, inspects and certifies farms, businesses and their products. The organic standards number over 200 and must be met during annual inspections in order for a farmer or his meat to be labeled “organic” or “certified organic” Most well-known standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides or anthelmintics (worming agents). Instead, only approved organic treatments may be given to livestock.  All meat products must also be processed in an approved Certified Organic Locker in order to use the organic label. Uncertified farmers who label their products as organic are subject to fines and penalties.

Pasture-Raised                 Again, can be a nebulous term. Not regulated by a certifying agency. Implies the animal is raised outside on grass a large majority of its life. The organic standard for time on pasture is 120 days per year minimum.

Sustainable        Most widely used term in farming today. Not regulated by animal agency and therefore any farmer can use however the legal definition by the USDA for “Sustainable Agriculture” means

An integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

NOTE: This list was compiled for educational purposes only and should by no means be considered a complete or legally  accurate document. The individual farmer is responsible for contacting their county, state and federal  agencies for specific laws as they relate to the labeling of meat products. The author suggests starting with the USDA department of Agriculture

                                                                                                         Donna O’Shaughnessy    4/12/12

                                                                                                         South Pork Ranch

                                                                                                         Chatsworth, Illinois

                                                                                                         Farmer Member Stewards of The Land


  1. Yowza! And I thought soap labeling was misleading! Sorry to say that I'm not surprised that confusion, misleading labels and dare I say "intentional deception of consumers" is not unique to one industry. So sad that integrity seems to have fallen by the wayside. Thanks for the great post -it really is eye-opening Donna! :)

  2. Your post was anything but dull! I'm looking at an egg carton from Niman Ranch that says "All Natural CAGE FREE Grade A Large Brown Eggs from Vegetarian Fed Hens. Fresh from U.S. Family Farms committed to Sustainable & Humane Raising Practices."
    {They feed their hens vegetarians?} The label also has the Kosher symbol. How is a Kosher egg different from a non-Kosher one? It also states that their eggs are 25% less saturated fat than regular eggs. My question is, which labels are the ones that really mean something?

  3. Your posts are always so good... and how can you tell an egg is 25% LESS FAT than a "regular" egg?

  4. Best thing to do is know your farmer.. Then you can SEE if the label applies.. OR Raise your own.. That's what I am working towards. I know not everyone can do that but a lot of people could... My only problem is reading my writing after scribbling on packages or jar lids late at night after processing meat or what ever all day....

  5. Oh and Mary Ann We call banty eggs Weight watchers because they are small...Lol So maybe that's how they do it an egg 25% smaller than normal has to be 25% less fat right?...

  6. I label all my vegetables 'Sweat Induced'; not that I sell them.

  7. Oooh, good on the new follower thing ;)

    Next--I think this is a great post for The Renegade Farmer (*hinthint*)since a couple of posters already emailed asking about what's in their food, and this would most likely help them (I'm doing another post on GMO, chemicals, etc etc NOT on the labels (can we hear "pink slime"...Yikes!).

  8. Hi Donna! I so enjoy your witty blog and have thus nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award ♥

  9. Seen on a packet of bull's testicles in Texas:

    'Warning. May contain nuts'.

  10. Great list and far from dull. I wrote about "organic" food companies last week. I thought I might lose a few but it was a hit!

  11. The label tatooed on my ass would read: Humanely raised; cage free.

  12. Well done, Donna! Very well written and well worth the read!