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Recent regulation to require specific origin information on packages
To meet the new USDA regulation, meat labels for muscle cuts must now include information about where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the question to ask is no longer, “Where is the beef?” but “Where is the beef from?”
In a recent ruling, the USDA approved a proposal requiring meat labels to advertise origin information with respect to animals. Consequently, labels will be mandated to advertise where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered.
Today, meat labels are notorious for their misleading terminology. From “free range” to “organic,” package vocabulary often works for commercial companies and against consumers, as the ideals that these terms imply may not necessarily be true according to the USDA-approved definitions. “Free range chicken,” for instance, does not mean that the birds can frolic wherever they please. Instead, they must have access to an outside environment, but still can be kept in overcrowded conditions.
The new USDA ruling leaves little room for such misinterpretation. By requiring labels to advertise more specific, concrete information for consumers, the labels will allow for more knowledgeable purchases. From a home cook’s point-of-view, this certainly seems like an improvement. However, not all see the recent regulation as positive. The National Grocers Association, for example, deemed the decision “costly and crazy," noting the burden of creating new labels.
Simpler labeling such as ‘Made in the USA’ may be sufficient enough for a product like clothing, but it won’t cut it for the meat anymore.
Nutrition Facts Label Reboot: A Tale of Two Labels
The Nutrition Facts label that you may read when buying packaged foods or preparing a meal has undergone a makeover. It’s been updated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reflect updated scientific findings. These changes can help you make better-informed choices about the foods you and your family eat and help you maintain a healthy diet.
Manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales have until 2020 before the new label is required, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have until 2021. Some manufacturers have already started using the new label. In fact, at least 10 percent of packages being sold already carry the new label.
So until the deadlines, you may see one of two different versions on packages: either the original label you’ve grown accustomed to using, or the new label.
What Meat Labels Like ‘Organic’ and ‘Grass Fed’ Actually Mean—and Whether You Should Care
Trying to buy meat these days can seem like a quiz on how well you know your labels. There’s organic. Grass-fed. The always-vague natural. Sometimes—OK, a lot of times—it’s not so clear what they mean. (Isn’t all beef “natural”?) To make matters more complicated, even if you have a solid grasp on what each label means, inspection standards vary greatly from label to label, even among the government-regulated ones outlined below.
Labeling standards are different depending on the animal, so here we’ll focus on beef labels, which seem to cause the most confusion. First, know this: Just because a beef product is labeled natural, organic, or grass-fed doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you. There might be benefits for the animals or environment, but there are also plenty of myths about what’s healthy and what you should stay away from, which we get into below.
Here’s an explanation of the most common meat labels.
What it means: The animal ate only grasses and forages (like hay) for the length of its life, starting when it was weaned off its mother’s milk. The label is regulated by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) but isn’t strictly enforced.
How it’s regulated: The producer must send documentation to FSIS stating that its animals are raised on an all-grass diet. The claims then have to be verified by USDA auditors, which happens from an office rather than an in-person visit.
Keep in mind: The USDA’s grass-fed label refers strictly to the animal’s diet and has nothing to do with whether it did or did not receive hormones or antibiotics. If those are concerns for you, you can check for the American Grassfed Approved label, which is issued by the American Grassfed Association, not the government. Products bearing the AGA label must come from animals fed a diet of 100 percent forage, raised on a pasture, and never treated with hormones or antibiotics.
You may have heard that grass-fed beef is healthier than grain fed beef, but the nutritional differences aren’t that significant. One common health claim is that grass-fed beef has more omega-3 fatty acids than grain fed beef. While this is true, grass-fed beef still has less than 5 percent of the omega-3s found in salmon, so it’s not a significant source. Also, while grass-fed beef has less overall fat than grain fed, fat content depends more on the cut of meat than feeding practices.
