Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ben Rawson

    Dr. Ben Rawson, DO is trained in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He is a current Tri-Athlete and loves running.

    Understanding Meat Labels

    Understanding Meat Labels

    Understanding meat labels can be a confusing and frustrating process. Often, if there is a loophole in the label restrictions that makes their product seem better than the one next to it, they will take it and run. We’ve researched the specifics of each label, cut out all the extra info and provided you with the information you need to make the right decision for you.

    American Humane Certified

    The American Humane Certified label, created to follow the standards of the American Humane Association, is the oldest animal welfare certification program in the U.S. Under this label, animals are contained in areas large enough to allow natural movement and behaviors such as scratching, nesting and perching.

    Producers who use growth hormones are not allowed to brand the seal, but sick animals may be treated with antibiotics as long as they follow the guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration. They also allow antibiotics for the prevention of disease associated with unsanitary conditions and over-crowding.

    Animal Welfare Approved

    The non-profit Animal Welfare Institute certifies independently owned family farms that raise their animals on outdoor pastures in a way that allows the animals to perform natural, instinctive behaviors. Antibiotics are allowed if recommended by a veterinarian, but must then also be “rendered insensible to pain” before slaughter.

    Certified Humane

    Created by the nonprofit Humane Farm Animal Care with help from numerous other humane organizations, this label certifies that animals were never caged or created, no poultry were debeaked and all slaughtering was completed in a way that minimizes suffering. The label may be used by corporate farms and does allow for the use of antibiotics for animals declared sick by a veterinarian.

    Farmed Fish

    Fish with this label have been raised in large tanks or wire pins set in large bodies of water, either fresh or salt. Started as an answer to the decline in the availability of wild fish, fish farms now produce half of all seafood sold in the U.S.

    Part of the controversy of fish farms comes from the destruction of coastal acres, and open pins that allow water to flow through and pollute the local waters with waste, feed and antibiotics used to treat the fish.

    Wild-caught/Wild Fish

    One of the few labels that mean exactly what you think it does—your fish was born, lived and was caught in the wild. The closest thing you can get to catching the fish yourself, this is the best option when looking for seafood.


    Reserved for poultry only and regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this label means that animals have had some sort of access to the outdoors. Since they don’t regulate the quality, space or time of the animals stay, it is up to the discretion of the farmer and may not always be up to consumer standards.

    Grass Fed

    The Food Alliance, American Grassfed Association and the USDA are the three main “grassfed” labels and require that animals eat natural grass or other forage. Many farmers and ranchers will feed their animals grain, an unnatural diet used purely to fatten them up quickly for slaughter. Because their stomachs aren’t meant to digest grain they can become sick and need antibiotics that you wouldn’t want to ingest. Unless you see the label “100 percent grassfed,” then there is a chance that the animal was forced to live off grain in feedlots or in pens at some point.

    Pasture Raised

    If you can find and afford meat with this label then buy it, cause it is the closest that you can get to fresh food. This means that animals have roamed freely in a natural environment and eaten the same diet as they would in the wild

    Hormone-free/No added hormones

    Meat with this label has never been given hormone treatments to speed growth, which increases profits and milk production in dairy cows. These treatments have been linked to an increased risk of cancer in humans and infections in animals. Many labels restrict the use of hormones, including “organic,” “grassfed” and many humane certifications. It is also important to remember that the label does not guarantee that antibiotics were used appropriately

    Lean/Extra Lean

    More about processing and diet, the USDA defines these labels as follows:

    “To qualify as “lean,” 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of beef must have fewer than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and fewer than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.”

    “To be labeled “extra lean,” 100 grams of beef must have fewer than 5 grams of fat, fewer than 2 grams of saturated fat and fewer than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.”


    Although all fresh meat may be considered natural, this label guarantees that contents contain no artificial ingredients, added colors and minimally processed according to the USDA. A term often used to make consumers believe that they are buying a superior product, it’s important to realize that this label means nothing in terms of how the animal was raised, feed or treated when ill.

    The USDA forbids producers to use hormones or steroids with chickens, to seeing “natural” or “all natural” on chickens is purely a marketing scheme and should be ignored.


    Recombinant bovine growth hormones are a genetically engineered hormone used to increase the milk that dairy cows can produce. Originally manufactured by Monsanto, making this a genetically modified food, people are still wary of rBGH products. Seek out this label to avoid any unknown side effects that may come with GMOs.

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