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Home Archive Food for Thought: Do you Speak Label?

Food for Thought: Do you Speak Label?

Melissa Green PhotoHave you stood in a grocery aisle, looked at a label and thought, “What does that mean”? If you are going to plunk down your hard earned cash, you might as well know exactly what you are paying for.

The United States has the highest food safety standards in the world. That alone makes me confident in my food purchases. Now, companies are creating new marketing strategies to compete for your dollar. Here are some terms they use in hopes of grabbing your attention.

Natural: Natural products contain no artificial ingredients, no added colors, and are minimally processed.

Organic: USDA requires organic operations to show they are “protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances”. Organic crops cannot use “irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms”. Raising organic livestock prohibits the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. Only 100% organic feed can be used and animals must have access to the outdoors. Multi-ingredient foods, like granola bars, require at least 95% of the product to be organic ingredients.

Grass Fed: Throughout their lives, cattle and sheep consume diets made up of grasses.

Pasture Raised: USDA does not regulate this claim. Therefore, any company can create their own definition of what it means to be ‘pasture raised’.

Naturally Raised: USDA requires these animals to be raised without growth hormones, antibiotics, and not fed animal by-products.

Vegetarian Diet: There are already regulations that prohibit feeding specific animal by-products to cattle and sheep. However, USDA does not have any specific rules for this claim. Generally, it means that livestock were fed no animal by-products.

Humane: The new hot claim! Numerous ‘humane’ labels are in the market to indicate how animals are treated throughout the production cycle. However, because USDA does not regulate the term, this claim varies greatly from company to company.

This is very important, so read carefully. Ranchers, feedlots, processors, and the USDA take animal welfare very seriously. In fact, USDA has a branch, FSIS, that monitors humane treatment of livestock at harvest facilities and another, APHIS, which assures humane treatment of animals for commercial sale. So even if ‘humane’ is not on your meat label, be assured that your food is still from animals that were properly handled and harvested.

No Hormones: USDA allows beef and lamb products to use this term when ranchers provide documentation that the animals were never given hormones. Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Thus this term is often used on their labels, even though the pork and poultry products without this claim are equally hormone free.

Free Range: This is strictly a poultry claim. Birds must be able to freely roam an area (indoor or outdoor) that may or may not be fenced in. They also have unlimited access to food and fresh water.

Whether your food is traditionally farmed or from specialty production, it was made with you in mind. Next time you are shopping, spend some time reading your food labels. Which terms are important to you and your family? Now you can confidently purchase the product that is right for you!

Thought of the day:

Out of every dollar spent on food, less than 20 cents goes to the farmer.


Melissa Green
Raised on a ranch in Arbuckle overlooking the Sutter Buttes, Melissa Green holds a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from CSU Chico; she also holds a master’s degree in Meat Science from Colorado State University. Green currently works in Northern California conducting research and development for new meat products. Her passion for educating consumers on the topic of “where our food comes from” enables Green her to pursue a mission in preserving our agricultural heritage.

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