Nutritional and Management Claims on Meat and Dairy Products

Martha Goodsell & tatiana Stanton, 2011
Before you put any claim about either the nutrition of your product or the management of the animal that produced it on the label of your meat or dairy product, it is important to understand the status of that particular claim. Nutrient claims about a product such as "lean" or "low-fat", must be verified at the producer's expense, and the producer must have documentation that the product meets the requirements for the definition. Producers who wish to make the official USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) claims of "Naturally Raised" or "Grass Fed" must have approval from the Labeling and Review Branch of the USDA to make these animal production claims. Independent auditors certify specific claims including "Humanely Raised" or "Certified Organic". The provisions of the certifying agency must be complied with to meet these claims. There are no provisions to claim "Antibiotic Free" or "Hormone Free"; while "Chemical Free" is expressly prohibited.

The term "certified" implies that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the AMS have officially evaluated a meat product for class, grade, or other quality characteristics (e.g., "Certified Angus Beef"). When used under other circumstances, the term must be closely associated with the name of the organization responsible for the "certification" process, e.g., "XYZ Company's Certified Beef".

Antibiotic Free is not an approvable USDA claim. "No antibiotics administered" or "raised without antibiotics" is permitted. This claim implies that the animal has not had any antibiotics administered within the course of its lifetime. There is no verification system in place currently. No meat sold in the U.S. is allowed to have antibiotic residues, so therefore it is all "antibiotic-free". Because the USDA regulates language only on food labels, many companies get away with using unapproved terms in advertising and on their Web sites. Sufficient documentation must be provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.

Chemical-Free is expressly prohibited by the USDA as a label on ANY meat or dairy product. "No Chemicals Added" is not an official marketing claim, as it lacks a standardized definition and a certifying agency. This term creates confusion in the marketplace, as antibiotics are not considered chemicals.

Hormone-Free is not an official marketing claim. All animal products contain naturally occurring hormones. The USDA has defined the use of the term and can hold manufacturers accountable for using the "hormone-free" on all meat and dairy products. Do not use this term. "No hormones administered" is the proper way to make this claim, and then only on products from animal species such as beef where administration of some hormones is permitted. While there is no certifying agency for this claim, a producer using it can be held accountable to the USDA for improper use.

There is a growing market in the U.S. for the consumption of farm fresh product. Some consumers request organic meats while others ask for grass fed meat. Here are some legal descriptions of these marketing claims.

Organically certified meat and dairy products are from livestock that have been raised in compliance with the National Organic Program's standards. Their production must be certi­fied by an accredited state or private certifying agency. Strict guidelines must be met. For example, in the case of meat, the use of dewormers and antibiotics is forbidden not only for the market kid or lamb itself but also for its dam during the last third of pregnancy (gestation) and lactation. Sick animals must be treated with antibiotics or dewormers if necessary but can no longer be marketed as organic. All feed and bedding must usually be obtained from certified organic sources.

Grass fed became an official marketing claim in October 2007. Raising livestock on a forage diet with little or no grain supplementation may increase the amount of beneficial fatty acids (Omega 3 and CLAs) in their meat. Thus, AMS requires that grass and forage be the sole feed source for the lifetime of the "Grass fed" animal with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. However, routine minerals and vitamins may be added to the diet. The animals must have continuous access to pasture during the grazing season.

Natural is a food label that does not refer to how the animal was raised but rather to how it was processed. Natural products can contain no artificial ingredients, coloring agents or chemical preservatives and must be minimally processed. Meat can be ground, smoked, roasted, dried, or frozen as long as these procedures do not fundamentally change the raw product.

The Naturally Raised label claim became official in January 2009. It requires that animals be raised entirely without growth promotants or antibiotics, except for the two ionophores, Rumensin  (monensin) and Bovatec (lasalocid) which may be used for coccidia control.  The animals cannot be fed animal byproducts such as meat, fat, manure, poultry litter, fishmeal or fish oil.

Meat that is certified as Humanely Raised and Handled is from farms that have enrolled in a private certification program such as that of the Humane Farm Animal Care ( ), a consumer certification and labeling program based on standards established by a scientific animal welfare committee.

Private certification programs will often require that you sign an affidavit indicating that your livestock have been raised in agreement with their management standards.  They may need to inspect your farm periodically.

Pasture Raised, Sustainably Raised, and Locally Grown are not official claim terms and may have different interpretations for different people. For example, farmers' markets handling only "local" product may require that the product be raised within 30 miles while supermarkets may consider product to be local if it can be transported to the store within a set number of hours.

Kosher and Halal Meats - Although there are national certification programs for Kosher and Halal processed foods, there is no national mandatory labeling and certification for Halal or Kosher meats. For the most part, it is a farmer's responsibility to insure that their meat meets their customers' definitions of Halal or Kosher. Some states such as New York do have laws pertaining to Halal and Kosher certification records. For more information on NYS regulations go to or .

For more information on processing and slaughter regulations check out the Resource Guide to Direct Marketing Livestock and Poultry .