“Regenerative Meat” — The meaning behind a new food label

If you’ve shopped for meat lately, you might have noticed that some packaging is sporting a new label: “regenerative meat.” Just like “grass-fed” or “antibiotic-free,” this sounds good, but what exactly does it mean and what qualifications must a farm achieve to label its products as regenerative? Let’s take a deeper look. 

A broad definition of regenerative meat means it was produced by farmers practicing regenerative agriculture. This practice aims to reverse climate change by rebuilding organic matter in the soil to optimize carbon capture and diversifying crops to restore soil health. 

Unfortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have no regulatory definitions for regenerative agriculture yet, but various nonprofits and research organizations are doing their best to narrow down a set of guidelines for the term. 

Organizations like ROA, Kiss the Ground, ReganAG, Regeneration International, the Rodale Institute, and Savory Network have come together to define regenerative meat as meeting standards in three categories of criteria: The environment and soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. 

Under these three categories, different organizations require farmers to meet specific requirements such as practicing rotational grazing, avoiding chemical use, avoiding genetically modified organism use, and keeping animals in free-range pastures free from fear, discomfort, and distress. Lastly, employees must be paid a fair and livable wage and have the opportunity to form a long-term work contract with the farm. 

Although definitions vary, the benefits of regenerative meat are improved animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and fair labor conditions for workers. Different organizations are narrowing in on an official designation for regenerative meat, but it should be noted that for Indigenous and Native communities, this is the way meat has been cultivated for thousands of years. 

As regenerative farming gains popularity, hopefully, the USDA will work with environmental groups and farmers to designate a specific set of conditions that qualify for “regenerative meat” labeling, but for now, you can ensure the meat you buy is truly the most sustainable option by opting for local producers and reaching out to them to inquire about their farming practices.

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