"Lean" beef, especially ground beef can be confusing. Remember even if it says it's 80% lean, this still means that it is 20% fat by weight and that this fat makes up more than two thirds of its calories.
- The truth is that meat is often contaminated with bacteria but it is up to you to look at the small print to figure out how to handle it. The small print will come with icons such as a "refrigerator" (keep refrigerated) or a "faucet" keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods, "thermometer" refrigerate leftovers or discard. Cook thoroughly. All of these labels can be boiled down to: chill, clean, separate, cook.
- Organic labeled meat will reduce your risk of mad cow disease because the rules forbid feeding animal by-products to other animals. They also forbid the use of antibiotics and hormones. But organic meats are hard to find. Instead, in most markets, you will find meats labeled "natural" or "all natural", which mean nothing. "Natural" meat producers can pick and choose between which practices they want to adhere to, whereas certified organic cannot. Moreover and a critical difference is that they have to be verified by inspectors who are certified by state or federally accredited agencies. This is why certified organic meat commands higher prices.
- Also problematic are labels such as: "minimally processed" "no antibiotics, "no added hormones" "no animal by-products in feed" if the company does not carry the certified organic seal. Although these labels may tell us that the meats come from animals that may have been treated better than conventionally-raised animals, they weren't necessarily raised by the rigorous standards set by the USDA's national organic program.
- Some labels hoodwink us into thinking a meat is healthier, for example, the term "no added hormones" on poultry is truthful, but so what? hormones are never used in raising chickens anyway!
- What about "grass fed" and "grass finished"? Animals are typically fed soy and corn to fatten them up quickly. This is not healthy because they weren't designed to eat these foods. Cows are supposed to eat grass. When they eat corn, they get sick easily and have to be treated with antibiotics. However, "grass fed" can only mean that they have had some access to pasture. But they don't have to be out for more than a few minutes. Also, they might not have been fed grass exclusively. These labels are open to interpretation.
The Truth Behind "Humane" Labels
Many people wonder if buying meat, milk, and eggs with labels like "cage-free," "grass-fed," or "free-range" is a humane option. They’re concerned about where their food comes from and genuinely want to make better choices. Unfortunately, these labels can be misleading and are not a guarantee of humane treatment.
- Cage-free hens are subject to many of the cruelties inherent to battery cage systems. For instance, cage-free producers typically purchase hens from hatcheries, where male egg-type chickens are considered useless and killed at birth because they will not lay eggs and will not grow as large as chickens bred for meat. Hatcheries kill 260 million male chicks each year.
- Just like caged hens, "cage-free" hens suffer de-beaking, in which a portion of the upper beak is amputated without pain relief. Also like caged hens, "cage-free" layers are kept only for a few years, until their productivity begins to decline. Then they are typically shipped to industrial slaughterhouses. Since poultry animals are excluded from the federal humane slaughter act, packing plants are not required to render these animals unconscious before slaughter.
- Though "cage-free" hens are not confined to battery cages, they may still be packed by the thousands into poorly ventilated, windowless warehouses. Undercover investigations have revealed "cage-free" hens commonly living indoors, packed so tightly that they can barely move or spread their wings.
- USDA regulations do not specify the amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access provided to "free-range" animals. this means that a warehouse with thousands of "free-range" hens could have a single door leading to a small, enclosed outdoor area that hens would have to struggle to access.
- "grass-fed" labels indicate that animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, but usda grass-fed stipulations do not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides, all of which are harmful to the environment and human health.
- Organic dairy may be free of antibiotics and hormones, but it is not free of cruelty. Because cows produce milk only when pregnant or nursing, all dairy farms subject their cows to a relentless cycle of impregnation and birth. Their babies are taken away immediately, so that the milk can be collected for human use. male calves, since they are of no use to the dairy industry, are sold for beef or veal. When a cow’s milk production declines at an average of less than five years, she too is slaughtered for meat.
- Investigations have shown that some organic milk producers keep cows confined indoors much of the time. Because the requirements for the "organic" label prohibit the use of many medicines, producers frequently allow cows to languish with ailments that otherwise could easily be treated.