Wellness Wednesday - How to Read Labels on Dairy, Poultry, and Meat Products


Many riders choose to get their protein sources from animal products. The problem is, how to you read those labels? What does “cage free” or “pasture raised” mean, and what does USDA Organic mean? USDA Certified Organic: animals must be fed only organically grown feed (without animal byproducts) and the animals and feed cannot be treated with synthetic hormones or antibiotics.   Animals must have access to the outdoors, and ruminants (hoofed animals) must have access to pasture. Animals cannot be cloned. Cage Free: indicates that the birds are raised without cages but does not describe or require other living conditions. Cage-free eggs could have come from birds raised indoors, in overcrowded conditions and without access to pasture.   The USDA has not developed any standards for this label.

Pasture Raised or Pastured: indicates that animals were raised on pasture, feeding on grass and forage. The USDA has not developed any standards for this label, including how much of its life the animals spent on pasture.

Grass-Fed: The USDA approved this standard that requires the animals must receive 100 percent of their energy from grass or forage and cannot be fed grains such as corn. The standard further requires that animals have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. The label does not tell a consumer whether antibiotics or hormones were used.

Raised without Antibiotics/No Antiobiotics Administered: Indicates that no antibiotics were used over the animal’s lifetime. Does not tell anything about how the animals were fed, or if they had access to pasture.

RBGH-Free/rBST-free: used on dairy products to indicate that synthetic hormones were not given to dairy cattle. Does not disclose what the animals were fed, and if they had access to pasture. 

Raised without added hormones: This is a misleading label when placed on pork or chicken. Federal law prohibits the use of hormones on hogs and poultry. The use of hormone-free labels on pork and chicken intentionally misleads consumers by claiming the product is different and therefore worthy of a higher price.

Naturally Raised: The USDA standards require three elements: the animal be given no growth promoters, no antibiotics, and no food containing animal byproducts.  Missing are the requirements for animal welfare: whether the animals are contained on a factory farm, whether gestation crates are used, and whether the animals have access to pasture.

Free Range: regulated by the USDA for poultry produced for meat, not eggs. The label can be used if the animal had some access to the outdoors each day for some unspecified amount of time (it could be a few minutes). It does not assure that the animal ever actually went outdoors to roam freely. The term “free range” is not regulated for pigs, cattle, or egg-producing chickens.




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