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Food Label Claims

Sara K. Larsen - Monday, April 28, 2014

There seems to be a new food label popping up all the time and many of them can be confusing. Knowing what a food claim truly means is a great way to educate yourself about where your food comes from and how it has been produced.

Below is a list of some common food claims and what they mean:

  • Antibiotic-Free: means that an animal was not given antibiotics during its lifetime.
  • Cage-Free: means that the birds are raised without cages. What this doesn’t explain is whether the birds were raised outdoors or indoors in overcrowded conditions. If you are looking to buy eggs, poultry, or meat that was raised outdoors, look for a label that says “pastured” or “pasture-raised.”
  • Grass-Fed: means the animal was fed grass rather than grain. 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 grain from a feedlot prior to slaughter.
  • Healthy: foods labeled “healthy” must be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Organic: All organic agricultural farms and products must meet the following guidelines (verified by a USDA-approved independent agency):
- Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for three 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.

I have to admit that I had no idea what these food labels really meant. It’s definitely opened up my eyes and making me think more about the food I put into my body.

What do you think about these food labels? Do you only buy food items because they have a certain label on it?