Also known as: 100% Grass-fed
What it means: The meat has been minimally processed “in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product,” and it doesn’t have any artificial ingredients, such as spices or sauces, coloring, or chemical preservatives. “So, if you pick up fajitas that are already marinated, that technically can’t have the natural label,” Lindsay Chichester, an extension educator with the University of Nevada, Reno, who focuses on livestock and agriculture, tells SELF.
You can check the label of each product to figure out what the “natural” label means in each case. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients minimally processed”), per the FSIS guidelines.
How it’s regulated: Beyond requiring that producers include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural on each product, the label isn’t regulated at all.
Keep in mind: A 2015 survey from Consumer Reports found more than half of people polled look for the word “natural” on their food label. But, since the term isn’t well-defined and isn’t enforced, you really shouldn’t give it much weight. The animal could have consumed organic products or not, and it may have been given growth hormones or antibiotics.
You may, however, want to pay close attention if you have food allergies. Knowing the meat you buy doesn’t have a bunch of extras added is helpful when you’re trying to avoid specific ingredients.
What it means: Until 2016, this label meant that the meat had been minimally processed and didn’t have any artificial ingredients, and also that the animal didn’t receive growth hormones or antibiotics.
How it’s regulated: Naturally raised is no longer a USDA-regulated label. In January 2016, the AMS backed off from defining both grass-fed and naturally raised, saying it didn’t think it had the authority to do so. While grass-fed has since come to be regulated by the FSIS, naturally raised was dropped. So, the naturally raised label is voluntary and unregulated.
Keep in mind: If your goal is to avoid added growth hormones or antibiotics, there are other labels you should look for. More on that below.
What it means: This one’s the granddaddy of them all. The organic seal means the animals were raised on certified organic land, which is defined as land that hasn’t been subject to any prohibited substances, such as most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sewage sludge, or genetic engineering, for at least three years. (Note that certain synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are allowed under organic regulations.)
To earn the USDA organic seal, the animals must also have year-round access to the outdoors, be fed an all-organic diet (which could include grains, as long as they’re organic), and may not be given antibiotics or hormones. They also need to be raised in a way that “accommodates their health and natural behavior”—that is, with access to sunny areas, shady spots, clean water, and shelter.
How it’s regulated: The organic seal is regulated by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Producers must submit documentation to the AMA’s National Organic Program, and a government agent visits the farm once a year. Meat can’t be marketed as organic unless it’s certified, the only exception being if it comes from a producer that sells less than $5,000 of total organic product each year. (These smaller producers can’t use the USDA organic seal without full certification, but they can legally market their product as organic.)
Keep in mind: You may decide to choose the organic option for environmental reasons, but it’s hard to say for sure that organic meat is significantly better for human health. European researchers recently compared the two and concluded that, given the relative lack of data on the effects of organic food consumption on human health, it’s “currently not possible” to say whether organic food is significantly healthier.
The major nutritional difference between organic and conventional meat is that conventional has “slightly, but significantly higher concentrations” of certain saturated fatty acids that have been linked to increased risk for heart disease. But the most effective way to curb your intake of these fatty acids is to limit your consumption of red meat and make sure saturated fat accounts for less than 10 percent of your total daily calories. And, since organic meat costs anywhere from 43 to 73 percent more than conventional meat, according to Consumer Reports, limiting red meat is more cost-effective as well.
What it means: A pastured-raised animal must have had access to the outdoors for a minimum of 120 days per year. According to USDA regulations, this label must be followed by additional terminology on what pastured-raised means in each particular case, since what’s considered pastured-raised could vary significantly from farm to farm. At one, the animal might live in a wide-open field, whereas another might only offer its animals an overcrowded parking lot.
How it’s regulated: The producer must send documentation to FSIS showing that the animal has had access to the outdoors for 120 days per year. The claims then have to be verified by USDA auditors, which happens from an office rather than an in-person visit.
Keep in mind: This label has to do with an animal’s quality of life, not what ends up in the products it becomes. Since the additional terminology required isn’t strictly regulated by the FSIS and can be difficult for consumers to understand, some producers who want to indicate a high quality of life for animals choose to include additional labels regulated by third-party organizations not affiliated with the USDA. Two highly regarded third-party labels are the Certified Humane label and the Animal Welfare Approved label.
