Organic Meat? Grass Fed Meat? Hormone Free Meat? Can We Just Have Meat?

If you’re a conscientious shopper, you’re already hip to the fact that what you might see at the butcher’s counter is confusing, to say the least, and I’m not referring to deciphering what cuts come from which parts of an animal.

I’m talking labeling on meat.

What does it mean and can we trust it?

What if it’s a choice between organic, grass-fed, hormone- free and no antibiotics?  Is an organic, but grain finished cut of beef a better option than a grass-fed and grass-finished cut?


And, might I share, I’m still learning this, too, courtesy of a few small farmers with whom I do business.

First of all, I’m not that keen on giving it all up to the USDA and trusting what they say blindly; far from it.  I’ve  been told by several independent farmers who stand behind their 100% grass fed product that just having the stamp of USDA Organic is not enough for one to choose that particular piece of meat.

Some things to consider:

  • USDA Organic meat comes from animals fed 100% organic feed with no by-products, antibiotics or growth hormone, but not only does that mean that the feed could be grain based, there are also no standards in place to assure the consumer that their meat came from humanely treated animals, or humanely-treated workers.  In addition, there’s no telling whether the animals were able to forage outside.
  • Grass Fed conveys that the animal only ever ate grass but how do we do whether it was grain finished?  Unless there’s a stamp from the American Grassfed Association, the tag ‘grass fed’ doesn’t mean that antibiotics  and hormones were not used.  The USDA has a stamp which reads ‘USDA Process Verified/US Grass Fed’ which signifies that they’ve verified a product as being grass fed, but what about the drugs used?
  • No Antibiotics means the animal was not given antibiotics…when it was alive, but it doesn’t mean that hormones were not used in production.
  • Certified Humane means that a third party with strict guidelines assesses food, shelter and slaughter, but doesn’t consider hormones or the animal’s ability to forage.
Worse yet, there are even more confusing statements to add the list when you go into fish and poultry labeling!
So how on earth do we know what and where to get our protein?
Honestly, as close as you can get to the source, the better you’re going to be.
No, I am not a hunter myself (although I do want to learn), so I’d say the next best thing is to get to know your local vendors, and get to know them well.  I’ve written before about going to the farmer’s market and speaking directly with the fisherman who caught the salmon I’m about to buy, or the rancher who hunted the rabbit I’m planning on using in that night’s stew.  I trust those individuals, whose livelihood and entire business is about selling high quality, natural product to the public over the grotesque mega-companies whose interests lie elsewhere…like in their wallets.