Green Tip: Sustainable Meat Glossary

Sometimes when shopping for meat at the supermarket, the terms on the packaging can be confusing or vague — “organic” or “free-range” sound great, but what does that really mean? Here is a short glossary of labels that you may encounter in the meat aisle at your local supermarket.

**Glossary of Common Meat Labels**

Cage-Free: Cage-free means the animals were not raised in cages, however, this does not guarantee the livestock was raised on pasture or had access to the outdoors. There is no legal definition for this term.

Free-Range: The FDA defines free-range as animals that have “been allowed access to the outside.” However, this does not necessarily mean that the animals do take advantage of going outside.

Grass-Fed: According the American Grass-fed Association, grass-fed livestock “must be pasture/grass/forage based” which includes any “herbaceous plant material that can be grazed or harvested for feeding, with the exception of grain.” So, besides being fed only plant material excluding grain and grain products, the livestock also must have access to pasture.

Heritage Breed: “Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by farmers in the past, before the drastic reduction of breed variety caused by the rise of industrial agriculture” according to, however, there is no legal definition for this term. Heritage breeds are bred to suit the local environment, and therefore are sick less often and are able to survive without temperature-controlled buildings. Considering that 99% of all turkeys in the United States are Broad-Breasted Whites, choosing a heritage breed is choosing not to support big-business agriculture.

Local: There is no legal definition for this term either, however, the term “locavore” was coined by Jessica Prentice of the San Francisco World Environment Day in 2005, where she defined local as food produced within 100 miles.

Natural: According to the FDA, natural meat “must be minimally processed in a method that does not fundamentally alter the raw product.” Keep in mind this does not mean the animal was not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic: According to the FDA, “Organic does not refer to the food itself, but also how it was produced.” The farming methods used to grow organic food must reduce waste and improve biodiversity. Organic livestock must not be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones and the animals must have access to the outdoors. Organic food must be certified, so always look to make sure the product has a certified organic label.

Pasture-Raised: Basically the same as grass-fed but more clearly states that the animal was raised outdoors on the pasture.

Vegetarian-Feed: Vegetarian feed does not contain animals or animal byproducts. However, this does not mean the animals had access to the pasture or that the animals were not fed grain.


Originally posted on Monday, November 28th, 2011

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