Also known as: Pastured Fed, Not Confined
Raised Without Antibiotics
What it means: The animal was not given antibiotics at any point in its life—not in its food, water, or through injections.
How it’s regulated: The producer must send documentation to FSIS, including descriptions of how the animal was raised and how the producer ensures the claim is valid throughout the animal’s life. The claims are verified by USDA auditors, which happens from an office rather than an in-person visit.
Keep in mind: There’s a concern that antibiotics used in animals may contribute to the epidemic of antibiotic resistance in humans. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports there is “strong evidence that antibiotic use in food animals can lead to resistant infections in humans,” because antibiotic-resistant bacteria can grow in animals that have been treated with antibiotics, and these bacteria can be passed along to humans and cause infection. Both conventional and organic meat is tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that safe for human consumption, but choosing meat that’s raised without antibiotics can help minimize risk of being infected with resistant bacteria.
Also known as: No Antibiotics Administered, No Added Antibiotics, No Antibiotics
Raised Without Hormones
What it means: The animal received no added hormones during its life. Emphasis on “added,” since hormones occur naturally within animals. “I hear a lot of people say ‘no hormones,’ and that’s a misnomer because, naturally, anything that’s living produces hormones,” Chichester says. It’s more accurate to say “no added hormones,” she explains, because even if producers don’t dose the animals with hormones, no animal can ever be hormone-free.
How it’s regulated: The producer must send documentation to FSIS, including descriptions of how the animal was raised and how the producer ensures the claim is valid throughout the animal’s life. The claims are verified by USDA auditors, which happens from an office rather than an in-person visit.
Keep in mind: Federal regulations prohibit adding hormones to poultry, but hormones are allowed for cows and sheep, and some producers use them to make the animals grow faster. While growth hormones have been banned in Europe for decades and there’s concern that eating meat from an animal that was given growth hormones can lead to health issues, there isn’t conclusive research to validate these concerns. So far, studies have suggested that any artificial growth hormones in meat occur in too low a dose to have a measurable impact on human health. If you’re still worried about hormones, looking for the raised without hormones label can lessen that concern, as can limiting your intake of red meat altogether.
Also known as: No Hormones Administered, No Steroids Administered, No Hormones Added
So, OK, should you really care about any of these?
As is often the case with food, a lot of things come down to personal preference. “It’s based on your values and beliefs and truly what you think is best for you,” Chichester says. Organic and sustainable farming practices are better for the environment, and many can lead to a better quality of life for animals, too. If those things are important to you, some of these labels will be helpful when you’re choosing what kind of beef to buy. The organic label is by far the most all-encompassing and well-regulated government label. In terms of animal welfare, the Certified Humane label and the Animal Welfare Approved, while administered by third parties and not the government, are both highly regarded and worth looking out for.
When it comes to your own health, things are a little less cut and dried. There is evidence that antibiotics use in animals can lead to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, and choosing meat raised without antibiotics can minimize that risk. Aside from that, there isn’t enough research yet to prove that organic or grass-fed beef is significantly better for you, and we still don’t fully understand the long-term effects of eating animals that have been administered hormones—if this concerns you, you can opt for beef that’s raised without hormones, or you opt for organic beef, which can’t have been administered hormones or antibiotics.
Meat labeling terms &ndash What do they mean? Part 3: No-added Hormones, No Antibiotics, and Humanely Raised
This is Part 3 of a three part series that will provide information on meat labeling terms. Part 1 covered Grass-fed and Grain-fed (http://go.unl.edu/8kk4) and Part 2 covered Organic, All-natural, and Naturally Raised (http://go.unl.edu/sksb).
Meat is a nutrient dense food product. Specifically, beef is a good source of protein, zinc, B vitamins, iron, and other essential nutrients! (Beef Nutrition, 2007).
