August 25, 2011

Food Labels: Meats

Organic vs. Humane vs. Grass Fed. What does it all mean?

Jessica: Do you know what grass fed means?

Matt: I don’t think it means specifically out in a field, but it just means that they’re not being fed rocks or some kind of artificial junk.

Jessica: Do you know what free-range means?

Katherine: I don’t know what free-range means. I’m not exactly sure.

Will: I’ve never heard of that term, actually. I’ve never heard of free-range.

Jessica: What is humane farming?

Marissa: Maybe less pesticides? Maybe less killing? I actually don’t know that.

Jessica: I was a little confused myself. So, I decided to check out Simple Grazing, a humane farm in New Jersey and get the lowdown on all these labels.

This is Taylor, and his family owns the farm Simply Grazing. And he is going to show us around.

Taylor: Alright. Let’s go!

Jessica: So, Taylor, what is a humane farm?

Taylor: Well, this is a humane farm. A humane farm is where you treat all your animals with respect and dignity that they deserve. You don’t torment the animals, you don’t hurt them, you do everything in the best interest for the animals.

Jessica: Conditions that set them apart from many factory farms. Take a look at this undercover video where hens are stacked in dark, dirty warehouses. These are quote ‘broiler chickens,’ fed so much food so quickly that their legs can’t support their bodies. But humane farms like this one set standards that include having enough shelter, space to move around naturally, and gentle handling.

So that is humane farming. What about some of those other labels? ‘Free range.’ It makes you think of animals running around out in the open, but actually by law it only means the animals have access to the outdoors. That could be a small opening at the end of a long barn. And they may never use it.

Tens of thousands of chicken are not going to rush out of the door. They are all going to cluck at one another and then you can close the door after five minutes and you can legally then call all those chickens free range.

‘Organic,’ on the other hand, is regulated. It is government certified and means the animals are never given hormones or antibiotic medicines, and are fed a strict organic diet, meaning foods that are grown without artificial things like chemicals.

‘Grass fed.’ Grass is the natural food for cows. But unless the label says 100% grass fed, the cows are likely fattened up with grain, which may contain antibiotics.

Why is that good for a cow to be grass fed?

Taylor: It’s good for a cow because grass is what cows are supposed to be raised on. They’re not supposed to be raised on corn or grain, which is what most conventional farmers do. And you know, they put the weight on but it’s not good for the cow because the cow can’t digest corn. Basically, the cows are grazing on what they’re intended to graze on. Grass is 100%  what they’re supposed to be eating, and that’s what we give them. And they love it.

As for ‘natural,’ it only means no artificial colors or preservatives were added to the meat in the package. It doesn’t factor in how the animal was raised.

Farmers raise 10 billion animals for food each year. and so far, less than 1%  are in the Certified Humane Program. Now, the government says there is no evidence that the meat from regular farms is bad for you. And so far, there is no research that says eating meat from humane farms or organic farms have a big impact on your health.

With more choices than ever, the trick is figuring out which ones matter to you.


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