For shoppers it can be challenging to navigate their way around all the different food labels that appear on meat. It is important to many of us that we understand where our meat has come from and the standards it meets, so that we may make an informed decision on our purchase.
Our quick guide will help you know the difference between words like ‘Farm Assured’, ‘Locally Sourced’, ‘Farm Fresh’ and the labels that actually mean the meat has been reared in higher welfare systems.
The Different Food Labels:
Most food products will include the country of origin on the packaging. In fact, in the EU it is a legal requirement to label beef and veal by the country the animal was born, fattened and slaughtered.
For pork, sheep and poultry it is also a legal requirement to label the country of fattening and slaughter.
The reason this information is important is because it can show you the amount of transport the animal has endured during its life and after slaughter. All of which is particularly useful if you choose your meat based on environmental factors e.g., air miles.
Organic refers to the gold standard of food in general and regarding meat, it guarantees the highest levels of welfare for the animals.
To qualify as organic the food must reach a defined legal standard. Once the food has achieved this it will display the EU Green Leaf Label.
When meat has this label, it means that the trail of the meat has been inspected and documented. There are no drugs, growth promoters or any additives given to the animals.
At least 95% of the animal feed must be grown to organic standards and there is no usage of artificial fertilisers or pesticides.
The Soil Association food label comes under the same umbrella as ‘Organic’. It is one of the organic standards to ensure the food processing and welfare of the animals exceeds standard industry practice.
This includes factors such as:
- Prohibiting confinement systems
- Ensuring free-range access
- Ensuring bedding/ environmental enrichment
- Specifying certain stunning and slaughter practices
- Monitoring welfare
Interestingly for poultry and eggs, free range is a legal definition but for pork, lamb or beef it is not.
Free range poultry will have more space in their barn and access to the outdoors for at least half of their life. This means they are likely to be stronger, healthier and slower growing, thus giving the birds a much higher standard of living.
While there are not legal definitions for free range pork, it does generally mean the pigs are born outside, stay longer with their mothers and spend the majority of their life outdoors. This is similar for sheep and cattle for their grazing seasons.
Free range does not specifically have a food label but will likely be specified on the packaging.
This scheme is dedicated to improving the welfare standards for animals. It also guarantees benefits for the animals beyond the industry minimum.
The RSPCA Assured label covers both indoor and outdoor rearing and it also ensures the animals have more space and better bedding.
In addition, on-farm health and welfare monitoring is required and the processes surrounding stunning and slaughter are clearly specified.
The Red Tractor scheme is run by Assured Food Standards and certifies that the food was produced in Britain. This food label means that it meets certain quality standards for food safety, hygiene and environment.
Some of these standards include:
- Prohibiting the castration of pigs
- Reduced stocking density for meat chickens
- Requirement of on-farm health & welfare monitoring
However, it does still allow for intensive production and does not guarantee good animal welfare. If this food label is used in conjunction with any other label, then the minimum welfare requirements will be raised to those of the higher label.
While this is not used for meat, it is used for eggs and is an important food label to understand. This mark means it is guaranteed the eggs were laid in Britain but doesn’t ensure minimum legislative requirements for animal welfare.
The Lion Mark prohibits the use of intensive systems such as ‘Combi cages’ but does permit the use of ‘enriched cages’ for hens as well as barn and free-range systems.
One of the ways you can be certain where your meat has come from is selected a local butcher and researching via their website or asking them directly.
To find out about our meat sources click here.