Decoding the Labeling on Meat

Acabonac Farms |

The labels on meat in the grocery store can mislead you. Government rules leave wiggle room for large farming operations to do things consumers might not necessarily like. It’s created a situation where many shoppers no longer are sure if what they see on product packaging is the truth. 

They have good reason to be concerned. As the following will demonstrate, some food labels simple do not mean what you probably think they mean. That’s a concern consumers shouldn’t have and that local farmers are trying to end.

What We Do

Before looking at what the U.S. Department of Agriculture labels mean, it’s important to know that as a local farm on Long Island, Acabonac Farms keeps things simple and straightforward. Our cattle are raised here on Long Island. They eat grass their entire lives. They are never given growth-promoting steroids or antibiotics. Our farm also does not use chemicals of any kind, including RoundUp or any kind of weed killer on our pastures.

When you order from us, you are shipped delicious and healthy beef that is exactly what your ordered.

What Government Labels Really Mean

As with anything involving government, policies are set after much debate and lobbying. In this case, most of the lobbying comes from the meat and poultry industry. That leads to compromises in what the labels actually mean.

Many consumers guide their purchasing decisions by what they read on labels. They may even be willing to pay more for meat marked “organic.”  The problem is, many do not know what that label and others mean.

Here’s a look at a handful of labels, using information from Consumer Reports, Serious Eats and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Meat marked as organic means that the cattle were raised on feed that is pesticide- and chemical fertilizer-free and have year-round access to the outdoors, enough space to move around and have not been treated with antibiotics or hormones. However, they may be fed grains and not grass, and in some cases the “outdoor area” might just be a small lot the cattle are not even encouraged to walk into.


Under federal rules, 100% grass-fed means that the animal was never given grain. But beware of those that are labeled as “grass-fed” but not “100% grass-fed” - it means they likely were given grain to fatten them up during the last part of their lives. Look for labels that explicitly say, “100% grass-fed.”


This is another important label. It indicates that the animal was raised on a local farm, meaning you know exactly where it came from and the beef has traveled very few miles. It also supports the local economy and the benefits local farms provide to communities.

No Antibiotics

Look for labels that directly say “no added hormones” and “no sub therapeutic antibiotics.” That eliminates a concern that Consumer Reports points out, in which companies may give animals low doses of antibiotics even if they are labeled “no antibiotics.”

“Humanely handled” is another label to look for in this category. It indicates that the animal was raised without antibiotics of any kind.

Why Decoding Is Important

Laws and regulations are the result of debate and compromise. In some cases, regulations end up being written in a way that gives farms leeway in how they operate. This can lead to, for instance, a consumer eating meat with antibiotics even though the packaging said “no growth promoting antibiotics” were used.

That’s why the popularity of local farms continues to grow across the country. People like purchasing their meat and produce from farmers they know and from locations not far from where they live.

Local farms provide consumers with food they can trust. That used to be the rule, not the exception. They’re doing their best to make that true once again.

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