5 minute read
The terms associated with meat at the grocery store are endless. From “free-range” to “all natural” it can be tricky to know what is what. And of course, costs vary depending on what you purchase.
Before making a decision at the store, a good starting point is to know what all the terms mean.
Because after all, if you’re spending the extra money on that ground beef, you want to be paying for what you think you’re paying for, rather than just paying for a marketing term.
This below guide can help you navigate the sea of terms and costs, offering a bit more transparency.
All Natural and Natural
The term “all natural” on meat packaging is nothing more than a marketing term. There’s no third party to certify this and no standards in place. The term “natural” is regulated by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and means, “a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.” It should be noted, the regulation does not involve on-site inspection, only paperwork is submitted.
This means the animals had access to the outdoors. How much access? There’s no specific time required, which makes this term misleading. It’s regulated by the FSIS and the regulation does not involve on-site inspection, it’s simply paperwork submitted.
Grassfed is supposed to mean the cow’s diet consisted of grass and foraging, rather than eating grains. But what actually ends up happening with almost all cattle is that most are grassfed and then finished on grains.
Even if the labeling reads 100% grassfed, this still is likely to mean the cattle ate both grass and grains. If you want to buy a cow that was 100% grassfed from start to end of life the term to look for is “grassfed, grass finished.”
You can also look for the American Grassfed Association label. This label actually takes into account more than just diet, but also confinement, antibiotics, and origin.
Why grass fed matters? Because some research indicates grassfed diets are better for the animal’s health (higher in omega-3 fatty acids), whereas grain fed diets are said to be used to quickly fatten up an animal. The idea is if it’s bad for an animal’s health, it’s bad for a human’s health since we are then consuming that animal.
No Hormones / No Antibiotics
Hormones are never allowed for raising hogs or poultry, according to FSIS. There’s no need to spend a higher price on chicken or pigs if it’s marked as having “no hormones” because it already does not.
For beef, “no hormones” can only be listed if sufficient documentation was provided to show this is true. The same applies for “no antibiotics” regardless of whether it’s beef, hog or poultry.
USDA Certified Organic
The USDA’s Certified Organic label has a set of standards in place requiring farmers and ranchers to follow specific guidelines involving diet and environment. This mainly pertains to feed, healthcare, living conditions, and processing. It also means the land can not have been exposed to artificial chemicals for at least the past three years. Additionally, everything the animals are fed must come from a certified organic source.
However, this label is still lacking. Being USDA certified organic could still mean the animal was in confinement for much of its life, eating a mostly grain diet. It also includes Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), think factory farming.
In my research, I found the following cost comparisons for a few popular meat options:
Beef (cost per pound)
Ground Beef U.S. Average Conventional Cost: $3.72
National Chain #1, USDA Certified Organic Ground Beef: $5.99
Sirloin Steak USDA Choice U.S. Average Cost: $8.57
National Chain #2, Grassfed Third-Party Certified Organic Beef Top Sirloin: $14.99
Chicken Boneless Breast (cost per pound)
U.S. Average Conventional Cost: $3.04
National Chain #1, USDA Certified Organic: $5.99
National Chain #2, Third-Party Certified Organic: $7.99
Pork Chop (cost per pound)
U.S. Average Conventional Cost: $3.31
National Chain #1 (boneless): $6.49 per pound
National Chain #2 Third-Party Certified (boneless): $7.99
Ways to Save – The Bottom Line
The cheapest meat to purchase is meat with no third-party verifications, whatever is the conventional brand sold at your grocery store of choice. But that means it is most likely going to be mass-produced in over-crowded, unsanitary environments. Essentially, factory farm meat. This could then mean potentially putting your health at risk and paying more in medical bills down the road. So while you might be saving at the time of purchase, that purchase might be costing you more than you think.
If you want to feel confident your meat is coming from where you think it’s coming from and under certain healthy ethical practices, your best bet is going to be buying from either a local farm or a verified third-party certification.
This will almost always guarantee paying more for your meat. But here’s a few ways you can save money:
1) Consider purchasing this meat in bulk when it goes on sale and freeze what you don’t immediately need.
2) Check out your local farmers’ market to talk with farmers about their prices for meat. Some farms have the option to “adopt” a cow or pig.
3) Join a CSA. Also known as Community Supported Agriculture, this is where you as a consumer, buy shares of a local farm’s harvest. Some farms deliver the meat and produce to you, whereas others have specific pick-up dates. You might need to ask around a bit for a gauge on price, but in my experience, these rates have been similar to shopping at an upscale grocery store. The plus side? You get to know the farmers harvesting your food, providing an inside look at what you’re consuming.
4) The American Heart Association recommends limiting our red meat intake. Eating no more than six ounces (think two decks of cards) of lean red meat or skinless poultry per day, with 4 to 5 servings per week. The cost of grains per pound is significantly cheaper than red meant. If you’re eating less red meat, you’re saving money.
5) Try shopping at more than one grocery store. Some grocery stores are known for costing less than others. You can also search for sales on specific cuts of meat to help save.
Our meat industry has a long way to go before things are more straightforward about where meat is coming from. But with a little research and these tips for saving, you should be able to reduce the amount you spend on this grocery list item.