Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Understanding how our food is grown has never been more confusing or important. Though a food label communicates one message, there is often more to the story. Last time, we covered what the labels “natural”, “free-range”, “cage-free”, and “vegetarian fed” really mean. This week, we are diving into the labels “organic,” “grass-fed,” “grass-finished,” and “pasture raised”.
1. Certified Organic
When it comes to meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy, the term “organic” is used to describe animals that have not been treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, fertilizers from synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge. There is no bioengineering, ionizing radiation, and they are not fed GMO feed.
There are four distinct “levels” of organic:
-“100% organic” stands for a product made entirely with organic ingredients. It may include the USDA Organic Seal and/or the 100 percent organic claim.
-”Organic” with the “USDA Organic” seal means a food is certified organic and contains at least 95% organic ingredients.
-The last two are “Made with Organic” and “Specific Organic Ingredients”. They actually reveal it is inferior to the prior two labels. If you see the “made with organic” label assume that less than 70% of the ingredients are organic 
The “100% organic” label is the best out of these 4 options as it reduces the toxins an animal consumes. However, it still allows an animal to be fed grain (corn and soy) and raised in crowded housing.
2. Grass-Fed and Grain Finished vs. Grass Finished and Grass-Finished
Did you know that cows (and all bovine’s, steer, bull, etc.) are designed to eat grass? When fed a grain diet (almost always corn and soy), the animal’s digestive system is weakened and the nutritional value of the meat depleted. “Grass-Fed” is definitely becoming a trendy word because of this fact! And with the trend, come the “loopholes” in the labeling.
If a food simply has the label “Grass-Fed” or “Grass-Fed and Grain-Finished”, it is likely only fed grass for a few months of its life and then sent to a feed lot to be fattened up on corn and soy. If it’s not 100% certified organic meat, than those grains were most likely GMO.
Grass-Fed/Grass Finished (or sometimes 100% Grass-Fed) assures the feed was entirely composed of grass, legumes, and green vegetation for the animals entire life.
3. Pasture Raised
Many farmers are beginning to use this term for their meat and eggs to distinguish themselves from “free-range” farms whose animals actually don’t see much of the great outdoors. (See Part 1 for more info on “Free Range). Animals are free to roam around outdoors with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and indoor shelter in case of poor weather.
So, how can you get the best value for you money and health? 100% Grass-Fed organic meats and 100% Pasture-Raised organic eggs and chickens. And don’t be afraid to ask questions and be your own detective. If a local farmer markets a product as “pasture raised” but is not certified “USDA” organic, the products may still be organically raised. This is the beauty of buying local and knowing the source of your food rather than relying on labels. Ask if antibiotics, growth hormones, or other non-organic methods are used. If they are not, this is a great product for you and your family. Enjoy the benefits of supporting your local economy while nourishing your health!