12.22.15 / ADMIN
A Guide to Beef Labeling Rules and Regulations
Navigating the confusing world of beef labels and packaging can be difficult, so I want to talk a little about how that world is regulated. My family and I manage 700 head of Red Angus cattle in eastern Colorado.
In the United States, our meat labeling is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). FSIS is responsible for ensuring the truthfulness and accuracy in labeling of meat and poultry products.
Specific Regulations for Labeling: Hormones and Antibiotics
Two terms specific to meat that receive a lot of attention are hormones and antibiotics.
Hormones are natural. No beef, pork, poultry or dairy products are hormone-free. Growth hormones are sometimes given to beef cattle to safely produce leaner meat, something consumers have increasingly asked for. Beef that was given hormones has a mandatory withdrawal period before it can be sold to the public, so the hormones must be out of their system before the animals are harvested for meat.
Additionally, one pound of beef from cattle given extra hormones contains 15,000 times less hormones than what are produced by an average man each day. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA both test our meat to make sure residue levels of hormones are safe and well below any level that would have a known effect on humans.
For beef, the label “no hormones administered” may be approved for use if the rancher can provide sufficient documentation showing no hormones were used in raising the animals.
Just as withdrawal times are mandatory for hormone use in beef cattle, they are also mandatory with antibiotic use. The label “no antibiotics added” may be used on beef products if sufficient documentation is provided by the rancher to show that the animals were raised without antibiotics.
However, even if a producer uses antibiotics, they are carefully selected and administered under the guidance of a veterinarian, and antibiotics must be out of the animal’s system before it is harvested. The label “no antibiotics added” only refers to how the animal was raised. It is important to remember that the FDA does not allow any meat to be sold with traces of antibiotics above strict safety limits.
Label Clarity at the Grocery Store
Understanding label rules can make purchasing of meat products less confusing, so the best thing consumers can do is find a trusted source of information about their meat labels. The two sources I recommend include http://findourcommonground.com/and http://www.fsis.usda.gov/ (click on Food Safety Education).
As with any nutrition information, the more you can learn as a consumer, the better off you will be. This is one reason why I volunteer with CommonGround, so I can be a consumer resource for clear information about how farmers and ranchers raise food.