Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Does “Natural” Meat Really Mean?

The word “natural” is laden with connotations. Some labels even go so far as to picture an idyllic red bar the kind that conjures up an Old MacDonald-style farm where they feed animals from a bucket. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture meaning of the “100% Natural” or “All Natural” label isn’t what most people think; according to a Food Safety and Inspections Service representative, all it means is the meat is “minimally processed with no artificial ingredients.”
Food Safety and Inspections Service is the USDA agency charged with verifying that meat labels are truthful, accurate and not misleading. But they only deal with labels about food – not animals.
The USDA knows this is confusing to consumers – they’ve done surveys that find most people are like those I talked to in the grocery store – they think the term refers to how the animal was raised.
But despite the confusion, the use of the word “natural” on labels has been growing.
Label expeditor Susan Glenn said nearly half the label applications she sees include the word natural.
Glenn works at Prime Label Consultants in Washington, D.C. Basically, she helps meat companies get their labels approved by the USDA. Glenn attended a meeting a few years ago with USDA, industry and consumer advocacy groups.
“Everybody had their own definition of natural,” she said. “Some were adamant and said it should be nothing in there, others disagreed.”
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