What do these labels mean?

This happens to me every time I go to the grocery store to buy some beef or eggs. I stand there for a good five minutes and debate in my mind between should I buy the one that says free range for $5/lb or the one that says all natural for $6/lb? Which one means that the animals this product came from as living in its natural habitat and eating its normal diet? Food labels can be so confusing. Organic, free-range, all-natrual, 100% natural, farm fresh… what do these terms actually mean?

This video is entertaining but it is actually pretty terrifying wakeup call to consumers to really take a look at what those labels mean.

What do these terms mean


Animals have not been fed any grains or soy. BUT there is an exception, in the winter if the weather is bad these animals can eat grains and soy yet still be called grass-fed. Even with people using grains for a portion of the cows life this is higher quality meat than cows who have been given grains/soy only.

Antibiotic Free:

This one is pretty straight forward and is one that you can count on as being true. This is also one that you should be looking for. Cows are given the bulk of antibiotics used in America because of the subpar living conditions these cows are forced to live in.

USDA Certified Organic:

These animals have access to the outdoors, they are given no antibiotics or hormones, and are fed an organic diet. This does not mean that the beef is grass-fed, it means they were given organic grains/soy unless otherwise stated. The certification to get this stamp approved for your food is extremely costly and that is why most of these foods are highly expensive. Some foods can say organic and not be USDA certified which means they have not paid for the stamp.

Naturally raised:

These animals are not given hormones or antibiotics but this term has no standard on what the animal is fed or where it lives.

All Natural:

This term doesn’t have very many rules surrounding it at all. When all natural is used in terms of meat products it just states that no artificial coloring, flavoring or synthetic substances has been added POST processing. This means the animals can be given antibiotics, hormones and live in a feedlot but since the meat doesn’t contain any added stuff technically it is “all natural”. This one grosses me out a little bit because it always makes me thing, shouldn’t our animal products be all natural anyways?? Why would we need a label confirming that??

Pature raised:

This one can be seen on beef and also on poultry/eggs. Beef is just means it was living outside so unless it says grass-fed pasture raised then those cows were eating grains/soy outside. If it’s on chickens/eggs it just means they were raised outside but does not have any bearing on what they were fed either.

Free range:

Free range is another term that can easily be misunderstood. In the case of chickens, free range can be put on your product if the chickens have access to roam 51% of the time but that doesn’t mean these chickens have a happy life. They are still permitted to cut their beaks and forced feather shedding through starvation.

Certified Humane Raised and Handled

This was a new one that I found doing research for this blog post. The Humane Farm Animal Care which is a non-profit organization focused on humane treatment of farm animals regulates this voluntary certification. These animals must have room to roam, shelter, low stress handling, fresh water and diet without any hormones or antibiotics. This is a good label to look for!

Cage free:

Sneaky labeling companies thought up this one to make you think that the poultry or eggs you are buying came from a happy little chickens out roaming the fields. That is not true. This label just means that the chicken was not kept in a small cage but can mean that the chicken was kept in a small room with a bunch of other chickens. This labeling also is not regulated very well so in all realty you don’t really know what conditions that chicken was raised in.

Hormone free:

This term is only applicable when buying beef!! It is illegal for pigs and chickens to be given hormones. So pork or poultry with the term hormone free is an advertising ploy. Thanks for advertising that you aren’t breaking the law. Cows can be given large quantities of hormones to make them grow faster so this is a label that you should be looking for when buying beef.

Vegetarian Fed:

This label always makes me laugh. It’s posted on eggs in big block letters like it’s a good thing. But chickens aren’t suppose to eat grains/soy!! Chickens should eat bugs/grub from the ground. So don’t let them fool you into thinking that this is a good thing. They are essentially advertising that they did not feed their chicken their natural diet.

Wild fish

This means that the fish were caught in the wild and ate what the fish are suppose to eat. This is a good label to look for when buying any sort of fish or shellfish! Also make sure if buying any fish oil/cod liver oil supplements that this is included on the label!

Wild caught fish

Now this is how companies trick you! These fish were raised in fish farms and fed unconventional diets then they were released to the ocean to just get caught again. These fish are in no way wild fish!

How the majority of the animals we eat are raised

I am going to give a HUGE warning. These videos are absolutely awful. But this is what people need to see.

Smithfield is one of the biggest pork producers in America and this is a documentary on the treatment and living conditions of the pigs living in their farms.

Final thoughts

It always makes me a little sad when I read about all the labeling ploys companies use to trick us into thinking that the foods we are buying is healthier or more natural than it really is. The regulations on the way animals we eat are cared for and processed is a little like the Wild West.  There are not a lot of rules and lots of money on the line. The faster you can get a large quantity of bigger animals processed the more money you can make. I urge you to pay attention to where you are getting your animal products and spend that extra $2 a pound to get meat from a cow that lived in the sunshine and ate grass. We as consumers can use our money to vote for quality food. So instead of swearing off all meat support your local butcher shop and small farmers by choosing to buy quality meat products from them instead of mass produced meat. The best way to know you are buying quality meat is to do some research. Call the farmer or the company and if they are open to your questions and even let you take a look around their farm then you know you are getting products from an excellent source!

Where to buy quality animal products

Carne Butcher Shop

Farmers Markets 

Find an organic, local farm in your area

US Wellness Meats


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