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USDA defines "natural" for meats

(article, Kim Carlson)

Until recently, the word "natural" stamped on a package of meat meant nothing, legally. But last month the USDA ruled that the word "natural" — and the term "naturally raised" — must be reserved only for certain meats. 

Barry Estabrook at Gourmet.com quotes the USDA about which meat is now allowed to be labeled as natural:

bq.“Livestock used for producing meat and meat products have been raised entirely without growth promotants or antibiotics (except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control) and were never fed animal byproducts.”

bq. (The parenthetical jargon exempts some antibiotics used to kill organisms that give farm animals severe diarrhea.)

Pig farmer Walter Jeffries, at the blog No NAIS, noted approvingly that dairy products and eggs may be fed to pigs under this ruling. Pigs, as Jeffries points out, are omnivorous. But chickens, which are also omnivorous, cannot be labeled as natural if they're fed fish meal. 

Overall, Jeffries isn't pleased with the ruling:

bq. A great many people, including myself, had left comment asking that management, humane handling, and access to grazing should be included as part of the standard. An animal raised in confinement in a small pen or even “free-ranged” in a factory-farm barn is certainly not naturally raised and should not get to use the term competing with animals that were truly raised naturally on pasture.

bq. Unfortunately the USDA chose not to do this. Instead their rule will allow Tyson and other Big Ag factory-farm producers to simply make small adjustments in their feeding to qualify for using the label “Naturally Raised” in their marketing. When a consumer thinks “Naturally Raised,” they envision pastures, not steel bars, pens, and confinement stalls.

bq. Once again, just like with Organic, the big boys are stealing, diluting, and destroying the good that small producers have been using to differentiate themselves from the factory-farm production model of agriculture.

Meanwhile, the folks at the Eat Well Guide have published a Glossary of Meat Production Methods. It's a handy, wallet-sized guide that will set you straight on what all those labels mean — or don't mean. "Natural," unfortunately, has not been updated in the glossary — but then again, the term still doesn't mean a whole lot when it comes to meat.