A Guide to Beef Labeling Rules and Regulations

BeefBy  Kelsey Pope

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 https://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.


Robbie McKinnon

I love education to teach consumers about beef. Food safety would also help to educate people to keep them well.


Thank you for the simple & straight forward explanation. I agree with Laurie Jo, we need more truth going out to the public and less fear!


There is a zero-day withdrawal for all growth hormone implants on the market fir beef cattle. You are correct that the amount of hormones in the animal must be below the threshold margin of safety. There are restrictions regarding how soon before slaughter implants can be administered, which helps ensure hormone levels are acceptable at slaughter.

All that said, you are absolutely correct that the use of those products are totally safe for both the animal and the consumer, as well as effectively allowing for more efficient production of lean beef. I simply wanted to point out the difference regarding withdrawal periods..any inaccuracy in your message undermines your credibility.

Dust In My Coffee | Commonground Nebraska

[…] As those developments occurred the conversation about production agriculture changed seemingly overnight.  As farms sizes grew and people grew away from direct experiences on the farm a change in the discussion was inevitable.  Farmers Markets began to pop up in more places with an increased emphasis on organic production and locally grown products.  Add a movie, books, social media and some people using fear to sell a message and you add to the confusion. Consumers are wondering what food is good for you, what farming methods are good and what should a mom buying food for her family do when confronted with such a variety of choices. […]


But the real indicator was grades. Prime, choice, good, etc. So then the grades were “tweeted” sometime in the late 70’s or 80’s. So choice became prime. Then they sent the really good stuff to Japan I guess. Hard to find well marbled steaks in a grocery store


I agree Gene. We have a great meat market in our town where I can buy good marbled steaks. Unfortunately, because most of the cattle ranchers are trying to cater to the “healthy” food fads, the cost is over $20/lb. Prohibitive for me. Even cheaper cuts are way overpriced for the same reason.

We also have a local farmer’s marked each week. I stopped shopping they are over the top with their prices. An ear of organic corn is a dollar, and I live in the middle of Illinois where one can spit in any direction and hit a corn field. The same is true for other vegetables as well. Thankfully, I can travel to the next town where I can buy a dozen ears of GMO, worm free sweet corn for about five bucks dozen.

I have no problem with folks who want to eat organic, or leaner meat. However, the organic industry won’t be happy until they can force their Veblen goods on the rest of us. This has started to have a negative impact on my lifestyle and I don’t like it at all.


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