Natural Foods Merchandiser
Secret shopper: Which labels should I pay attention to at the meat counter?

Secret shopper: Which labels should I pay attention to at the meat counter?

Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association and principal of Crystal Springs Consulting analyzes the response given by an employee at a small natural foods store in the Midwest when asked "which labels should I pay attention to at the meat counter?"

Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.

The question: Which labels should I pay attention to at the meat counter?

Store: Small natural foods store in the Midwest.

Store: As far as poultry and chicken go, free range. That means the animals just walk around out in the yard like they used to years ago. Certified Humane means they weren’t just kept cooped up in cages so they could get fat.

NFM: What about labels on red meat?

Store: When it comes to beef, if you can cut back, go ahead. There are a couple of companies that make veggie burgers; they are not as bad as they used to be. You can also do a lot with vitamins to get protein and aminos that you couldn’t before. 

Response: Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association and principal of Crystal Springs Consulting, a service connecting independent, organic and sustainable food producers with retailers.

The retailer got it right in terms of the use of free range on poultry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that poultry products labeled as free range come from birds that had access to the outdoors. There currently are no regulatory requirements governing the free range claim on products from four-legged critters.

Grassfed is another confusing claim on meat. People infer that the animals were reared exclusively on pasture. Most animals normally spend a portion of their lives on pasture, so there are no legal limits on this claim. Even the voluntary USDA Certified Grassfed program does not specify the time that animals must spend on pasture. Only the voluntary American Grassfed Association certification label requires animals to be reared exclusively on pasture.

Certified Humane is one of the three audit-based programs that assures animals were handled properly from birth through processing. American Humane Certified and Animal Welfare Approved are two other audit-based labels.

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