How many times have you been grocery shopping or watching your favorite television program and you see and/or hear that no-added hormones is better? Or that you should be consuming "no antibiotics" meat? It can be confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating – who do you trust? Below I will provide you with the facts and truth, as well as resources to do some homework of your own.
All cellular organisms contain hormones, they are naturally occurring – there is no such thing as hormone free! When something is labeled “hormone free” or “no hormones”, it is a misnomer (as they are naturally occurring). The correct wording should be “no-added hormones”, “raised without added hormones”, “no hormones administered”, or “no synthetic hormones” (Labels that tell you a little, n.d.).
Hormones are NOT allowed in hog, poultry, or bison production. The statement “no hormones added” CANNOT be used on any packaging for pork and/or poultry items, unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry/pork” (Meat and poultry labeling terms, 2011 Labels that tell you a little, n.d.), so as not to mislead consumers into believing that these meat protein products were grown with additional hormones.
For other meat production animals, the term “no hormones administered” may be approved for use on the label if there is sufficient documentation indicating the producer has raised the animal without additional hormones (Meat and poultry labeling terms, 2011).
Labels indicating that no additional hormones were used can be used in any of the previously mentioned systems – organic, all-natural, naturally raised, grass-fed, grain-fed (organic and naturally raised are the only systems that do not allow for the use of additional hormones). These labels do not account for the diet of the animal, access to pasture, or how the meat was processed.
Is also referred to as “raised without antibiotics” or “no antibiotics administered”. The term “no antibiotics added” may be used on labels for meat and/or poultry products if the producer can provide sufficient documentation indicating the animal was raised without antibiotics (Meat and poultry labeling terms, 2011 Labels that tell you a little, n.d.). This indicates that no antibiotics were used on the animal in its lifetime. Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat disease in animals – just like in humans. If an animal does have to be treated with an antibiotic for illness, the meat, milk, and/or eggs cannot be sold in an organic or naturally raised system and cannot have a label with the wording “raised without antibiotics” (Meat and poultry labeling terms, 2011).
Labels indicating that no antibiotics were used can be used in any of the previously mentioned systems – organic, all-natural, naturally raised, grass-fed, grain-fed (organic and naturally raised are the only systems that do not allow for the use of additional hormones). The no antibiotic labels do not account for the diet of the animal, access to pasture, or how the meat was processed.
When trying to decide which meat option is best for you, it is important to purchase meats that support your values and beliefs, as well as meats that fit into your budget. Shopping around is always advisable too. You have many options when it comes to purchasing meat, you may be able to purchase meat directly from a producer, a small or local butcher shop, your local retailer, or a bulk retailer. Finally, you may decide you prefer the taste of one of the meat types over another, and purchase based on taste and your family preference.
It can be difficult finding a clear and accurate definition of “humanely raised”. A list of possible criterion that a livestock producer would need to provide to his/her livestock to be considered “humanely raised” has been generated below from several sources.
Humanely raised can be:
- Produced in an ethical and humane fashion
- Raised with minimal stress
- Access to ample feed and water
- No antibiotics
- No additional hormones
- Are not fed animal products/byproducts
- Anything that doesn’t come from a factory farm
- Animals raised on pastures
- Animals allowed to act naturally
- Product traceability back to the farmer
- Certified by a trustworthy, independent organization
- Processed in a conscience manner
First, the humane label varies in its definition from program to program. These labels are not regulated under any USDA programs (USDA, 2012). This means that humane certification programs are provided through third-party, independent verifications – and the standards of each of these programs vary and are frequently arbitrary. The established standards for each of these programs are generally created, reviewed, and updated by an advisory committee. The members of this advisory committee are persons who may or may not be “experts” in food production, animal health, animal behavior, and/or animal care. Again, this advisory committee is chosen at the discretion of each humane certification program. Each of the humane certification programs should list and provide more information on the scientific advisory committee members it is always advisable to investigate members and what organizations they represent. Are they from a university (in which they should be providing research based, unbiased information) or are they from an industry group? Some of the humane certification programs have used the “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare” (Farm Animal Welfare Council, 2009) to guide their standards.
