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  • Leslie and Lexi

Understanding Food Labels

Walking into the grocery store and reading:

Organic

Antibiotic Free

Hormone Free

All natural

Non-GMO

Grass Fed

But, knowing ALL of the food at the grocery store is safe, wholesome, and delicious, regardless of the marketing labels. Food labeling can be confusing and we are here to help!

ORGANIC is a method of farming in which no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides are applied to the farmland. Organic beef refers to animals that have been raised without antibiotics, growth promotants, and feed additives and has only been fed organic feed. These products have often been portrayed as the healthier option or the “only safe option.” However, the product often has the same nutritional value, but can be more costly to produce and purchase the products. Due to regulations and withdrawal time on health products for beef cattle, conventional products are just as safe as organic. There are large restrictions and many tests performed on beef before it can ever be placed on a shelf.

ANTIBIOTIC FREE is highly used because of fear-based marketing. Did you know that ALL of the animal products at the grocery store are antibiotic-free regardless of food labeling? This is because of the withdrawal times between antibiotic treatment and processing. You are paying for an extra and unnecessary label. There is a difference between antibiotic-free or raised without antibiotics. Antibiotic-free would refer to all beef that is commercially sold. Raised without antibiotics refers to an animal that has never received any antibiotics throughout its life. Antibiotics are used in beef production to treat illness, prevent potential infection, boost the immune system, and can be fed as ionophores which increase feed efficiency and decrease methane emissions. Ionophores are feed additives that aid in altering rumen metabolism to decrease the risk of acidosis, bloat, and coccidiosis. The most commonly used ionophore in beef cattle is rumensin/monensin. Antibiotics are not used in livestock production just for the fun of it, just like in humans, antibiotics are important for the health and welfare of the livestock.

HORMONE FREE is a difficult term as hormones are a naturally occurring chemical in all plants and animals, including humans. So how can the meat ever truly be hormone free? Maybe a better term could be “free of added hormones” or “naturally raised.” When this type of marketing is used, it is referring to the use of growth promotants which are synthetic hormones. However, this is never specified or explained to the consumer. These growth promotants are used to improve animal’s ability to utilize nutrients which will cause rapid muscle gain and less fat deposits. In layman’s terms, this makes the cattle more efficient. This results in less feed required to grow the same amount of beef. It is important to understand the regulations on growth promotants and that they are monitored closely at time of slaughter to ensure hormone levels are not above the normal, therefore, safe for human consumption. These synthetic hormones have not been proven to have any effects on humans who consume beef that had synthetic hormones administered.

ALL NATURAL. There is no structure behind this label. The USDA describes natural products as “minimally processed with no additives.” All natural labelling does NOT include standards regarding farm practices. On the other hand, NATURALLY RAISED is regulated. Naturally means raised without additional growth promotants and antibiotics. However, to ensure proper care and health protocols for animals, antibiotics are necessary at certain times.

NON-GMO. Did you know most of the foods that have this label on them could have never been GMO? Fear based marketing strikes again. GMO refers to genetically modified organism. Some people do not believe that humans have a right to interfere with other species genetics. This is one of many opinions on the matter. However, the fact remains that GMO’s are how we are able to meet demand and improve sustainability in all aspects of agriculture.

GRASS FED VS GRAIN FED. Cattle are amazing in the fact that they can turn what would have been waste byproducts into high quality protein for us. We should note that grain fed cattle still receive adequate forage in their diets to keep the rumen healthy. However, the use of grain or other concentrates allows us to use less forages in the diet due to the high protein and energy content of the concentrates. Is there much of a difference between grass fed VS grain fed? NO. It’s a personal preference, but grass fed is not the long-term answer to meet demand or sustainability.