What does "natural" really mean for meat? Isn't "natural beef" a meaningless term because it only means that the product is minimally processed with no additives or preservatives, which is true for most conventional fresh beef?

Small Meat Processors March 20, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF
Yes, legally speaking, "natural" on a meat label only refers to how the meat is processed, not to how the animal was raised. However, some meat companies -- starting with Mel Coleman decades ago -- have used "natural" to signal that no antibiotics or hormones were administered to the animal during its lifetime (though some companies allow antibiotics up until a specific withdrawal period before slaughter). This has caused confusion in the marketplace, as consumers wonder whether meat labeled "natural" means no hormones/antibiotics or just the legal minimum of no additives/preservatives during processing. To reduce this confusion, the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA has created a new term, "naturally raised," to refer to meat from animals never treated with hormones or antibiotics (except some parasite-reducing ionophores). It doesn't tell you whether the animals were confined or raised on pasture. You can find the full definition here: http://www.thefederalregister.com/d.p/2009-01-21-E9-1007.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.