Meaty Choices - Page 4
LABEL LINGO: Food packages are blooming with label claims that are designed to pull at your green strings. But a number of industry-pandering loopholes often water them down. Here’s what those claims on animal products really mean.
USDA Organic. Organic meat, eggs and dairy products come from animals fed 100-percent organic feed containing no animal by-products, antibiotics or growth hormones. Unfortunately, the certification lacks any real teeth regarding animal welfare or safe working conditions. Plus, cattle and poultry may or may not have been allowed to forage outdoors.
Certified Humane. A third-party organization sets rigorous standards addressing food, shelter and compassionate slaughter. It does not guarantee either access to the outdoors or the absence of drug use.
Hormone-Free. The FDA allows hormones to be pumped into cattle to spur growth and milk production, so the Hormone-Free label is just that. Hormones are not allowed in poultry and pork, so a “hormone-free” claim is irrelevant.
No Antibiotics. Used on labels for poultry and meat products if the animals were raised without antibiotics, but is not a guarantee against hormone use in beef production.
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Sustainable. Canned fish, fish fillets and other seafood products bearing the third-party MSC seal is your assurance that the swimmers come from abundant, well-managed stocks (e.g., wild Alaskan salmon) and are harvested without using ocean killing methods (e.g., no bottom trawling allowed). The certification does not assure your catch of the day is free of contaminants such as PCBs and mercury.
Grass-Fed. The claim means that animals such as beef and lamb were raised on a lifetime diet of 100-percent grass and forage with access to pasture during most of the growing season. Except for certification from the American Grassfed Association, the standard does not exclude the use of antibiotics and hormones. The USDA has verified only products with the “USDA Process Verified” shield along with the claim, “U.S. Grass-fed.”
Free-Range. Producers are free to use this sunny logo if their animals have access to the outdoors, but the ease of this access and the amount of time they actually spend in the sunshine is unregulated. And “range” can mean anything from a large grassy field to a narrow pathway between barns to a small concrete slab. “Cage-free” means just that, the birds live outside of cages but this often means marginally better wing-to-wing crowding in a shed.
rBGH-Free. These products are from cattle not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is used to increase milk production. Buying organic dairy products is another way to avoid rBGH.