To be enrolled in a voluntary humane labeling program the livestock producer will pay a fee for the humane certification program organization to come out and conduct audits/site visits on his/her farm. The humane labeling program may provide feedback and guidance to the producer on ways they can better meet the standards. A follow-up audit or visit may be necessary before the livestock producer receives official “humane labeling” capabilities. Additionally, the producer may have audits/farm visits at regular intervals to ensure he/she is staying in compliance to the program standards.
The programs are so numerous I won’t explore all of the possible programs, their standards, fees, and criterion here as there are many of them. But I do want to highlight a couple of the ones I thought provided interesting or useful information.
The American Humane Association (American Humane Association, 2013) claims to be the first welfare certification program in the U.S. to ensure the humane treatment of farm animals, with history dating back to 1877! Not only do they protect farm animals from abuse and neglect, they also protect children and pets.
Certified Humane has actually done a pretty good job of comparing some of the standards for chicken beef, and pigs in comparison to other organizations (Humane Farm Animal Care Standards: Chickens, Beef Cattle, and Pigs, 2013). They have also provided one that is unique to just laying hens (Humane Farm Animal Care Standards: Laying Hens, 2013). These can be handy tools as there can be a large number of organizations offering humanely labeled certifications, making it a daunting task to compare and contrast the benefits of each.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), is responsible for verifying the humane treatment of livestock in harvest (slaughter) facilities. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) was originally passed in 1958 in 1978 the USDA’s FSIS passed the Humane Slaughter Act. This Act requires the proper treatment and humane handling of all food animals harvested in USDA inspected slaughter plants. However, it does not apply to chickens or other birds (https://awic.nal.usda.gov/government-and-professional-resources/federal-laws/humane-methods-slaughter-act).
You may be thinking why don’t all livestock producers enroll in a humane certification program? Some livestock producers choose to enroll in a voluntary, fee-based humane certification program to be able to offer a choice to consumers at the meat counter. As with most other special labeling claims, there is usually a price difference in meat products with the humane label versus meat products without the humane label. If “humanely raised” is important to you, you have the choice to purchase that product.
The important thing you should know is that farmers and ranchers do their very best to provide humane care to their animals. Unfortunately, there are rare occasions when a producer is not humane to the animals he/she is raising. That is not ok and not acceptable!
Understanding the USDA Organic Label
Amidst nutrition facts, ingredient lists, and dietary claims on food packages, “organic” might appear as one more piece of information to decipher when shopping for products. Understanding what the organic label means can help shoppers make informed purchasing choices.
Organic is a labeling term found on products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. The National Organic Program – part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service – enforces the organic regulations, ensuring the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal.
In order to make an organic claim or use the USDA Organic Seal, the final product must follow strict production, handling and labeling standards and go through the organic certification process. The standards address a variety of factors such as soil quality, animal raising practices, and pest and weed control. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.
Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible. Organic produce must be grown on soil that had no prohibited substances (most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) applied for three years prior to harvest. As for organic meat, the standards require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors, fed organic feed, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.
There are four distinct labeling categories for organic products – 100 percent organic, organic, “made with” organic ingredients, and specific organic ingredients.
In the “100 Percent Organic” category, products must be made up of 100 percent certified organic ingredients. The label must include the name of the certifying agent and may include the USDA Organic Seal and/or the 100 percent organic claim.
In the “Organic” category, the product and ingredients must be certified organic, except where specified on National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. Non-organic ingredients allowed per the National List may be used, but no more than five percent of the combined total ingredients may contain non-organic content. Additionally, the label must include the name of the certifying agent, and may include the USDA Organic Seal and/or the organic claim.
