The Power of Conscious Consumption: Choosing Quality Meat

I’m not a vegetarian, but I deeply care about the welfare of animals. In fact, a few years ago, I watched an Oprah show that shed light on the inhumane treatment of animals raised for consumption, and it shocked me. It never crossed my mind that animals could be subjected to such cruelty throughout their lives.

Ever since that eye-opening experience, I’ve become a firm believer in the power of our purchasing choices. We, as consumers, have the ability to make a difference. We have the right to know what we’re buying and eating. If we disagree with the practices of a particular ranch, farm, or producer, we can vote with our dollars at the supermarket or farmers market by supporting those who align with our values. While labeling is one tool to aid us in making informed choices, it’s not the only one in our arsenal.

Unveiling the Labels

Let’s explore some labels that I believe truly reflect their claims. Keep in mind that each label has its own set of guidelines, and it’s crucial to find a local rancher or farmer who can provide you with detailed information about their animal-raising, harvesting, and butchering practices. Of course, I understand that this option may not be available to everyone. Sometimes, life throws unexpected situations your way, like when your kids invite half the neighborhood for dinner or out-of-town family decides to drop by for the weekend, and you find yourself in need of a quick trip to the store for some ground beef.

Global Animal Partnership

The Global Animal Partnership is a non-profit alliance consisting of producers, retailers, animal advocates, and scientists. Their mission is to enhance farm animal welfare through their 5-Step® Animal Welfare Rating Program. While they don’t personally audit or certify, they rely on independent companies to do so. Whole Foods, for instance, is a major supporter and carries meat approved by the Global Animal Partnership.

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The 5-Step program emphasizes animal welfare rather than organic or GMO-free practices. It doesn’t specifically require animals to be grass-fed, but it does ensure they are free from growth hormones and antibiotics.

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Feel free to check out the list of Global Animal Partnership partners for more information.

Animal Welfare Approved

The Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) certification focuses on grass-fed animals. Their standards were developed by a team of experts, including animal scientists, veterinarians, ranchers, and range management specialists. They emphasize four main aspects: diet, confinement, antibiotics and hormones, and origin.

AWA-Certified producers undergo annual audits by independent third parties to ensure their compliance with the standards. Only these certified members are allowed to use the AWA logo on their packaging, marketing materials, or websites. The certification applies to ruminant animals, such as beef, bison, goat, lamb, and sheep. If you’re interested, you can find a list of AGA producers on their website.

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Food Alliance Certified Grassfed

The Food Alliance Certified Grassfed label guarantees that the animals were raised exclusively on pasture or range, consuming a diet solely consisting of grass and forage plants. It prohibits the use of grain or grain by-products, as well as hormones or antibiotics.

Humane Raised and Handled

Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is a leading non-profit certification organization dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals from birth through slaughter. Their goal is to drive consumer demand for humane practices in agriculture through the Certified Humane® Raised and Handled® program.

This label complements others perfectly. While it doesn’t require animals to be grass-fed, combining it with a grass-fed label would be ideal. The certification ensures that no growth hormones are allowed unless specifically prescribed by a veterinarian, thus prioritizing animal welfare.

Natural or All Natural

Let’s tackle the label that often raises eyebrows: “Natural.” Truth be told, this label is often misleading and lacks informative value. It simply means that the meat contains no artificial ingredients, added color, and has undergone minimal processing. Essentially, it’s a label that doesn’t tell us much.

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Hormone Free or No Added Hormones

First things first, the USDA doesn’t allow hogs, turkeys, or chickens to be injected with hormones. However, in the case of cattle, the FDA approved Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) or Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin back in 1993. While the potential link between rBGH and cancer in humans is still being studied, I personally avoid consuming rBGH-treated meat until we have more conclusive evidence. It’s worth noting that hormone-free labeling addresses the growth hormone issue, but not the antibiotic issue.

The European Union, on the other hand, strictly prohibits the use of growth hormones in any meat. If you’re looking for a guarantee, organic meat cannot come from rBGH-treated cows.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has explicitly stated that certain phrases are not allowed on meat labels. If you come across them, it’s an indication that the producer may not be knowledgeable about labeling practices or may be deliberately attempting to mislead consumers. Phrases like “Unapproved antibiotic claims,” “No Antibiotic Residues,” “Antibiotic Free,” “Drug Free,” “Chemical Free,” and “No Antibiotic Growth Promotants” should raise a red flag.

Making Sense of Labels

Using labels as a tool can be helpful, but it can also be a perplexing and misleading process. The meat industry is worth billions of dollars, and certifications often come with substantial fees that can vary dramatically from one organization to another. Most labels don’t even specify if the meat comes from the USA or elsewhere.

In reality, many certifications rely on the honor system, with an initial inspection for qualification followed by yearly inspections. Unfortunately, this system primarily relies on paperwork and honesty. As profit becomes the driving force, some people find ways to cut corners, compromising the integrity of certain labels.

When it comes to grass-fed labeling, keep in mind that any meat can be labeled as such at the producer’s discretion unless it’s certified by reputed organizations like those mentioned above or others with similar standards. USDA Organic certification is highly regarded, and when paired with a grass-fed certification from another reliable source, it’s a great option. However, if you don’t delve further into your investigation, you may remain unaware of antibiotic usage, animal treatment, and the living conditions of the animals.

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The Local Farmer’s Market: Your Best Bet

To embark on a journey of purchasing pasture-raised, grass-fed, and humanely treated meat, I wholeheartedly recommend starting at your local farmer’s market. Look for a rancher who sells meat and don’t hesitate to ask them important questions about their farming practices: What does a cow’s life look like on your farm? Do you use any feed or hay? Is the hay sourced locally or transported from elsewhere? Do you use growth hormones or antibiotics? Additionally, inquire about other animals or crops present on their farm or ranch.

Most farmers are passionate about what they do and love discussing every aspect of their farm. In fact, my family acquires about 98% of our meat, pork, and chicken from a single rancher who doesn’t rely on any certifications. They are a family-run business that prioritizes environmental impact, animal welfare, human welfare, and producing delicious products. I can’t wait to share more about them with you in the future.

Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on labeling for chicken, eggs, pork, and fish! To dive deeper into the meat industry, you might want to check out Frontline on PBS, as they have thoroughly investigated how meat is raised and processed in the USA. You can find their piece here.

If you have any labels you’d like to learn more about or if you’ve discovered any ranches or farms that are doing an exceptional job, please let me know. I’m always eager to investigate and share my findings.

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With warm regards,

Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