With all the different labels out there—free range, cage-free, humanely raised, grass-fed, certified humane and more, even a quick grocery trip can become pretty overwhelming. Are these labels really better for you and the animals themselves? Does it justify the higher cost?
When it comes to free range meat, the answer to both questions is “yes.” You should consider switching to free range: it’s better for your health and the animals’ welfare. Here’s an overview of what “free range” really means, and why it’s better for your body.
What is ‘free range’ meat?
You may already know that factory farms have some pretty horrific conditions. Because the goal is to raise and produce as much meat as possible, livestock tends to suffer. Some of them are kept in cages or pens which barely allow them to move—and they may never go outdoors even once in their lives.
“Free range” can mean a number of things. You’re probably thinking of open pastures and grazing cows right now, and indeed, some ethical farms have exactly that sort of accommodation. However, the label only requires that animals are provided some sort of access to the outdoors. It doesn’t specify how much space there must be, and how often the animals may access it.
To make sure that your free range meat and eggs come from a farm more like the first example, look for these labels, too:
- American Grassfed
- Animal Welfare Approved
- Free Range + American Humane Certified (eggs only)
- Pasture Raised + Certified Humane Raised and Handled (eggs only)
- Pasture Raised + American Humane Certified (eggs only)
Better farms provide more environmental benefits, as well as happier lives for the animals they house—and all that translates into healthier, tastier meat.
Why free range is better
Here are our top reasons you should switch to free range meat:
- More healthy fats: Free range pork and beef are leaner than their factory farm counterparts. They can contain up to six times more healthy fats than grain-fed meat, which makes them a smart dietary switch.
- Disease-free: Unfortunately, diseases can spread through livestock like wildfire. Confined animals are particularly susceptible to catching viruses and bacterial illnesses. In fact, Consumer Reports found that 18 percent of non-free-range meat contains bacteria that’s resistant to several types of antibiotics. This can lead to food poisoning.
- Tastes better: Many people think that free range meat tastes better, since it’s leaner. Many free range animals graze on grass, as opposed to being grain-fed. This adds a unique flavor to the meat.
- Often organic: Many free range farms also adhere to organic standards. That means you’re less likely to encounter added antibiotics and hormones—and the fewer antibiotics you consume through your food, the less likely you’ll build a resistance.
- Fewer calories: Free range meat isn’t just full of healthy fats. Because the animals are leaner, a cut of free range meat often is significantly lower in calories. Plus, because this lean, healthy protein has low levels of fat and carbohydrates, it can help you regulate your blood sugar. If you’re insulin resistant, try switching to free range and
- Great source of protein: Many Americans don’t get enough protein in their diets. Free range meat could be the solution. One three-ounce serving of free range meat can contain up to 18 grams of protein, thanks to the leaner meat. It’s a great way to get plenty of protein while cutting down on your meat consumption.
While free range meat tends to be more expensive than its factory farm counterparts, it’s a worthwhile expense. Not only is the meat healthier, but you’re investing in companies who treat animals humanely.
Often, free range farms allow their animals to graze on grass and other forage. In turn, this benefits the environment, preserving topsoil and benefiting the soil microbiome. Eating free range means that you’re not just benefiting yourself: you’re also contributing to animal welfare and environmental health. That’s a pretty tasty deal in and of itself.
If you’re interested in finding out more about humane food labels and what they really mean, this article is an excellent resource. While the sheer range of humane labels can be overwhelming, researching your food can have a significant benefit on the world around you as well as your health.