No-Nonsense Guide to Food Labels (Beef)

Farmfront Board Member

Meagan Bryant

When you walk down the aisle inside of your favorite grocery store, it is easy to spot buzzwords that may grab your eye. With consumers’ rising interest in what is in their food, words that give more details stop and make you think. Organic, grass-fed, hormone or antibiotic free. What does it all mean and do these labels really fit the goals in your head? In the second installation of the no-nonsense guide to food labels we are going to dive into understanding the beef you buy.

Grain-Finished vs. Grass-Fed

What’s the difference between your cow being grain-finished or grass-fed? 


Grain-finished cows actually eat grass for the majority of their lives, they only spend 4-6 months at a feed yard eating a balanced diet of grains, local feed ingredients, like potato hulls, sugar beets, and hay or forage. These cows may or may not have been given antibiotics or growth hormones.

Grass Fed

Compared to grain-finished, grass fed cows eat grass or forage for their entire life. When they are at the feed yard for 4-6 months, they are given grass, forage, hay or silage only. These cows may or may not have been given antibiotics or growth hormones.
One thing to note is that cows have naturally occurring hormones, like all mammals. Cows that are given growth hormones or antibiotics have to go through a withdrawal period so that when the meat arrives at your plate those hormones or antibiotics are no longer present in the meat. So, either way those antibiotics or hormones will not be ingested by the consumer.

Organic vs. Naturally Raised

Naturally raised beef and organic beef are very similar. Both have much stricter rules including what supplements are given to the cows and what they are fed.


USDA Certified Organic beef can never receive any antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones. This beef may be either grain-or grass-finished, as long as the feed is 100% organically grown. These cows can spend time at a feed yard.
Any cow that becomes ill must be treated with antibiotics in order to get better, and therefore ensuring the animal is being treated humanely. If an organic animal becomes ill and is given antibiotics it will be sold to a non-organic farm.

Naturally Raised (sometimes called Never Ever)

The main difference between naturally raised cows and certified organic cows is naturally raised cows do not have to have 100% organically grown feed. Beef that is Naturally Raised is sometimes called Never Ever, as in never ever exposed to antibiotics or hormones.

Beef Raised without Antibiotics vs. Beef Raised without Hormones

If the beef you are buying is organic or naturally raised, you don’t have to worry about these labels because both organic and naturally raised cows cannot be given either antibiotics or growth hormones. Although, as noted above due to the withdrawal period, neither antibiotics or hormones will be in any meat when you eat it, so the decision is yours on whether or not you care about these labels!

USDA labels “beef raised without antibiotics” mean the cattle have never received antibiotics but may receive growth-promoting hormones and “beef raised without hormones” mean the cattle have never received growth promoting hormones but may receive antibiotics.

Certified Humane

Certified Humane labels are not handled by the USDA but a separate nonprofit certification organization. In order for food to have the certified humane label it must come from a farm where Humane Farm Animal Care’s precise, objective standards for the humane treatment of farm animals is implemented.

The Power is in YOUR HANDS! -er- WALLET!

When it comes down to it, I encourage you to research any labels you are unsure of the definition for, to make sure they mean what you think they are supposed to. If those labels don’t meet the standards in your head maybe you should re-evaluate your purchases. Remember consumer dollars drive the industry. If nothing else, always look for local means of food markets in your area, where you can approach the farmer and they can tell you about all their practices and why their products are worth it!

The Graze: Aid for Farmers During Covid-19

The Graze COVID-19 aid for farmers

What’s a Graze?

With so many news stories, problems, and solutions coming about during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have collected some of the most important resources farmers and their allies can know about right now. No bull, just the meat.

Farmfront Board Director

Elizabeth Nyman

I can’t sell my livestock or produce for anything. What gives?

The difficulty dealing with COVID-19 is that we still are learning about it. We do know issues like the proximately required at meat processing facilities is an issue. But still the overall uncertainty has caused massive issues in our food supply system. Food producers (aka farmers) have become one of the most economically vulnerable parts that system. Information changes quickly right now so expect a dynamic year.

How exactly is that affecting where I live?

States differ in how they are treating their economies. Some are more restrictive than others. Generally, all food production is considered an essential service. Farms for food production should be considering their options for moving forward.

Why can’t I sell my livestock or vegetables to whoever is processing them?

Part of our food system’s fragility is in how plants process and inspect food. Food must be processed and inspected before it goes to consumers. The processes themselves such as for meat have high standards. It isn’t a health issue. The standards do make it difficult to transport meat across state lines. It can also be hard to find a facility with the right inspection infrastructure the USDA needs. This is a partial reason for why there are so few stakeholders in meat processing. It is hardly the only reason though. Meat is a prominent example.

Some farms can use this opportunity to pivot.

* None of these are affiliate links, nor does Farmfront have any endorsement relationship with them. We encourage farmers and farm businesses to connect with colleagues your area to see what they like.

Other farms have to batten down the hatches.

Is there anything long-term to come out of this?

Some bills are trying to make meat processing more agile under thePRIME act.

In the meantime, one of the most important things you can do as a business owner is take care of yourself.

Folks like Farm Aid are ready to give you fast and effective help. Mental health is health. Seeking help for your mental health is smart.