Do you find yourself frequently confused by the various labels slapped on your grocery store’s meat packaging? What is the difference between all these terms? We’re here to help make your next supermarket run that much less tedious. (Some terms are defined by the standards set in place by the US Department of Agriculture).

  • Natural – This term means that the meat cannot contain any artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or other artificial ingredients, meaning it has been minimally processed. However, animals can still be given antibiotics or growth enhancers.
  • Grass fed – These animals are fed solely on a diet of grass or hay, with access to graze outdoors. Cattle are grass-eating ruminants by nature, so they are healthier and leaner when allowed to feed naturally. In addition, grass fed beef has been shown to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for your cell health.
  • Free range – The term “free range” means slightly different things in different parts of the world. Broadly, it means that the animals weren’t confined to a cage and had access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, in the U.S. at least, the animal density can still be very high and the animals may have only short periods outside in an area that’s quite small. Therefore, it is difficult to tell exactly what free range means when you see it on meat packaging in the U.S. You can contact the producer directly for clarification.
  • No hormones added – In the U.S. and some other countries where the use of growth hormones is permitted, this term indicates that animals are raised without the use of any added growth hormones. For beef and dairy products it can be helpful, but by law, poultry and pigs cannot be given hormones, so don’t pay extra for chicken or pork products that use this label.


What terms are most important to you when you shop for meat and dairy products? Why? Share your thoughts with us by commenting below.