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The Meaning Behind “Organic” and “All-Natural” Food Labels

food-label-organicUnderstanding food labeling can be more complicated than understanding a politician.

And just like politicians, many food labels make claims that simply aren’t true or meaningful.

Take the food label “all natural.” This is simply a term coined by marketing guys in an attempt to convince you that the junk they are feeding you is healthy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no definition for “natural” foods and even says, “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is “natural” because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth.” The reality is that “all natural” on a food label is simply a marketing term that means nothing about the quality or origin of the food.

Organic food labels can be found on dairy, meat, beverage, produce, processed foods, and condiment products. Organic means that animals that produce meat, eggs, poultry or dairy products do not take growth hormones or antibiotics. Organic produce and other ingredients are grown and processed without the use of pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), ionizing radiation, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge. Foods labeled as “organic” must contain at least 95% organic ingredients.

The marketing guys got in on this one too. Foods with 70% or more organic ingredients can have a label saying “made with organic ingredients.” Learn how to read food labels to determine if food is truly organic.

Two other popular food labels are “free-range” and “cage-free.” With these two terms, the devil is in the details. “Free-range” is a term that applies to poultry only. It means that that the poultry animal had some access to the outdoors. It doesn’t specify the size of the outdoor area nor the amount of time the animal spent outside.

Most people when they hear the term “cage-free” picture animals roaming freely outside, grazing on their native foods. Well, that’s not actually how it is. Cage-free simply means the animal was not in a cage but it does not mean they were outside. In fact, many “cage-free” animals live inside.

“Grass-fed” labeling is for meat and dairy products. This label applies to products produced by animals like cows, bison, lamb and goats. Grass-fed animals eat only grass and forage. However, and this is a big deal, grass-fed animals could still be raised using hormones and antibiotics. Right now, there are no labeling standards concerning the feeding of chicken or pigs.

Gluten-free labels, as well as the terms “without gluten,” “no gluten,” and “free of gluten,” are all defined in the same manner by the US Food and Drug Administration. Foods bearing these labels must not contain any wheat, rye, barley or crossbreeds of those grains. If an ingredient of the food is derived from one of those grains, it must be processed to remove the gluten to meet the government’s defining standards.

A “non-GMO verified” label means the products (foods) are raised without genetic engineering, a practice I believe to be quite harmful to human health ( and more than 30 countries agree with me, as they have banned the use of GMOs in their food supplies). This label means that food products – from seed to shelf-are produced according to the GMO avoidance standards. You can also look for foods with the USDA certified organic label, as this label only goes on non-GMO food items.

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