Do You Know the Difference Between Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Organic and Free Range?

CC BY 2.0. Ryan Thompson/USDA/flickr

A new survey finds that animal welfare labels affect buying decisions, but few people actually know what they mean.

Since most of us aren't out in the woods or fields bringing home the bacon, so to speak, there is an easy disconnect between, say, a cow in the pasture and a hamburger on the plate. A lambchop wrapped in plastic at a supermarket bears little resemblance to a lamb in the meadow – and it makes it easier for us to not think about how our food was raised. But there has been such a growing movement to improve conditions for livestock animals, that more awareness seems to be creating a sea change for animal rights – or at least that's the direction we should be moving toward.

WIth this in mind, Kettle & Fire conducted a survey to find out how much people know and care about where the things we eat come from. They surveyed more than 2,000 people on their feelings, motivations, and choices when it comes to humanely raised food.

Unclear About Labels

There are some interesting takeaways from the survey, but the ones that serve maybe the most practical application were the questions about "humanely raised" labels.

Most survey respondents said they care about animal welfare and many responded that humanely raised labels had an impact on their buying decisions. But do they understand what those labels mean? How many of us know what the terms “grass fed,” “pasture raised,” “organic,” and “free range” actually indicate?

The graphic below explains the differences, and also shows how many respondents had correct or incorrect understandings of what the terms mean.

Animal welfare labels

© Kettle & Fire

As it turns out, most people understood what “organic” and "free range" mean: Organic is "a government-upheld standard for naturally grown foods that generally means no pesticides or antibiotics, and practices that are better for the planet." While “free range” technically means "kept in natural conditions with free movement, but can also mean that the animals simply have access to the outdoors."

But “grass fed” (grass composes the majority of the animal’s diet) and “pasture raised” (the animals graze in a pasture for at least part of the day, though they may also be fed grain by the farmer) were not nearly as well understood. Only about 30 percent of those surveyed got these definitions right.

Concerned Consumers

The good news is that maybe even if we don't exactly know what the labels mean, at least the majority of people care about how animals are raised. Seventy percent of men and 85 percent of women said they were extremely or moderately concerned. Only about 3 percent of women and 9 percent of men said they weren’t concerned at all.

Animal welfare labels

© Kettle & Fire

See more results from the survey here.