If you’re trying to navigate the super market shopping aisles and buy healthy meat, you can easily run into a bewildering number of labels and designations. What does each mean? Do you need a dictionary to understand what it all means? If you don’t care about the quality of your food and are content to chow down on chemical, hormone laden, corn fed, caged animals who live miserable and short lives, than ignore all these labels. However, if you want something that’s good for you, understand what the labels mean, and get educated!

Certified Organic

This is the label to look for. It’s given only to animal’s that are raised under a comprehensive national definition of the term ‘certified organic’. The places these animals are raised in are subject to regular inspections by third parties chosen by the USDA and have to keep adequate records. This meat comes from animals who eat either grass or grains without antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, irradiation, sewage sludge, or artificial ingredients. What’s best is that they have to be raised in “conditions which allow for exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species.”


This simply means that the USDA has certified this meat for a certain class, grade or other quality characteristic.

Chemical Free

This term isn’t recognized by the USDA, and is basically worthless. Ignore it.


This is the meat of those animals you see being abused and fed all the wrong things. Mass produced, raised on feedlot grains with pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics and most likely treated inhumanely.

Country of Origina Labeled (COOL)

This is a USDA regulated label that basically tells you where the animal was raised, slaughtered and processed. Go local if you can!


This applies only to poultry, and means the animals were given ‘access’ to outdoor environments. However, this term isn’t regulated, and many people cheat here in order to get this label. That, and the meat probably has antibiotics and growth hormones. Sounds good, probably isn’t.


This means the meat hasn’t been frozen before sale. Nothing to do with how the animal was raised, fed, and slaughtered.

Grass Fed/Grass-Finished/Pasture-Raised/Pasture-Finished, etc

This means the animal was given grass in their diet, but doesn’t mean they weren’t also fed grains or the like (unless you see 100% on the label). This also has nothing to do with antibiotics or growth hormones, so those could be present. Pasture is also loosely defined, and can even mean a large, indoor facility with a door to a small outdoor area. These terms are not regulated by the USDA.

Hormone/Antibiotic Free

This label is not regulated by the USDA. While the growers have to provide documentation to prove this, it’s not checked by third parties. It suggests that it’s better than Conventional, but it’s definitely inferior to Certified.

Humane Designations

Second best to Certified. Animal Welfare Approved means they were treated humanely all through their lives. These all have strict, third party verified standards for living conditions, quality of feed, and freedom from overcrowded conditions.


This means the slaughter of the meat was done under rabbinical supervision, and has nothing to do with how the animal was raised.


To the USDA, this means only that the meat has no artificial flavors, colorings or preservatives. Nothing to do with how the animal was raised, fed or slaughtered.

Vegetarian Diet

Only speaks of the diet, and has nothing to do with how they were raised or slaughtered.

So there you have it. Basically, when given the choice go for Certified Organic, or the best of the Certified category available. Barring that, look for Humane Designations. If you don’t see those? Good luck. The quality of your meat is likely to be poor.