Beef Buzzwords

Average consumers want more information about their beef purchases, but some of this material can be difficult to find or understand. While beef terms, such as “grass fed” and “organic” are easy to see on a package of ribeyes, knowing what these terms mean takes a little more research. Furthermore, conflicting messages from anti-agriculture activists, media and even the celebrity community can make definitions even more confusing, creating many stressful trips to the grocery store.

When consumers purchase beef, they are faced with a plethora of food marketing “buzzwords”, also known as jargon for a particular industry. It’s difficult to separate these buzzwords with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) category labels, and also understand what they all mean for consumers. Below, you will see simple terminology for common beef buzzwords.*
  • CERTIFIED: The term "certified" means that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Agriculture Marketing Service have officially evaluated a meat product for class, grade (Prime, Choice, Select) or other quality characteristics (e.g., "Certified Angus Beef").
  • CHEMICAL FREE: This term is not allowed to be used on a label.
  • GRASS FED: On January 12, 2016, the Agricultural Marketing Service withdrew the Grass (Forage) Fed Claim for cattle and other livestock. While this label may still appear on products, it is not certified by the USDA. The term “grass fed” typically refers to the finishing period (the final six months of the feeding process) of beef cattle. The majority of all cattle are fed grass through their life, but some cattle are finished on grass rather than grain.
  • KOSHER: "Kosher" may be used only on the labels of meat and poultry products prepared under rabbinical supervision.
  • NATURAL: According to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), “natural” may be used on a label for meat if it does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient, and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed. This definition only applies to how the meat was processed after the cattle were harvested and does not apply to how the animals were raised. 1
  • NO ANTIBIOTICS (red meat): The term "no antibiotics added" may be used on labels for meat products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the FDA demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics. However, one should note animals that are given antibiotics at any point in time, and therefore don’t fall under this label, must abide by FDA required withdrawal periods*. And, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine reports that the appropriate use of antibiotics reduces the risk of unhealthy animals entering our food supply. *A withdrawal period is the time required after administration of a drug to an animal needed to assure that drug residue has left the animal’s system.   
  • NO HORMONES: The term "no hormones administered" may be approved for use on the label of beef products if sufficient documentation is provided to the FDA by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals. However, according to the FDA, animals that have been given hormones are safe for humans to consume.2  Furthermore, beef - including those given growth technologies - must adhere to FDA required withdrawal periods, ensuring that drugs have left an animals body before harvest. Click here for more information on growth technologies in beef: https://www.responsiblebeef.com/story/the-role-of-growth-technologies-in-beef-production
*Information for terminology obtained from www.usda.gov and www.fda.gov.
1. 2016 Cattlemen's Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association. http://www.explorebeef.org/beefchoices.aspx
2. http://www.beef.org/uDocs/Growth%20promotants%20fact%20sheet%20FINAL_4%2026%2006.pdf