meat labels depicting terms used in meat sales,  USDA, Natural, certified, grass fed

Learn about the common terms found on meat labels.

Claims and Definitions

The following terms are commonly used in marketing meat.

Natural - The USDA's definition is only "minimally processed". The term is commonly used on products raised without antibiotics in the feed or hormone implants.

Organic - Certified organic meats require certified organic feed, certain humane treatment of the animals, and the processing must be done at a certified facility. Antibiotics and artificial growth hormones are not allowed.

Grass-fed/pasture raised - Use of these terms varies widely. The USDA defines "grass-fed" as: "grass and/or forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet shall be derived solely from forage and animals cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season." Despite this definition, use of the term may include animals which are fed some grain. In an effort to differentiate from grain-fed products, the term is sometimes prefaced by 100% or "strictly".

Humane/Free range - The definition also varies widely. Some programs offer their own definition as "certified". Generally, these terms imply that the animals have access to the outdoors and are less confined than conventional commercial production.

Certified - Subject to specific protocols and third party inspections. For example, "certified organic" or "certified humane".

Dry-aged - Beef which is stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for 20 or more days. The aging enhances the flavor and tenderness of the beef.

Last updated July 14, 2014