For multi-ingredient products in the “made with” organic category, at least 70 percent of the product must be certified organic ingredients. The organic seal cannot be used on the product, and the final product cannot be represented as organic – only up to three ingredients or ingredient categories can be represented as organic. Any remaining ingredients are not required to be organically produced but must be produced without excluded methods (genetic engineering). All non-agricultural products must be allowed on the National List. For example, processed organic foods may contain some approved non-agricultural ingredients, like enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, or baking soda in baked goods.
Multi-ingredient products with less than 70 percent certified organic content would fall under the “specific organic ingredients,” and don’t need to be certified. These products cannot display the USDA Organic Seal or use the word organic on the principal display panel. They can list certified organic ingredients in the ingredient list and the percentage of organic ingredients.
Meat Labels Need a Makeover, Says USDA - Recipes
In the United States, two different regulatory organizations oversee food labeling for different product types. The first post in our blog series broke down which food products fall under the labeling jurisdiction for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as how the above affects a product’s statement of identity. Now that we’ve established that base, we will delve deeper into the various differences between USDA and FDA food labeling, from the way nutrition claims are handled to safe handling instructions and everything in between. Below are six essential differences between food labeling guidelines for the two regulatory bodies:
Consumers are used to seeing nutrient content claims on the front of food labels declaring whether a product is “low fat” or “high in protein.” While the USDA never requires a disclosure statement to be listed with one of these nutrient content claims, the FDA does mandate one if the product exceeds specific levels for certain nutrients. For example, a product’s label might list a nutrition claim such as, “0g Trans Fat per Serving.” To accompany this claim, the FDA requires an additional statement such as, “see nutrition information for Total Fat content” because in this particular product the amount of Total Fat is 15g per serving. It points out that while there may be a desirable level of one nutrient in the food, other(s) are considered “high.” Nutrient levels which trigger disclosure statements are:
You can determine if you need to put an extra disclosure statement on your FDA-regulated label by reviewing the recommended levels per Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC) for these nutrients. You’ll need to add a disclosure statement if the nutrient in your product exceeds the RACC per labeled serving or, if your food product has a small RACC, per 50g. A small RACC is defined as either being under 30g or equal to or less than 2 tablespoons. Additionally, while the USDA does not require trans fat to be listed in the Nutrition Facts Panel, the FDA does. In general, the USDA’s nutrition claim requirements do not match the FDA’s exactly, so manufacturers should be sure to check the applicable regulations to ensure compliance.
The USDA’s definition of “natural” takes into account whether the product and its ingredients are “not more than minimally processed.” The FDA does not have an exact definition of the term “natural.” However, it has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic – including all color additives, regardless of source – has been included in or added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing systems, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization or irradiation.
3) Ingredient Statements
Some additional USDA-specific regulations include:
- the permitted use of the statements “and/or, may also contain or contains one or more” for minor ingredients (less than 2%). For specific requirement, refer to Policy Memo 072 .
- the allowance to list “sodium phosphates” or “potassium phosphates” as a collective name.
- the ability to interchange two meat ingredients without changing their order in the ingredient statement, as long as they comprise at least 70% of a product’s recipe and each ingredient makes up more than 30% of the product. On the label, the word “and” is used instead of comma – for example, “beef and pork.” This applies to meat and poultry, respectively, but not to a mixture of meat and poultry.
4) Safe Handling Instructions
The USDA requires raw products or products that are not considered “ready-to-eat” (RTE) to have “Safe Handling Instructions.” The FDA does not have specific safe handling labeling instruction requirements.
Unlike on an FDA-regulated product label, USDA products require manufacturers to list an inspection legend and establishment number. This inspection legend designates that the product was inspected by the USDA. The establishment number may or may not be listed as part of inspection legend, but must appear somewhere on the label.
Examples of inspection legends include:
6) Imported products
Exporters of USDA products may or may not have their own inspection legend, but will have an establishment number. The USDA requires imported products to have a “Product of…” statement immediately under the name or descriptive designation of the item on the PDP. The FDA does not have specific requirements on the location of the Country of Origin (COO) statement, but it is usually added after the domicile. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) [ 19CFR134.46 ] requires the COO to be listed in close proximity to the domicile if the company address listed as “manufactured for,” “distributed by,” etc. is US-based.
