What Does an “All Natural” Label Mean?

So what’s it going to be this weekend? Burgers, ribs, chicken, lamb chops, steak…the opportunities are seemingly endless (and not just for the carnivorous among us).

Equally long and daunting is the list of claims you’ll find on the meat packaging: “Non-GMO,” “No added hormones,” “Grass-fed,” “Organic” and “Antibiotic-free,” just to name a few.

While some of these terms may be new to you, we’d wager that you’ve already come across the now ubiquitous term, “all natural” (or just “natural,” for short).

“Natural” is a widely used and often misunderstood claim. What does “all natural” even mean?

To get to the bottom of this mystery, the Homegrown crew solicited the help of Sarah Blacklin, Extension educator and program director for N.C. Choices, who has worked with meat industry professionals throughout the supply chain for more than a decade.

Sarah gets a variety of questions tossed her way, like if the “natural” claim describes how the animal was raised, whether antibiotics or hormones were used, and how the claim is verified.

Watch our latest In the Kitchen segment to find the answers and discover other facts behind the “all natural” claim that will help you make better informed food decisions for you and your family!

The Meat of the Matter

While “all natural” does have a legally regulated definition, there’s no requirement or process for a third-party to certify the claim (meaning no company or organization is required to audit the farm to ensure proper use of the claim). USDA approves individual claims based on documentation provided by the farm operations.

In terms of scope, “natural” applies only to how the meat is processed after slaughter; it’s not reflective of animal welfare or factors like antibiotic or hormone use. Ultimately, all fresh meat is eligible for the “natural” label, regardless of how the animal was raised.

The “natural” claim can be used on any meat product that doesn’t contain artificial ingredients or added color, and is minimally processed without fundamentally altering the product.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)

More Meat Label Resources

Find additional resources pertaining to label claims and niche meats on the N.C. Choices website.

Quick Guide to Common Food Label Claims
A Quick Guide to Common Food Label Claims