The new year tends to bring in lots of resolutions. Resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, or whatever else you can put in there. Hopefully the rest of you are behaving better than I am – sorry but I am not giving up my ice cream…. So what does healthier mean? I am not sure about you, but I find the labels in the grocery store to be misleading and confusing. Today I would like to shed some clarity on those labels – specifically when it comes to meat!

Organic is the label I want to start with today. The USDA defines organic as food that is grown and processed in accordance to federal standards. Organic animals must be raised on 100% organic feed and not administered antibiotics or added hormones and organic crops must be raised in soil that has no prohibited substances added for three years prior to harvest. These substances are generally synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. If a producer needs to use a synthetic substance they can go through an approval process to make sure it is deemed safe.

Hormone free or raised without hormones – this label is very tricky. The FDA prohibits the use of additional hormones in pigs and poultry, so any label on poultry or pork that claims it is “hormone free” is simply a marketing ploy. (Don’t be mad at the marketers, they are simply fantastic at their jobs…)  The FDA allows judicious use of hormone additives in sheep and cattle. However, a 3 ounce serving of beef from a cow that a growth promotant was used only has one nanogram more estrogen than a 3 ounce serving of beef from a cow who did not have a growth promotant. This is one billionth of a gram of estrogen. There is also a zero-day withdrawal period (see below) for the growth promotants – aka, it is always safe to consume an animal who has been given a promotant.

Antibiotic free or raised without antibiotics – did you know that every single meat product in the grocery store is antibiotic free? Every medicine used in the treatment for diseases has a withdrawal period –meaning, the given amount of time it takes for the residual drug to leave the animal. No animal can be slaughtered before this withdrawal period has been surpassed. What does this mean? It is impossible to buy a steak in the store that contains antibiotics. Knowing this information, a label designating “antibiotic free” means that that animal was never treated with antibiotics in its life span, even to help recover from illness– but don’t fear, no meat for sale contains antibiotics.

Now for my favorite subject in the whole world – grain finished and grass fed. We have all heard it, so what in the world does it mean? According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, grass-fed beef is beef that spends its entire life eating grass or forage, but who may or may not eat grass, forage, hay or silage in a feedlot. A grain finished cow is one who spends the majority of his or her life eating grass or forage and spends 4-6 months at a feedlot eating a balanced diet of grains, local feed ingredients, and hay or forage. I could go on for 600 words to describe what the nutritional differences are between the two, and honestly the difference between the two might shock you, but I won’t bore everyone. If you are interested to learn more simply go read my blog about the difference –

The “Natural” label– seems innocent enough – but it actually does not have any ties to how the animal is handled. Natural only applies to the meat process after slaughter. Natural meat cannot include any added color, artificial ingredients, and is minimally processed without fundamentally altering the product.

Non-GMO – this might be my second favorite subject to talk about, but the most important thing to know is that there are only ten GMO crops in the USA. Anything other than corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes, papaya, summer squash, canola, alfalfa, apples, and sugar beets cannot be genetically modified. Any products for sale with a “Non-GMO” label besides these 10 plants are simply another marketing ploy. I know there are other confusing labels we ran out of room to touch on, but maybe part of your 2022 resolutions could include learning what these labels truly mean. You can know that there is no bad choice to buy – if it has made it to our grocery store shelves or you bought it locally, there are many checks and guidelines to ensure that the items you are buying and consuming are safe for you. We as ranchers want to ensure you and your family are eating the safest products we can possibly offer. Go into 2022 with your resolution to eat healthy – but I also urge you to go in knowing the marketing strategies at play – and be confident in your ability to navigate