“Grassfed” is the current buzzword in the industry, just as “organic” and “natural” were before it. But what exactly does it mean? Who sets the standards and who’s making sure they are met? The below list should help clear up any confusion you may have the next time you visit your local butcher.

Conventional: Most beef cattle are raised on open pasture before being shipped to a feedlot for three months of grain finishing. The animals are slaughtered between 18 to 20 months of age, when they have reached the appropriate weight and fat ratio. Grain finishing and growth hormones are used to achieve that ratio in a short time frame, which allows for a faster turnover per animal.

Grassfed: Meat that is labeled “grassfed” does not mean the animal hasn’t been finished on grain, nor does it mean that producers have used no antibiotics, hormones, or confinement. There are no federal standards for using the label “grassfed,” and even a small amount of grain supplementation can reverse the human health benefits. In February, the American Grassfed Association (AGA) began certifying participant operations in conjunction with Animal Welfare Approved. To ensure that you are getting an entirely grassfed finished product, look for meat labeled American Grassfed Association Third Party Certified 100% Grassfed.

Certified Humane: Overseen and implemented by a national non-profit, a Certified Humane Raised and Handled label “requires the humane treatment of farm animals from birth through slaughter” to promote consumer demand for what are deemed more ethical farming practices. Standards producers must meet include that animals have “ample space, shelter, and gentle handling to limit stress, and a “healthy diet of quality feed, without added antibiotics or hormones.”

Organic: According to the USDA, meat labeled “organic” may not contain hormones or antibiotics (other than what is allowable to counter infection). The animals must be fed 100 percent Organic Certified feed free of animal by-products, but the diet can include grain and feedlot finishing.

Natural: The USDA provides a legal definition of this term only as it applies to meat and poultry. Those carrying the “natural” label must “not contain any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and are only minimally processed.” What your meat and poultry can contain are growth hormones and antibiotics. Animals can also be raised under confinement.

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