Are You Buying Organic or Natural Foods? Learn How to Understand Labeling

By Robert Morrison
Robert Morrison
Robert Morrison
July 23, 2014 Updated: May 26, 2017

Many people are turning to organic foods these days, but due to confusing labeling, it can be hard to figure out which foods are actually organic, and which are simply natural foods. After all, it is easy to confuse the terms natural and organic, because one would think that natural is organic. But, they are two different things as defined by the USDA. It is important to learn the difference between “Organic Meat” vs. “Natural Meat”. Reading labels is extremely important if you want the very best meat for your family.

How the USDA Defines Natural Meat

You would think that natural meat means that the meat comes from animals that have been raised in a natural environment, right? Well, think again. The USDA defines natural meat as meat that has no preservatives or artificial ingredients, and that has little processing. It has nothing to do with drugs the animals receive, or how they are fed and housed. You may not even realize that the meat you buy comes from a factory and not from an actual farmer.

The thing that tends to mislead customers the most is the fact that many foods that are labeled as natural also have photos of animals in natural environments. This makes people think that they are getting farm-fresh food, when they are not. In fact, much of the meat that comes from factories is produced in very unsanitary conditions, and the animals are not receiving humane treatment like they would if they were on a real farm. The processors only have to go by the USDA standards, which are quite low.

Defining Organic Meat

Those who produce organic meats must meet much higher standards, and they must document their processes more than those who produce natural meats. They must document animal breed histories, veterinary care, feed, etc. No antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed, and producers are not allowed to use feed that has been grown with fertilizers or pesticides. Cows, goats, and sheep must have at least 120 days per year out in the pasture.

Even knowing this, reading organic labeling can still be confusing, because the labeling can be used in many different ways. For instance, organic can mean that the farmer was using the best farming practices, or it can mean that the meat comes from a farm that only does the least it has to do in order to be able to say the products are organic.

Take a look at these stories about two different meat producers, and how they define their products as organic:

  • Brambleberry Permaculture Farm – This is a non-certified organic farm that incorporates plants, insects, and animals into the cultivation of food. Animals graze in pastures, which results in a natural fertilizer for the soil, and many different animals graze at once. The company expected to be selling natural beef that is 100% grain-fed by the fall of 2013. No synthetic medicines are used, including vaccinations, and pesticides are never used on the grazing fields.

  • Prather Ranch – This is one of the most audited and certified producers of meat in the United States, offering natural and organic beef products. All animals are raised on a pasture, and eat certified organic grass, along with rice, barley, and hay. The difference between the organic and the natural products is that the animals raised for natural meats may have been had feed that was grown with fertilizer. Medical treatment for all animals is similar, and they are all vaccinated, including cows used for organic meats.

Image Source: Brent Hofacker

Robert Morrison
Robert Morrison