Read labels carefully to avoid factory-farmed meat

Published 10:00 pm Monday, December 5, 2016

Have you ever wondered how to identify factory-farmed meat when shopping at the grocery store? Like what kind of labels to look for, which brands to avoid, and so on?

Meat and dairy companies often use pictures of grassy farms and terms like “Natural,” “Humanely Raised,” and “Cage Free” on their packaging. But what that can really mean is creative marketing versus the types of meats and dairy you are trying to avoid. Meat with unverified labels such as these below could have been (and likely was) raised on a factory farm and is not usually the best choice:

Natural: No artificial ingredients or added color and it’s only minimally processed. May still have been given hormones, antibiotics, drugs, and raised on GMOs in a factory farm.

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Humanely Raised or Raised in a Humane Environment: The term “humane” is not properly regulated and there are no USDA standards.

No Added Hormones: No hormones were given during the animal’s lifetime, but they may have still been given antibiotics or other growth promoting drugs. This is a common label on poultry and pork, but it means nothing because the USDA does not allow hormones to be administered to poultry or pork anyway!

Raised Without Antibiotics: No antibiotics were given during the animal’s lifetime. May have still been administered hormones (if not poultry or pork) or other growth-promoting drugs such as ractopamine in turkey, and may have been fed GMOs on a factory farm.

Vegetarian Fed: Not fed any animal products. May have been fed grains, GMOs, antibiotics, or given growth hormones.

Free Range: Animals had access to the outdoors, but it is possible that they never stepped outside. May have still been administered hormones, antibiotics, or other growth-promoting drugs such as ractopamine, and may have been fed GMOs on a factory farm.

“Cage Free” on poultry: This label on poultry is misleading because only chickens raised for eggs are typically caged.

Grass Fed: Unless third party certified, this term is not properly regulated and the USDA allows this term to be used on factory-farmed meat. May have still been administered hormones, antibiotics, or other growth-promoting drugs such as ractopamine.

When shopping for meat and dairy in the grocery store, look for labels that are meaningful and third party certified which tell you much more about how the livestock was raised. Look for these labels to avoid factory-farmed meat:

Animal Welfare Approved: This third party certified label ensures that the animals were raised on sustainable pasture-based family farms where animals are treated humanely.

American Grassfed Certified: A third party certifying program that ensures meat and dairy comes only from animals that ate nothing but their mother’s milk and grass their whole lives, and that they didn’t come from a feedlot. No hormones or antibiotics are permitted.

Global Animal Partnership (Only steps 4, 5 and 5+):  A 5-step animal welfare rating program that outlines specifics on how animals are cared for and raised. Steps 4, 5, and 5+ require access to pasture.

USDA Certified Organic: This will help you avoid the worst factory-farmed meat, with exceptions. Sadly, organic meat may be raised in factory farm conditions and this label does not ensure they were raised much more humanely than conventional animals. Growth promoting drugs, hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs are prohibited from their food, and they are fed only organic food. They also must be given access to the outdoors.

If you are looking for meats where you can know their raising practices, it helps to obtain meat directly from local farms or sources. One of the best ways to do this is to connect directly with the farmer on their farms, through farmers markets, in local only markets or use subscription-based Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) to purchase organic and grassfed meat.