Labeling requirements for meat products can be broad. If you’re looking for specific niche/product attributes, check the label to see if they’re listed. That, along with a basic understanding of USDA production/labeling requirements, will help you get what you’re looking for.
Some of the popular attributes in the market today include:
Locally Grown: This could mean visiting a farmer’s market, or a broader geographic region. The reasons why people support locally grown products may influence their definition.
Free Range: Also referred to as “pasture raised,” “free roaming” and “raised outdoors.” The USDA standard to make this claim for pork is that hogs have had continuous access to pasture for at least 80 percent of their production cycle.
No Antibiotics Used, Raised without Antibiotics: A claim of no antibiotics on the label means that the animals were raised without using antibiotics and that the documentation has been provided to USDA.
Natural: Pork products that meet compliance with USDA Natural Standards which means the product contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the term “natural.” (i.e. no added colorings or artificial ingredients)
Naturally Raised: There is currently no USDA standard for making a “naturally raised” claim on pork products, and definitions may vary from one naturally raised pork product to another. Attributes that may contribute to a hog being called “naturally raised” might include raised without antibiotics, growth promotants or animal by-products in the feed, use of deep straw bedding and raised outdoors. These attributes will likely be stated on packaging or in marketing materials.
Organic: Pork products that meet compliance with USDA Organic Standards. This involves an entire process in which synthetic inputs into all phases of animal production, meat processing and handling are prohibited. Labeling rules have been established by the USDA for products claiming to be organic and include four categories.
- 100% organic Products produced exclusively using organic methods as defined by the USDA. Can carry the USDA organic certification seal.
- Organic 95 percent or greater of the ingredients (by weight, excluding water and salt) are organically produced with the remaining five percent of ingredients on the National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substances. Can carry the USDA organic certification seal.
- Made with organic 70-95 percent of the ingredients are organically produced and would be displayed on the principle display panel as “Made with organic [specific ingredient(s)].”
- Less than 70% organic These products have the option to include “X% organic” on the information panel and only need to list organic ingredients on the ingredient statement.
Breed Specific: Just as there are breed-specific beef products like Certified Angus Beef, there are breed-specific pork products. Sometimes referred to as heirloom or heritage breeds, examples in the marketplace today include Berkshire, Duroc and Tamworth.
USDA requirements are continually updating; some definitions may be considered interim and subject to change.
Sources: USDA website, National Pork Board 2001 “Issues & Answers: Organic & Natural Pork”