In addition to the labels outlined in previous sections, the following are some labels that are commonly placed on animal-derived foods:
Meat that has been stamped with this label has been “evaluated” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “for class, grade, or other quality characteristics.”
This label is used on beef to indicate that the cows ate a diet of grass—which is what cows would naturally eat—instead of the unnatural and unhealthy grain diets that most cows used for meat are fed in order to fatten them up before slaughter. However, the USDA does not verify the accuracy of producers’ claims regarding this label. According to the American Grassfed Association, “Like other mostly meaningless label terms like natural, cage-free, and free-range, grassfed will become just another feel-good marketing ploy used by the major meatpackers to dupe consumers into buying mass-produced, grain-fed, feedlot meat.”
Although cows surely suffer less when they’re allowed to eat grass (as opposed to eating grain, which can lead to liver abscesses, constant digestive pain, and death), grass-fed cows are still subjected to mutilations without the use of painkillers and are often killed in the same slaughterhouses as those from factory farms. The “grass-fed beef” industry also threatens fragile ecosystems because the earth is pounded down and stripped of most of the plant life in the areas where the cattle graze, which leads to erosion.
Use of this label is permitted if the item contains “no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.” The animals used for these “products” might still have been treated with antibiotics or, in the case of cattle, hormones. According to farmer Amiel Cooper, “Natural is a virtually meaningless word [when applied to animal-derived foods].”
This label can be used on beef and poultry, provided that the producer supplies “sufficient documentation … that the animals were raised without antibiotics.” While this sounds good, the American Society for Microbiology notes that when “farmers are incentivized to keep their animals antibiotic-free, more animals suffer and die as a result of untreated infections so that the end product can keep the antibiotic-free label… and price.”
This label applies only to beef. Since it’s illegal to give hormones to pigs, chickens, and turkeys raised for food, pork and poultry items tagged with this label must also include the disclaimer “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
Remember that none of these labels indicates that the welfare of the animals whose parts they are applied to was regulated in any way.