What do all of the confusing food labels really mean? Which ones can we trust and which ones should we ignore? This list will help you find out.
There are so many different food labels out there now. It can be very confusing figuring out what they mean. Many labels are just buzzwords with very little meaning behind them.
These confusing labels can lead people to think they are buying something they aren’t. Some labels do actually carry weight and have more of a definition. We have to learn which to ignore and which to trust.
Confusing Food Labels & What They Really Mean
Natural and All-Natural
The FDA doesn’t regulate the term “natural” but has commented on it.
“Although the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term “natural,” we do have a longstanding policy concerning the use of “natural” in human food labeling. The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.” – “Natural” on Food Labeling
“Natural” and “all-natural” really doesn’t tell you a lot. It’s a good idea to look for other labeling and read the ingredients to get a better picture of what is in the product.
Just the term organic doesn’t mean a lot but if you see the USDA Certified Organic label you know the product does mean the USDA third party standards.
Food that is USDA Certified Organic can’t be irradiated, contain genetically modified ingredients, be treated with hormones or antibiotics, and there are strict standards for what can be used on the crops.
This term came under fire recently when consumers learned that Kerrygold butter is not 100% grass-fed. This is a great example of labels being confusing. Kerrygold says it is grass-fed and it is but it is not always 100% grass-fed.
If you want products that are certified as 100% grass-fed choose products with the American Grassfed Association label. You can also look for products that say 100% grass-fed instead of just grass-fed.
Grass-fed also doesn’t mean the animal was allowed to roam. It could have still been in a feedlot.
Hormone Free/No Added Hormones
You see this often on meat but what does it really mean? There is no specific certified label for this term so it can be very vague. It’s also important to keep in mind that hormone use in pork and poultry is banned by the USDA.
This is another term with no organization certifying this claim. Antibiotics in our food continue to be a complex issue.
This is a term you see on eggs a lot. It is not highly regulated and while it does mean the chickens were not raised in cages it does not mean they had access to the outdoors or humane living conditions.
Animals may or may not have access to pasture and rangeland, poultry is not de-beaked, growth hormones are not used, there are regulations for how an animal is slaughtered, and antibiotics can only be used on sick animals.
Animals also must have fresh water, sufficient space, no cages, gentle handling to minimize stress, and a healthy diet.
Fair Trade Certified
Farmers and workers have fair wages and there are regulations for working conditions. Many of these regulations also apply to care for the environment.
This term is only regulated by the USDA for poultry, not for beef or eggs. Birds are allowed access to outside but the quality and sized of the outdoor space is not related, nor is the amount of time allowed.
Animals are raised in pasture or rangeland, animals can roam freely, and are able to eat grass and forage. The USDA doesn’t currently have standards for this term.
Rainforest Alliance Certified
Crops are grown sustainably and workers are treated fairly.
100% Vegetarian Diet
Animals are only fed hay, grass, or grain and no animal by-products. This isn’t certified by an independent organization.
It’s important to note that this is used on eggs and poultry but poultry is not naturally vegetarian.
These labels are not always reliable. Using the Seafood Watch app or website is a better way to find out if your seafood is sustainable.
One great way we can skip the stress of all the labels is to buy local. With local food, you can build a relationship with the producers of your food.
You can go to the farmer’s market and chat with the person that grew or raised your food, and ask them questions about how the food was produced.
If you are looking for truly natural and organic food that you can’t find locally, check out Thrive Market. They have a great selection at low prices.
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