What to Look for On a Label
By: Melissa Graham
May 10, 2012
Did you know that meat labeled as "natural" can come from animals that are routinely given antibiotics in their food and water? In fact, the word "natural" isn't even regulated by the FDA or USDA -- and in addition to exposure to antibiotics, "natural" meat may come from animals that have been given hormones, raised in confinement, and fed animal by-products. Let's face it, all the terms that appear on our food labels can get pretty confusing -- and there's currently no labeling standard to alert consumers about animals' antibiotic intake. So here's what to look for on a label to make sure that the meat and poultry products you choose for your family come from animals that were raised without the use of antibiotics.
• "Antibiotic Free:" This one seems like a good bet, but the USDA has actually banned the use of the term "antibiotic free" on meat and poultry. That's because, like "natural," different companies define the term differently and there is no verification process in place to ensure that meat labeled as "antibiotic free" comes from animals that have never been exposed to antibiotics during the course of their lifetimes.
•"Raised without antibiotics" or "No antibiotics administered:" The USDA allows food companies to label meat and poultry products with these labels to indicate that the animals their meat products come from are not routinely administered antibiotics. Even if an animal is administered antibiotics to treat illness, it can't be sold with this label. The USDA regulates products that make these claims, but some companies go the extra mile and have their farms audited by a third party to verify that their animals have never been administered antibiotics. That's why it's always good to know your companies -- do your research to make sure that their values line up with yours.
• "Organic" or "100% Organic" Products labeled as USDA certified organic are another good choice to ensure that the meat and poultry products you buy come from animals that have not been routinely administered antibiotics. In order to meet the National Organic Program standards, meat and poultry can never be administered antibiotics or growth hormones, and their feed must be 100% organic. In fact, even if an animal is administered antibiotics to treat illness, it can't be labeled as organic. So look for the USDA Certified Organic label on your meat and poultry products to be sure you're feeding your family antibiotic free meat.
Looking for sources of meat raised without antibiotics? The Eat Well Guide is a great resource for finding places to shop in your neighborhood: http://www.eatwellguide.org/i.php?pd=Home
What do you look for when choosing meat and poultry products for your family?
Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to educating families about all things associated with good eating, eating that's good for the body and the planet. Though its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program, Purple Asparagus has taught thousands of parents and children about healthful, sustainable eating in schools, community centers, and farmers' markets throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Melissa speaks and writes regularly on child nutrition and sustainability both in the Chicago community and online, blogging at Little Locavores, as The Sustainable Cook on The Local Beet, and as a regular contributor to Kiwi Magazine’s KiwiLog and Williams-Sonoma’s Blender blog. In recognition of her contributions to the Chicago community, the Chicago Tribune awarded her a 2011 Good Eating Award, an honor previously bestowed to Rick Bayless, Alinea chef Grant Achatz, and First Lady Michelle Obama. Melissa resides in Chicago with her husband and 7-year old son in a rowhouse built in 1896.