Common Misleading Food Labels and Why You Can Trust Pasture-Raised
Buying meat and eggs at the grocery store can be a daunting experience. It’s easy to find yourself deciphering each product label, wondering what it all means.
With an overwhelming amount of food options (and all making multiple claims on their packaging), it’s understandable if you are not sure what to believe.
Claims like “all-natural,” “free range,” “humanely raised,” “organic,” and “grass-fed” seem to cover the packaging of meat and eggs along with images of happy farms and large pastures.
But all of these marketing strategies seem to make it more confusing to know exactly what you’re buying. And they can be misleading, designed to generate buzz rather than provide clarity.
We’ve been producing high-quality 100% grass fed and finished beef, and pasture-raised pork, poultry, and eggs for over 20 years at Maple Wind Farm. We’re experts at raising happy healthy animals. It’s hard for us to see companies use these marketing claims to paint a farm-forward picture when they do not share our same values.
These labels try to make a company's meat and eggs appear somehow better than the rest. But we know that our farm produces the highest quality products.
We devote a lot of labor and resources to raising animals in the most natural way possible: moving animals to new pasture daily.
When you see “pasture-raised” on Maple Wind Farm products, you can trust that it’s the highest commitment to quality. Real pasture-raised farming produces the most nutritious and flavorful beef, pork, poultry, and eggs for your family to enjoy.
You want to feed your family the best quality meat and eggs, yet it’s not easy to trust which options are best. We believe local pasture-raised products are the ideal choice. But no matter what you buy, the key is to learn the facts about your food and ask questions of your farmers and food producers.
So let’s try to clear things up!
What it Means to Be “Pasture-Raised”
We’ve been raising animals on our Vermont pasture for over 20 years (even before “pasture-raised” was a buzz-worthy term). We know what it takes to produce pasture-raised meats and eggs.
During pasture season at Maple Wind Farm, our animals move to fresh grass every day. In the morning, Bruce and the team lead our cows, chickens, and turkeys to a new part of fresh green grass. It’s a lot of work, but we know that it’s worth it.
And we put a lot of thought into exactly how our animals move on pasture. For example, it’s common for cows to graze a pasture first and eat the tall growing grass. Then our chickens follow, eating the bugs in the grass as they enjoy their new paddock of pasture.
We make many efforts to protect our animals from predators as they graze. We enclose our meat birds like turkeys and chickens in mobile-range coops (MRCs) to keep them safe. Our layer hens and older turkeys roam in pasture areas behind a large enclosure of electric netting with MRCs for shelter. And our livestock guard dogs are living in the paddocks with the birds to keep predators away.
A lot of labor goes into raising animals on pasture. But it’s worth it because those rich nutrients from the green pasture carry over to the meat and eggs on your dinner table.
Real pasture-raised products are more flavorful and nutritious. According to the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA), pasture-raised chicken and eggs contain 286% more omega 3 fatty acids, 73% more Vitamin A, 200% more Vitamin E, and 13% less saturated fats than non-pastured products.
We love it when our customers tell us they can experience, feel and taste the difference in our pasture-raised meat and eggs. Our hens lay eggs that are a bright, beautiful orange you won’t see in the grocery stores. And our ribeye steaks burst with flavor when only seasoned with salt and pepper.
It’s all thanks to the nutrients from our Vermont pasture.
Want to see what real pasture-raised farming looks like? Follow Bruce in this video from APPPA.
Other Misleading Food Labels
Unfortunately, pasture-raised is becoming another one of those claims misused by product marketing. Many brands claim their products are “pasture-raised” when the animals live in a stationary barn with access to pasture, but spend less than 10% of their time outside.
This is very different from the continuous pasture rotation we provide here at Maple Wind Farm.
For your meat and eggs to be truly pasture-raised, animals need the constant movement and access to fresh grass that we provide. Ask your food producers about their pasture practices before accepting their “pasture-raised” claims.
Here are several other labels to be cautious of when you read them on meat and egg labels.
Organic Meat and Eggs
For meat or eggs to be “organic” the animal must receive a diet of organic feed. This is a great first step, but what this diet consists of is still important.
Organic diets may still consist of grain which, depending on the animals, isn’t always healthy. Cow digestive systems, for example, are built to process grass, not grain. It doesn’t matter whether it’s organic or not - a majority grain diet is not suited for cows.