Do you know if your product falls under USDA or FDA regulations? Mérieux NutriSciences’ Labeling Compliance & Nutrition Services team can help determine which labeling regulations apply to your product and ensure you’re in compliance. Mislabeled products can result in a recall, damage to your brand’s reputation and risks to consumers’ health. Take a proactive step to prevent mislabeling by conducting a food label review. Download our information sheet to get started today!
Meet the Author
Ralph Meer, RD
Regulatory Compliance Specialist, Food Labeling
Ralph Meer is a Regulatory Compliance Specialist in Food Labeling at Mérieux NutriSciences. Prior to Mérieux NutriSciences, he spent several years working as a labeling specialist for a leading food service distributor reviewing labels for compliance. He also worked as a labeling consultant for many years working with many notable companies. Ralph’s expertise is in US FDA and USDA Food Labeling and Nutrition. Ralph has a BS from Penn State and holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition from Oregon State and is a registered dietitian. In his downtime, Ralph enjoys watching his favorite Pittsburgh sports teams.
If the label says it's ground sirloin or ground chuck, then those are the only parts included in the grind. These grinds are typically more expensive and leaner than the all-inclusive ground beef or hamburger. However, buyer beware. Ground sirloin or ground round can conceivably be no leaner than inexpensive ground beef, yet still, be properly labeled as long as it doesn't claim to be lean. Don't depend on the cut to define leanness. The following percentages are used as a guideline for specific cuts:
- Ground chuck: 80 to 85 percent lean/15 to 20 percent fat
- Ground round: 85 to 90 percent lean/10 to 15 percent fat
- Ground sirloin: 90 to 92 percent lean/8 to 10 percent fat
Walter B. McKenzie / Getty Images
Left to their own devices, cattle would eat grass their whole lives. Conventional beef (and plenty of organic beef) are brought to feedlots at the end of their lives to be fattened up on grain. Beef from cattle that has been raised exclusively on grass has less saturated fat and more nutrients than grain-finished beef.
USDA grass-fed beef has only had a grass diet and access to pasture year-round. The program is voluntary, however, without third-party verification. Labels that read "100% grass-fed" or "grass-finished" and verified by a third party, such as the American Grassfed Association, will guarantee the beef has only been grass and hay fed.
No Nitrates/No Nitrates or Nitrites Added
What consumers think: Nearly two thirds of consumers in our survey believe this means no nitrates at all, whether from artificial or natural sources.
What it really means: The meat may not have been cured with synthetic nitrates or nitrites, but probably was cured using concentrated nitrates from vegetables like celery or onion. The curing chemistry is the same no matter where the nitrate comes from. The World Health Organization classifies nitrates and nitrites as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” While the USDA has limits as to how much synthetic nitrates/nitrites a food can contain, there are no restrictions for natural ones. Check ingredients lists for celery juice or celery powder, which act as nitrates and carry the same risks as artificial nitrates.
There's no harm in buying organic foods, especially if you want to avoid pesticides. But this label is regulated by the USDA, so make sure that any organic products you're purchasing have the official seal.
Some people may take this label as evidence that the food is healthy, which is not always the case.
"Organic cookies or candy are not going to contain less sugar or calories than the real thing. The organic label doesn't equal healthy. It may be healthier in some areas but that depends on your goal," Shapiro says.
For example, organic candies and snacks don't have artificial preservatives, colors and flavors, per the USDA, so if your intention is to avoid ingredients like these, then buying organic is a better choice. But if you're looking to cut back on sugar and refined carbs, for example, then choosing organic candies, cookies, cakes and other snacks probably won't help you wean off these foods.
"Organic products can still be processed and high in fat and added sugar. Reading the labels is always the best way to determine the healthiness of a product," Shah says.