What’s in a label!

Deconstructing Food Claims…

Whether appearing on a package of eggs in your grocery store or listed on a menu in your favourite restaurant, words like “free-range,” “grass-fed,” “natural,” and “organic” are everywhere. OMG what do they mean? Food labels can be confusing enough, so knowing what it truly means is a great way to learn more about where your food comes from, and how it’s been produced. Here’s a list of most common food label terms and what they actually mean. New food label claims arise regularly, so if you come across a new phrase, be sure to take some time to do the research.

1. Antibiotic Free

May be seen on food from an animal that was not given antibiotics during its lifetime: “no antibiotics administered,” “raised without antibiotics,” or “antibiotic-free.”

2. Fair Trade

The “fair trade” label means that farmers and workers in developing countries have received a fair wage and have had decent working conditions while growing and packaging the product.

3. Free-Range

The use of the terms “free range” or “free-roaming” are only defined by the USDA for egg and poultry production. The label can be used as long as the producers allow the poultry access to the outdoors so they are able to engage in natural behaviors. It does not necessarily mean that the products are cruelty- free, antibiotic-free, or that the animals spend the majority of their time outdoors. Claims are defined by the USDA, but are not verified by third party inspectors.

4. GMO-Free

Products can be labeled “GMO-Free” if they are produced without being genetically engineered through the use of GMOs (genetically-modified organisms.) Genetic engineering is the process of transferring specific traits or genes from one organism into a different plant or animal.

5. Grain-Fed

Animals raised on a diet of grain are labeled “grain-fed.” Check the label for “100 Percent Vegetarian Diet,” to ensure the animals were given feed containing no animal byproducts.

6. Grass-Fed

This means the animal was fed grass, rather than grains. They should not be supplemented with grain, animal by-products, synthetic hormones, or be given antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease, although they may have been given antibiotics to treat disease. A “grass-fed” label doesn’t mean the animal necessarily ate grass its entire life. Some grass-fed cattle are “grain-finished,” which means they ate grains from a feedlot prior to slaughter.

7. Healthy

Beware. This means pretty much nothing! Foods labeled “healthy” do not have much regulation. They must be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium. Certain foods must also contain at least 10 percent of one or more of vitamins A or C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber.

8. Hormone Free

The USDA has prohibited use of the term “Hormone Free,” but animals that were raised without added growth hormones can be labeled “No Hormones Administered” or “No Added Hormones.” By law, hogs and poultry cannot be given any hormones. If the products are not clearly labeled, ask your farmer or butcher to ensure that the meats you are buying are free from hormones.

9. Natural

Currently, no standards exist for this label except when used on meat and poultry products. USDA guidelines state that “natural” meat and poultry products can only undergo minimal processing and cannot contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or other artificial ingredients. However, “natural” foods are not necessarily sustainable, organic, humanely raised, or free of hormones and antibiotics. Again, it is just a little trick to get you to buy it!

10. Non-irradiated

This label means that the food has not been exposed to radiation. Meat and vegetables are sometimes irradiated to kill micro-organisms and reduce the number of microbes present due to unsanitary practices. No thorough testing has been done to know whether irradiated food is safe for human consumption.

11. Pasture-Raised

“Pasture-raised” indicates the animal was raised on a pasture and that it ate grasses and food found in a pasture, rather than being fattened on grain in a feedlot or barn. Pasturing livestock and poultry is a traditional farming technique that allows animals to be raised in a humane, ecologically sustainable manner. This term is very similar to “grass-fed,” though the term “pasture-raised” indicates more clearly that the animal was raised outdoors on pasture.

12. Organic

All organic agricultural farms and products must meet the following guidelines (verified by certified organic approved independent agency). This is a guarantee, however it is very expensive for farmers to get this approval. Food can be organic with out the official seal. IT is important to talk to your farmer and butcher directly.

  • Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for 3 years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.
  • Prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation.
  • Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management and crop rotation practices.
  • Provide outdoor access and pasture for livestock.
  • Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.
  • Sustain animals on 100% organic feed.
  • Avoid contamination during the processing of organic products.
  • Keep records of all operations.If a product contains the “USDA Organic” seal, it means that 95 to 100 percent of its ingredients are organic. Products with 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients can still advertise “organic” ingredients on the front of the package, however, and products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients can identify them on the side panel. Organic foods prohibit the use of hydrogenation and trans fats.13. Wild Game

    Contrary to the label, almost all “wild game” found in restaurants is farm-raised. Farm-raised wild game tends to have a milder flavor than truly wild game.