Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Difference Between 'Natural' and 'Organic' Meat

We're all trying to eat better these days. But it can be hard to do with all the labels we see on our food. For example, when you see labels like "natural" on a steak at the grocery store, what does it mean? Anything? If you're not sure, don't know, or just plain confused, you're not alone.

According to an article at the New York Times, "natural" is "probably the most confusing and fungible word in all of food labeling."

In order for meat to get the "natural" label, the only thing the Agriculture Department requires is that it's "minimally processed." That could mean "the animals were not given antibiotics or hormones, that they were not fed rendered animal byproducts and that they lived a happy life outdoors… or it could mean almost nothing," reports the Times.

For a better label, look for "organic." According to the Times report, for meat to be labeled organic, "animals must be raised without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and chemicals used to kill parasites and they must be given feed that has been grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers."

Now, if you're looking for beef that is grass-fed, neither of these labels helps. Nor does a label on meat that says its "grass-fed." As the Times points out, the Agriculture Department is working on standards that would require "grass-fed" to mean cows got 99 percent of their food from grass. But for now, it only means that cows have "access to a pasture," a phrase that can be very loosely interpreted. For example, I have "access" to a lot of parks in the town where I live, but I can't remember the last time I ever went to one.


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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.