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The Real Meaning of Popular Labels on Meat Products

By July 19, 2016January 14th, 2021Well-being
Meat Product Labels - Understanding the difference between various meat product labels can be daunting.

What do popular meat product labels mean?

Grilling is as much a part of summer as the beach or baseball. But whether you prefer charcoal, gas, or hardwood, one question remains —– what are you cooking? You might think it’s just pork or beef, but there may be more going on with your favorite protein than you think. Do you know what words like grass-fed, organic, and natural mean when you see them on your meat product labels?

These days, food labels, including those on fresh products like meat, include a full glossary of words that may not officially mean what you’d think. Below are some common terms you’ll find and their definitions to help you properly select the items for your next grill session.


Consumers usually assume that beef with this label came from cows who only ate a traditional diet of grass —– not corn or other processed feed. And in many instances, this is correct. While the USDA does review and approve applications from farms who want to use the term, “grass-fed” has been dropped as an official food definition; because all cows eat grass when grazing, it could be argued that all cows are grass-fed, and so the government decided the designation was too difficult to legally manage.

Made With Organic:

Some products are made with a mix of organic and non-organic products, but the manufacturers want to make sure you know about the organic ones! The “Made With Organic XXXX” label means that the overall product you are buying (for example, sausage) must contain at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients (not including salt or water) and all ingredients must be produced without GMOs or other prohibited substances such as most synthetic pesticides. So if your sausage boasts “Made With Organic Chicken,” the chicken and possibly a few other smaller ingredients are organic, while other ingredients, like perhaps the spices, are not. The ingredients section of the food label should break down which ones exactly for you.


The USDA does not have set rules for what can and cannot be considered “natural,” but because of how often manufacturers are using the label, there are current discussions occurring that may create stricter use of the term in the future. In the meantime, natural is assumed to mean the product does not have added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. Because this is not regulated, still read the ingredients to be sure the product meets your personal standards.

No Added Hormones:

This term has been popping up on chicken labels lately, and for good reason —– as consumers trend toward healthier options, who would want hormone-laden drumsticks? But the truth is that it’s all a marketing ploy —– it’s illegal to give chickens or pigs being raised as food hormone treatments. So the package with the label has just as few hormones as the package without it, but perhaps a higher price tag to trick you. That said, cows may be given hormones, so look for this label on your beef.

No Antibiotics:

Unlike hormones, antibiotics are legally allowed to be given to livestock to prevent the spread of viruses like Staphylococcus, Salmonella, and E.coli. The USDA allows the use of this term on packages of meat coming from farms that have been able to show documentation that they did not treat their animals with antibiotics. However, these animals may have still received other medications.

For more information on the official definitions of popular meat product labels, visit the USDA website.

Want more tips for healthy eating? Check out these articles!

Mel Greiner

After working in communications at IBX for years, I'm no longer surprised to field questions from friends and family about how insurance works or the best ways to manage their health; I enjoy helping people understand how to live a healthier lifestyle. I'm also continually trying to apply that advice to my own home, scheduling exercise into my busy schedule and trying to convince my two young children to expand their food horizons. (Hint: Everything tastes better when in a smoothie.)