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The Truth Behind Meat Labels June 9, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Food & Drink, Health & Wellness.

If you’re a carnivore, omnivore, or anything other than a herbivore, you should read The Truth Behind Meat Labels published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Greentips (May 2010).

A few facts culled from the article:

* Food animals raised in crowded CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) are fed grain grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

* To promote faster growth and compensate for unhealthy conditions, CAFOs add antibiotics to animal feed ~ accounting for about 70 percent of all antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States!

Read that again . . . 70% of all antibiotics and related drugs used in the US are fed to animals due to the unhealthy conditions in which they are raised.

This reliance on antibiotics to keep animals alive leads to the development of antibiotic-resistant diseases that are difficult and expensive to treat.

Labels on meat products can be deceiving:

Certified OrganicThis label, regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and verified by independent auditors, indicates that animals were raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and given only certified organic feed (i.e., grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides).

Livestock must also have year-round access to the outdoors and be on pasture at least 120 days, and a certain minimum percentage of their food must come from pasture.

Grass-fedThe “USDA Process Verified Grass Fed” label indicates that cattle and other ruminant animals were fed only grass, hay, and other forages and had continuous access to the outdoors during the growing season. 

CAUTION:  A “grass-fed” label that does not include the words “USDA Process Verified” means the producer’s claim was not verified by the USDA through on-site inspection.

No Antibiotics/Raised without Antibiotics. Indicates that animals never received antibiotics.  Meat from animals that received antibiotic treatment for illness cannot be sold with this label.

CAUTION:  This claim is approved by the USDA based on documentation provided by the producer, not by on-site inspection.

Other labels considered “truthful” by the USDA can be misleading to consumers:

Vegetarian Feed Indicates that animals were not fed animal by-products. However, meat from cattle fed an unnatural grain-based diet could also receive this label.

Free-Range/Free-Roaming. Indicates that poultry had access to the outdoors ~ but does not guarantee that they actually ventured outside or had access to pasture. 

For more information:  Labeling on Egg Cartons (HSUS)

Natural/All-Natural. These labels pertain to meat processing, not how the animals were raised.  Some producers use labels like “naturally raised” to refer to how they raised their animals, but these are approved on a case-by-case basis and are not subject to a consistent USDA standard.

To improve your health, and reduce the demand for inhumanely raised animals (cows, pigs, sheep, and chicken):

Tip #1:  Become a vegetarian or vegan.  Visit the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) for delicious and healthy menu ideas and recipes.

Order a Vegetarian Starter Kit (or view on-line) at: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

Download a Guide to Vegetarian Eating (PDF file) from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Tip #2:  If you must eat meat, reduce your consumption  to avoid ingesting chemicals, pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics at every meal.

Tip #3: Purchase meat produced in the most sustainable manner you can find and afford.  As indicated, the best choice is Certified Organic.

Tip #4: Buy meat from local farmers so you can ask about their practices and observe their operations.  This keeps money in your local economy and away from huge conglomerates (e.g., Perdue, Hillshire Farms, and Tyson).

Related posts:  Become A Voice of Compassion * A Trip to the Farmer’s Market * Join a C.S.A. * Got Milk?  Toss It Out!Go HSUS!  * All The Gory Details * Top Ten List ~ Vegetarian * Gradual Change


1. beachblogger - June 10, 2010

I eat meat occasionally but only free range … and I don’t touch chicken, (the so-called healthy alternative … I love the way people say they eat chicken as though it’s a health move), or pork because of the inhumane way they’re raised.

It’s ironic that the ‘grain fed’ label which is supposedly so prestigious indicates an animal which will produce unhealthy meat … and I find it terribly sad that animals are condemned to living unhappy lives to overfeed people with meat. We just don’t need that much.

thanks for posting …

nrhatch - June 10, 2010

Thanks, beachblogger

Making the transition to vegetarianism was easy for me ~ since I’d never really liked beef or steak.

Eliminating chicken was aided by the fact that (while practicing law) I’d toured the inside of a chicken production house (ankle deep in manure) and I’d visited a chicken processing plant (the smell of death was horrific) for cases I was working on.

I’m having a tougher time going vegan.

We don’t eat eggs, just use them in baking ~ about 2-3 dozen a year. We don’t drink milk, just use soy milk. But I need to find ~ I have some leads ~ good substitutes for cheese, butter, and ice cream.

I think that buying organic meat and dairy is a good way (not a perfect way) to increase the odds that the animals were raised in a sustainable manner.

Animals that are crowded together in inhumane conditions would die without their daily dose of antibiotics ~ “organic” means “no antibiotics” which means the animals probably had some room to roam.

I long to return to the days where cows roamed the fields, chickens pecked in barnyards, and pigs rolled around in mud.

Factory cages are inhumane to animals and unhealthy for consumers.

Vegetarians = compassion in action.

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