Wonder what words like organic, natural, GMO and healthy mean on a food label? How about the word pasture-raised, cage-free or free-range on egg cartons and poultry packages in the grocery store? There are more than 15 different types of food labels claiming where the food comes from and how it was produced. With all these labels it can be so confusing to really know what you are eating. Below are some common food claims that I’m familiar with…
Organic vs USDA Organic – Agricultural farms and products must meet guidelines to be approved and labeled as USDA Organic. A few of the guidelines include: refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals, prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation, sustain animals on 100% organic feed and avoid contamination during the processing of organic products.
Products with 70-95% organic ingredients can label the product “Organic” on the front of the package.
Products with less than 70% organic ingredients can identify them on the side panel of the product.
Organic foods prohibit the use of hydrogenation and trans fats.
Natural – No standards exist for this label except when used on meat and poultry products. Natural meat and poultry can only have minimal processing and cannot contain artificial ingredients, colors, flavors or preservatives. Natural foods are not necessarily sustainable, organic or free of hormones and antibiotics.
GMO-Free, No GMO, non-GMO – Products can be labeled as GMO-Free if they are produced without being genetically engineered through the use of genetically modified organism (GMO). Genetic engineering is the process of transferring specific traits or genes from one organism into a different plant or animal.
Healthy – Foods labeled as Healthy must be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium. Provides at least 10% of vitamin A, C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber.
Pasture-Raised vs Grass-Fed – Animals raised on a pasture that eat grasses and other food found in a pasture rather than grain in a feedlot or barn are Pasture-Raised. This is a traditional farming technique that allows animals to be raised in a humane manner.
Grass-Fed – Animals are fed on grass rather than grain. A grass-fed label doesn’t mean the animal necessarily ate grass its entire life though. Some are “grain-finished” meaning they ate grain from a feedlot prior to slaughter.
Cage-Free vs Free-Range – Birds are raised without cages but not necessarily raised outdoors on pasture. Look for a label that says “pastured” or “pasture-raised” for poultry raised outdoors.
Free-Range – This label can be used when the producer allows the poultry access to the outdoors so they can engage in natural behaviors. This may not mean that they spent the majority of their time outdoors.
What other food label claims have you heard of? I’d love to hear from you!
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Photo credit: Photodune
Sources: US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Federal Drug Administration (FDA)