Most animals raised for meat, milk and eggs are on industrial farms that contaminate our air, soil and water. These farms rely heavily on antibiotics and other synthetic treatments to boost outputs, and combat diseases caused by stressful, crowded and unsanitary conditions. Weak bacteria are killed, leaving behind the most resilient and hard to kill — so-called “superbugs.” These bacteria are capable of causing untreatable infections.
On the other hand, better practices, such as raising animals on pasture, have documented positive effects on the planet and on the quality of the meat and milk.
Some companies have committed to more responsible practices. Yet shoppers can find it difficult to tell which claims on labels represent truly responsible practices. In fact, so called “free range” chickens may have very little access to the outdoors and “natural” meat products may still be from animals fed antibiotics critical to human health.
To help you find the most reliable labels and avoid deceptive claims, EWG reviewed and ranked common label claims for meat, dairy and eggs.
EWG’s most reliable certifications are those that follow these best practices:
- No antibiotics given to healthy animals
- No synthetic growth hormones
- No cages allowed and outdoor access required
- More space to allow for natural behaviors
- Strong third-party verification
- Frequent on-farm inspections (every 12 to 36 months)
The criteria of these certifying bodies differ slightly, as does their availability on store shelves.
Other third-party standards set a lower bar. Some label claims are subject to minimal scrutiny, or lack a uniform definition or federal standard to ensure consistency across producers.
American Humane CertifiedNo AntibioticsNo Beta AgonistsFarmed Responsibly ASC CertifiedGrass-fedHeritage BreedsPasture RaisedNot treated with rBGH/rBSTOrganic SeafoodSustainable SeafoodVegetarian FedUSDA Process VerifiedWild-Caught/Wild Fish
These terms can be deceptive or misleading. For example, some producers market their pork and chicken meat as “hormone free” even though growth-boosting hormone treatments are never allowed for use on these animals. “Cage-free” layer chickens are often stuffed in crowded indoor sheds with no space to walk or flap their wings. And even though “free range” chickens must have access to the outdoors, there is no requirement that they actually leave their shed.