We’ve all heard that buying the right kind of meat is important, but perhaps you’re not exactly sure why or how you should go about doing it. Is it because it will be better for the environment, animal welfare, or that it creates a tastier end product? Let’s start with a definition of what responsible meat is and how it differentiates from the rest of what’s on the shelves.

A lot of terms get thrown around in association with meat; sustainable, higher welfare, grass-fed, organic, hormone-free, but which, if any, are important?

How Do We Define Responsible?

While there is no agreed upon definition of responsible meat, for the sake of this article, we’ll define it as meat that has been produced to consider the welfare of the animal, meaning it has been raised in a humane way. Some of the requirements for this would include an animal eating its natural diet, raised outdoors and given adequate space to practice its natural behaviours, and live in a relatively stress-free environment.

This is in opposition to factory farmed meat where an animal is typically kept in a small, indoor enclosure, tightly packed with other animals of its kind, fed corn or soy, and because of the unnaturalness of those conditions, is under a considerable amount of stress. Animals also shouldn’t be fed synthetic hormones or antibiotics preventatively.

Shopping for Your Responsible Meat

There are some keywords that you’ll be able to look for when shopping, but ideally, the best and most accurate way to learn about the meat you are purchasing is to chat with your local farmer at a market or farm stand or even by calling your closest ranch. Buying half or a quarter of an animal (as a family or with a group of friends), which is typically done through the farmer, is another way to help do your part in reducing food waste and is also a more economically sustainable option.

If that is simply not an option for you, look for “grass-fed” or “pasture-raised” labelling on your meat (beef and pork) as these animals either cannot digest a diet of simply grain or require a more complex diet and eating otherwise creates illness and problems for the health.

Is Pasture-Raised Really Sustainable?

Recently there have been a number of studies and articles looking into which method of farming is more sustainable; pasture raised meat or factory farmed. (Sustainability in this case referring to creating less of an ecological and environmental impact.) The studies found that factory farming was, in fact, more sustainable and creates a smaller carbon footprint simply because the method is more efficient. Land usage required for pasture raised requires much more acreage, creates more fossil fuels as a result of the animals being alive for longer, along with other environmental costs.

The Verdict

While it’s a more ethical choice to buy responsibly produced meat, it's also a more delicious one. Animals that eat a natural and varied diet and live in a stress-free environment make for a more delicious, tender, and nutritious piece of meat.

To make meat truly sustainable, we all need to eat less of it and in a conscientious way; understanding where it came from, how it was raised, how it was killed, and using as much of the animal as we can so we don’t waste it.

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