Some food claims are totally unregulated and have been co-opted by larger brands seeking to cash-in on the local-foods movement. Case in point: There is no standard length of time that an animal has to be on the pasture in order for someone to make that claim that it’s pasture-raised. So, if that—or anything else—is important to you, your best bet is to buy locally and talk to farmers and butchers about their practices. But before you do, it’s helpful to know some common meat terms and claims, and what they actually mean:
Pastured: “Pastured” or “pasture-raised” can refer to pretty much any farm animal that has spent time outside eating grass or forage. Again, this term isn’t regulated, so talk to farmers who make this claim to ensure their animals did, in fact, spend plenty of time roaming freely outdoors on pasture.
Grass-Fed/Grass-Finished: The diet of “grass-fed” animals consists of fresh grass during growing season and stored grasses, like hay, during winter or drought conditions. Grass feeding is used with cows, sheep, goats, and bison. “100 percent grass-fed,” or “grass-fed and -finished,” means no grains have been fed to the animals. Pigs and poultry cannot survive on pasture alone, so you won’t (or shouldn’t) see this label applied to them.
Antibiotic-Free: In some cases, antibiotics are fed to healthy animals such as cows, hogs, sheep, and chickens to prevent disease and stimulate growth, which isn’t good. “No antibiotics” implies that a farmer does not administer antibiotics to his or her animals, or that they only use antibiotics to treat sick animals that aren’t sold for meat.
Hormone-Free: All animals, of course, have naturally occurring hormones, but some commercial operations use hormones to speed animal growth. “Hormone-free” means no additional hormones have been given to animals to increase growth rate or milk production. Keep in mind: Federal law always prohibits the use of additional hormones in pork and poultry.
Source: Allison Czapp, director of Buy Fresh Buy Local Greater Lehigh Valley