“Organic” animals may also still be raised in feedlots. This type of feeding operation is designed to make animals gain weight quickly through a steady, calorie-dense diet.
An “organic” label speaks to the nature of the animal’s feed, but it does less to regulate what kind of life the animal has lived. In fact, there is no pasture-raised requirement for organic poultry. This is very different from our farm animals who have continuous access to the most natural diet: grass in Vermont pasture.
Grass-Fed Meat and Eggs
Cows are specifically evolved to eat primarily one thing: grass! But a “grass-fed” label does not always mean that the cattle only ate grass.
It’s common to feed cattle grass in the early stages of their life and then have them eat grain before slaughter. This is done to help the cows gain weight fast. Beef can still be labeled “grass-fed” under these conditions because the animal did eat grass during its life.
When an animal spends its entire life grazing and eating on pasture it's known as “grass-finished.” Look for this label to confirm if an animal ate a 100% grass diet, rather than a blend of grass and grain.
Our cows are 100% grass fed and finished, enjoying a diet of grass their entire lives. Our poultry and pigs enjoy eating in the pasture but their diet is also balanced with non-GMO grain (feed needed by these animals animals to thrive) animals eat grass on the pasture throughout their entire lives.
Humanely Raised Meat and Eggs
“Humanely raised” labels lead you to believe an animal was well cared for during its lifetime. Unfortunately, these certifications do not always have as high welfare standards as we may expect.
Animal welfare certifiers like the Global Animal Partnership, American Humane, and Certified Humane still allow for inhumane practices like conventional feedlot cattle finishing. Meanwhile, Global Animal Partnership (GAP) uses five levels of welfare certification but lower-level products tend to be more common than higher levels.
It’s difficult to enforce these types of welfare standards and industry oversight is minimal. There aren't enough consistent protocols to determine what “humanely raised” means. Without this, we can't always understand the animal welfare practices behind each product.
On our farm, we care for our animals every day and respect the life they give us. Every moment we rotate animals to a new pasture is a moment of appreciation for all they provide. When your land and animals are so interconnected, treating them well is the smart and thing to do.s
All-Natural Meat and Eggs
An “all-natural” label on meat or eggs confirms that the product was not fundamentally altered during processing. This includes the addition of artificial ingredients. Meat and eggs should always be delivered to you in their most original form.
What this doesn’t consider are the practices on the farm where the meat and eggs came from.
“All-natural” does not always mean that the animal is free of added hormones or antibiotics (unless explicitly stated). Since hormones and antibiotics are not part of the food processing phase, they are not always considered under this label. It's a bit misleading because these practices are not quite natural.
To us, the most natural thing for an animal is for it to spend its life on pasture living the best version of its authentic animal self.
Free Range Meat and Eggs
For an animal to be “free range” it must have some sort of access to the outdoors during its lifetime. But when it comes down to it, the animal may still spend most of its time indoors.
Some free range facilities just include a barn door that can open. Or the animals have a small part of the day to roam outside.
When indoors, free range conditions may still be crowded and uncomfortable for the animals. But the potential to have free range in the outdoors is all it takes to use this label.
For an animal to truly have free range of its environment, it needs to be on pasture, and moved often to new pasture! Our animals breathe fresh air, hear the rushing water of the Winooski River, and feel the gentle breeze on their feathers. This is what it feels like to be “free.”
How to Navigate Label Claims
It's important to understand where your meat and eggs come from. We hope this information empowers you to ask questions to food producers who make these label claims.
And the best way to get your questions answered is to know your farmer.
A label may not always be clear about the origins of your food. But your farmer knows your food first-hand. They’ve invested time, energy, and care into raising their products and can help confirm the quality of the meat and eggs you’re receiving.
Buying from your local farmer gives you peace of mind that your food is coming from a good place and that it fits the food values you carry for your family.
Our team at Maple Wind Farm works hard to produce pasture-raised meats and eggs the right way. We care about our animals and also about you and your family.
When you buy Maple Wind Farm’s local pasture-raised meat and eggs, you can trust that you’re getting the best quality possible.
No marketing strategy. No misleading claims. Just real good food from Vermont pasture.
Please reach out if you ever have any questions about your food. We're here to help!
-Beth & Bruce
PS: If you’re interested in learning more about food labels, check out Labels Unwrapped from our friends at Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS).