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Reading Labels: Beef
For the longest time, Americans have held steak and beef in the highest of standards. In the old days beef was symbolic of wealth and prestige and today many people still order it to celebrate a special occasion. This year the USDA began requiring nutrition labels on meat, but some of the language can still be confusing. Here is a guide to help you understand what those labels really mean.
- Natural: All meat qualifies as natural as it doesn’t contain additives and is minimally processed, which is what the USDA requires, so this phrase is pretty much useless.
- Organic: The USDA’s organic criteria states that in order to be considered organic, foods cannot contain hormones or antibiotics, and must have been fed a vegetarian, pesticide, and herbicide free diet without genetically modified sources or animal byproducts and had continuous access to a pasture.
- Grass Fed: Pretty much all cattle are grass fed at some point in their lives so this term is pretty much meaningless as well. If you want beef from cows that are grazed exclusively on grass for their entire lives, look for the American Grass-fed label, which requires that animals were raised on pasture and have never been confined, fed grain, or given antibiotics or hormones.
- Pasture-raised: While there is no specific pasture-raised certification, animals raised this way can roam freely in their natural environment. Anything certified organic meat must come from pasture raised animals.
- Certified Angus Beef: Certified Angus Beef is beef that has gone through a certification process. It has to meet certain qualifications that are determined by a certification board. The qualifications have to do with their marbling and maturity of the meat, the size of the meat, and quality control. Beef that meets all the requirements is then labeled “Certified Angus Beef” or CAB and makes this cut of beef the best quality.
- rBGH-free or rBST free: This signifies that the meat came from cows that were not treated with any type of genetically engineered growth hormone which may cause health problems in humans.
No matter which one you choose, enjoy your steak and burgers and aim to get one of the 29 cuts of lean beef!