The Difference Between Grass Fed, Free Range and Commercial Produced Foods

Photo of cow herd in a field on a bright sunny day

Common Food Labels Decoded

The labels read “grass fed only,” “free range chicken, “or” no artificial flavors” but what do they mean? Decoding the labels on your food is an important task, especially as more and more hormones and unnatural ways of prepping and preserving food are linked to dangerous health issues.

Let’s look at some common terms:

  • Grass Fed – Grass fed refers to cattle or other livestock like goats that graze independently for fresh food. Grass fed animals are not given supplements like grain and, therefore, have a diet that most resembles “natural.”
  • Free Range – Free range is similar to grass fed, except it is typically used to describe poultry products. Free range means that the chickens, or other livestock, are allowed to forage for their own food. Eggs can also be labeled free range if they come from free-range chickens.
  • Commercially Produced – “Commercially produced” is not necessarily a label you would find on food and refers to food that is mass-produced. Typically anything that comes in a box or wrapper is commercially produced, such as cake mixes, cookie snacks, frozen meals and candies.
  • Certified Organic or Certified Organically Grown – These terms mean an independent third party supports the product and has verified that is was grown and preserved using organic methods (without pesticides, hormones, etc.) Learn more about organic foods.
  • Pasture Raised – The term “pasture raised” can be confusing because it sounds healthy. Pastures are green and grassy, so anything fed from a pasture has to be organic and natural, right? Not necessarily. Pasture-raised animals receive a supplemental diet of grains (typically in the winter months) so the animals are not 100 percent grass-fed.

Choosing Grass-Fed Meat

The three main reasons for eating grass fed meat are nutrition, animal welfare, and humane slaughter.  Obviously, the biggest drawback is price. Organic foods and supermarkets are more expensive because they are higher quality.

  • Nutrition:  In simplest terms, grass-fed beef is easier on the digestive system. The meat contains a balanced combo of Omega-6s and Omega-3s.
  • Animal Welfare: Although we can’t be sure, it is pretty safe to assume that an animal who has the freedom to roam freely outdoors will have a higher quality of life than livestock in industrial farms and factories. If your diet is based on animal rights, choosing grass-fed is definitely for you.
  • Humane Slaughter: According to The USDA Humane Slaughter Act of 1978 states, “Humane slaughter requires proper treatment and humane handling of all food animals slaughtered in USDA inspected slaughter plants. It does not apply to chickens and other birds.” For example, some provisions of human slaughtering include keeping animals in an area that is familiar to them in order to reduce stress before the slaughter. Also, the killing of the animal should be instant or the animal should be unconscious so that he or she does not feel the pain.
  • Checking the meat labels at your grocery store will allow you to see if there is anything on the label about the animals being humanely raised, which could include humane slaughtering. The following link list states and cities with the names of the grocery stores that have humane slaughtered products: Humanitarian Grocery Stores, by

It is also important to mention Kosher slaughtering. Kosher meat and poultry slaughtering, or the Shechita, is the Jewish way of slaughtering animals and also the most compassionate and humane.. In addition, as part of good practice on the consumer’s part, you should bless the meat and give thanks for the animal that gave his or her life in order for you to sustain yours. Review this list of phone numbers and states that carry the kosher meats.

How to Make Decisions About Your Food

You’re standing in the grocery store trying to decide between the meat packaged with the label from the grocery store brand and the more expensive brand that says “certified organic” – how do you make a decision?

Ask yourself the following questions when trying to determine if you should purchase organic:

  • How often does my family consume this beef?
  • What is the difference in price?
  • How “organic” is the meat? You can make this determination by locating one of the terms above on the label (pasture raised, grass fed, etc.)

Read more about the difference between organic and non-organic meats. If you can’t commit to 100 percent organic 100 percent of the time, shoot for 100 percent organic 50 percent of the time.

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