Meat and Eggs

When we watched Food, Inc., we were shocked to learn how factory farmers are raising and treating animals. The reality is animals are unhealthy and in turn, the animal products we are eating are unhealthy. In order to find healthier animal products, we learned a few things about how animals should be raised, why, and how their health directly affects us. And then we applied what we learned to help us decide what labels to look for when shopping.



Animals should be fed their natural diet, but unfortunately animals on factory farms are being fed whatever is cheapest. Since the food is usually not what their bodies are designed to digest, the animals get sick. For example, cows fed grain instead of grass are more likely to develop E. coli. The E. coli bacteria can then be passed on to humans if meat is not cooked well enough to kill the bacteria. Click here to learn more. To learn more about the benefits of proper diet, click here.

Living Conditions

If you watched Food, Inc., you saw first hand that living conditions play a huge role in the health of animals. Animals should be able to live as they would in nature (roam, graze, etc.). If they are kept in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions, disease and illness are likely. On some factory farms, cows stand in manure up to their ankles. Not only is this disgusting, it increases the odds of developing illnesses such as E. coli. And we already know how that can affect us from our discussion above.

Antibiotics and Hormones

For decades, antibiotics have been added to animal feed. Yes, the animals are given antibiotics in their food – every day. This is not done as a preventative measure to keep them well; it is done because it was proven to increase weight gain. Bigger animal equals more meat equals more money, of course. The concern with daily antibiotic use is the potential to cause drug-resistant bacteria. If meat from an animal with drug-resistant bacteria is improperly cooked, the bacteria can pass on to the person eating it. And since the bacteria is resistant to antibiotics, it may be difficult to treat. Read more here.

Growth hormones are given to animals for the same purpose as antibiotics, to increase weight gain. The concerns with growth hormones in the food we are eating range from early puberty in females to different forms of cancer. Read more here. (Hormones are not given to chicken, turkey, or pigs. It is illegal to use hormones in poultry and pig farming.)


Grass-Fed/Pastured Meat and Eggs


Cows and lambs are designed to eat grass, and chicken, turkey, and pigs are designed to eat grass and other foods found in their natural environment. So grass-fed (cows, lambs) and pastured (chicken, turkey, pigs) labels mean the animal ate its intended diet.

Living Conditions and Antibiotics/Hormones:

Farmers who feed animals their intended diet are looking out for the best interest and health of their animals. These animals are most likely antibiotic-free, hormone-free, and are allowed to roam outdoors. However, to be sure, ask the farmer or check the label.

To sum it up…

Great diet. Probably great living conditions, probably antibiotic and hormone-free.

Organic Meat and Eggs


The animal ate organic food, but we’re not sure what the food was. In many cases, it was probably the least expensive food and NOT what the animal is designed to eat.

Living Conditions and Antibiotics/Hormones:

The organic label ensures the animal did not receive antibiotics or added hormones and had unrestricted outdoor access. The key word here is access. Just because the animals had access to pasture doesn’t guarantee they were able to graze or had healthy living conditions. A lot of overcrowded factory farms have access to pasture but most animals aren’t able to make their way outside.

To sum it up…

Better than average diet (but not great). Not sure about living conditions. Antibiotic and hormone-free. (Don’t forget the general benefits of buying organic, which we covered on our Organic Food page.)

Free-Range and Cage-Free Poultry and Eggs


These labels do not indicate diet. Most likely the animal was fed the cheapest food and NOT what it is designed to eat.

Living Conditions and Antibiotics:

Free-range means the animal was “allowed access to the outside” and cage-free means it was allowed to “freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area”. Neither guarantees the animal actually went outside. That said, some farmers still use the term “free-range” when they mean pastured. Ask the farmer to be sure. These labels do not indicate whether the animals received antibiotics or not.

To sum it up…

Not sure about diet. Not sure about living conditions. Not sure about antibiotics or hormones.

For a full list of labeling terms and definitions, check the USDA: Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms.


Good: organic

Better*: grass-fed (cows/lambs) or pastured (chicken, turkey, pigs)

Best: organic and grass-fed (cows/lambs) or pastured (chicken, turkey, pigs)

*Often times grass-fed/pastured meat products are just as good as organic grass-fed/pastured meat products. Some farmers who adhere to organic standards choose not to pay for certification because it is so expensive. Therefore they cannot label their products “organic”. So when you are at a farmers’ market or are buying directly from a farm, ask how the food was produced. It might even be better than USDA organic standards!

Please note: Many terms are not regulated. This means there is no independent third-party confirming certain claims, such as “pastured”. You’ll have to trust the source. For more information about label regulation, check the USDA website.

Interesting related articles…

Health Benefits of Grass Farming

Benefits of Grass-fed Beef

The Great News about Grass