Getting a grasp on meat labels

 Resize text         Printer-friendly version of this article Printer-friendly version of this article

Spend any amount of time in a grocery store and you’ll see foods labeled in separate categories. Organic, all-natural, naturally raised, grass-fed and grain-fed labels supply shelves and meat counters.

While each one of these categories has its own market, confusion can occur on what defines qualifications for the label.


“Organically labeled meat means that the animal’s diet can consist of any grain or forage product as long as those feed items are certified organic,” says University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator Lindsay Chichester. “This program is the most strict with the most guidelines, and is governed by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP).”

According to the most recent Organic Market Overview, this niche market is gaining steam in sales and now takes up more than 3 percent of U.S. food sales.

For a meat product to qualify as certified organic, livestock must live an antibiotic and hormone-free life (all food naturally contains hormones, this refers to administered). In addition, feed resources are also regulated.

“To be certified organic, a grain or forage resource must not have had synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation applied, and/or had genetically engineered products produced on that ground in three or more years,” she says.

Something that has potential to confuse consumers is that organic only certifies the livestock’s feed resources, not the finished product. This means that colorant products can be added to the meat during processing.

Chichester is also quick to point out that there is no research confirming organic foods are healthier than conventionally raised foods. Because of lack of preservative use, organically grown products have the possibility of increased contamination of bacteria, parasite and pathogens.

“However, people who may have food allergies, chemical allergies, or intolerance to preservatives may prefer organic food products,” she says. “Additionally, organically produced strawberries, corn, and marionberries may be higher in antioxidants than the conventionally raised form.”


“Meat, poultry, and eggs that carry the “natural” label cannot be altered during processing; this would include the addition of artificial ingredients (spices, marinades, sauces, etc.), the addition of colorants, the additional of chemical preservatives, making the meat minimally processed,” says Chichester.

Contrary to organic, livestock qualifying as all-natural do not have dietary restrictions and can be administered growth hormones and antibiotics.

“Again, it is a common myth the animals cannot receive growth hormones or antibiotics,” she says. “This is false, each individual producer can decide if their animals can/need to receive growth hormones and/or antibiotics.”

Naturally raised and Never Ever 3

Just a few years ago, grocery stores carried meat with “Naturally raised” labels. While that is no longer the case, consumers will see products labeled “Never Ever 3.”

The “Never Ever 3” label was adopted for meat that was raised with no antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by-products. The Never Ever 3 certification program does not ensure that meat is minimally processed with no artificial ingredients or colorants.

Click here to see Chichester’s full article.

Click here to review USDA's Never Ever 3 guidelines.

Prev 1 2 Next All

Comments (3) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

davis  |  March, 12, 2014 at 07:55 AM

How can I tell if it is HALAL? I DO NOT WANT to buy Halal slaughtered meat.

SD  |  March, 14, 2014 at 07:10 PM

Isn't it true that under USDA rules, beef cannot contain residues of anything, including antibiotics which may have been used on the animal? That would seem to be th reasoning behind the rules requiring specific time periods between ending antibiotic use and the processing of any animal having received antibiotics during its life.

March, 18, 2014 at 08:39 AM

What those labels really mean: "Organic" = twice or three times the normal price "Natural" = half again to twice the normal price "Naturally raised blah blah blah" = means absolutely nothing, nothing at all Otherwise no way to distinguish these from normal meats. These labels are vital to inform people who do not understand the value of anything and who prefer to be seen overpaying for things they buy. Snob appeal. That's what's being talked about here.

AG10 Series Silage Defacers

Loosen silage while maintaining a smooth, compacted bunker space resulting in better feed and less waste. This unique tool pierces, ... Read More

View all Products in this segment

View All Buyers Guides

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight