Meat Markings

Eat This, Not That — By on December 12, 2010 9:47 PM


What the heck do all of these labels mean on the meat?  What are the best ones to eat overall?  These are all questions that we ask ourselves when we see labels such as, “Air-Chilled,” or “Raised Without Antibiotics.”  But what do they all mean and which will taste the best and be the most humane.  I don’t know if the last sentence can even be stated without cringing but you get the point.


AIR CHILLED-      The standard practice is dunking the chickens in a frigid bath to keep bacteria at a minimum (I imagine this is after the chicken is already dead!).  Air chilling replaces this method with cooling chambers instead of water.  Okay, okay, the chickens are dead.  Just seeing if anyone was reading this part!  Bad joke!  This process is done right before packaging.  Studies have found that the bacteria content in both processes is about the same but the flavor in the air chilling process is far superior to the water bath.

RAISED WITHOUT ANTIBIOTICS-       Unlike the beef industry, the chicken producers have begun to curtail the use of antibiotics in recent years.  Even still, Purdue, Tyson and others have been unable to wean their birds entirely off antibiotics.  Therefore, when it states “raised without antibiotics” you will surely be paying more for something that most big producers are still not able to accomplish or don’t care to.  Is it worth a couple of extra dollars a pound?  You decide.

ORGANIC-           The chicken industry is wildly excited about the new “organic” label on their packaging, as they can now charge 100% more for this product.  Granted, the coveted “USDA organic” stamp is quite expensive and hard to come by, the manufacturers that label the so-called “organic” product aren’t always maintaining that practice.  Your best bet is to look for a local organic farm that raises their own stock or only buy chicken that is dressed with both the USDA organic label AND the Secretary of Agriculture seal.  Having both seals on the packaging gives you a much better chance that the organic practice of raising and feeding these chickens are actually taking place.


NO ANTIBIOTICS ADMINISTERED (OR ADDED)-          Most beef cattle are pumped with antibiotics because the feedlots are breeding grounds for bacteria, disease, and illness.  The other reason why cows get so many antibiotics administered to them is because their diet consists exclusively of corn, corn by-products, and about 10% animal by-products!  And if you didn’t know, cows stomachs are designed to digest grass.  And not only are the antibiotics bad for you but corn-fed cows are nearly twice as fatty as grass-fed ones, and lower omega-3 fatty acids (that stuff everyone is trying to add to their diets).   This label means that all the cows in the lot are not given antibiotics unless they are sick.  If they become ill, they are removed from the lot and administered antibiotics.  Once that happens that beef supposedly does not get the label listed above.

ALL NATURAL-       A completely meaningless word on all chicken and beef products now a days.   The USDA does not regulate this word, and with the boom in organic everything, the manufacturers that won’t go organic are splattering all of their packaging with “ALL NATURAL.” 

NO GROWTH STIMULANTS OR ADDED HORMONES-        About two-thirds of cows in the US are treated with growth hormones to speed growth and maximize profit.  This is not a steroid but a growth hormone.  With these drugs, a cow can become market size in exponentially less time.   To be clear, the USDA mandates that no hormones can be given to or used with pork or poultry types of animals; therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry products unless it is immediately followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” In beef products, the term “no hormones administered/added” may be approved for use on the label of beef if sufficient documentation is provided to the USDA by the producer/farmer showing that no hormones have been used in raising the animals.  Again, this is another instance, in the beef industry, that you have to trust that they are doing the right thing.  Again, I would get my beef from a farm that I know is not treating their cattle.  These farms are getting easier and easier to find.  See below for a link to find one.

USDA CHOICE BEEF-        Not all steaks taste the same.  The USDA grades beef based on the marbling and the age of the animal.  The higher the degree of marbling (the fattier), the more tender and flavorful (and caloric!) the meat.  PRIME is the highest grade, then CHOICE, then SELECT.  PRIME grade is very pricey, of course, and hard to find in a supermarket, as only two percent of all beef is graded Prime.  Most of this highly graded beef goes to restaurants.

Okay, okay I have to say the obvious here, as I feel it is my obligation.  The best way to have the healthiest animal, in the most humane way, is to let it LIVE!  Avoid animal products and have a great diet of fruits and veggies and your body will love you.  The next best bet is to curtail your consumption of meat or buy it from a trustworthy farmer/raiser.  Here’s a place to start:

Find humane, organically fed, free-range meats by using this online resource-

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