today i wanted to do a follow up to our first labels post last week and talk about a few of the more specific labels that we tend to run across nearly every time we go to the store. what do they all really mean? hopefully, this will help clear up some of the confusion between what's misleading and what's good information.
free range. the “free range” food label can be found on meat, dairy and eggs, but this progressive way of farming is not always as it seems. what consumers may not know and won’t see on their “free range” foods is that the USDA regulations only apply to poultry. therefore, “free range” beef, pork and other non-poultry animals were fed grass and allowed to live outdoors, but their products are not regulated by the USDA. another misconception consumers have about “free range” is that these products are also organic. unless it’s labeled free range AND organic, free range animals may be fed non-organic feed that could contain animal byproducts and hormones.
fresh. the “fresh” food label can be very misleading to consumers, by making them think their chicken was killed the day before, or their “freshly squeezed” orange juice was prepared that day. the label “fresh” simply means that it was not frozen or is uncooked, but many of these products are allowed to be chilled, kept on ice or in modified atmospheres to keep them from spoiling.
all natural. the “all natural” stamp is one of the most abused and misleading food labels used by food manufacturers today. many of these so-called “all natural” products use citric acid, high-fructose corn syrup and other unnatural additives, but still get to bear that positive label. always check the ingredients list to know exactly what’s in your food.
whole grains. chances are you’ve seen the label, “made with whole grains,” pop up on bread, crackers or rice products now more than ever. the reality is that many of these whole grain products are actually made with refined wheat flour and maybe a small percentage of whole grains. in order to check the validity of the whole grains label, check out the listed ingredients. unless “whole grains” is one of the first ingredients on the list or if you see “enriched wheat flour,” it’s likely that your product contains a small percentage of whole grains.
cage free: the label "cage free" does not mean there are any standards or auditing mechanisms behind it. As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as "cage free" are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but generally do not have access to the outdoors. They have the ability to engage in some of their natural behaviors such as walking and nesting. there is no information regarding what the birds can be fed. forced molting through starvation is permitted, and there is no third-party auditing.
free range: while the USDA has defined the meaning of "free range" for some poultry products, there are no standards in "free range" egg production. typically, free range egg-laying hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have outdoor access. They can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. however, there is no information on stocking density, the frequency or duration of outdoor access, or the quality of the land accessible to the birds. there is no information regarding what the birds can be fed. forced molting through starvation is permitted, and there is no third-party auditing.
certified organic: the animals must be allowed outdoor access, with ruminants—cows, sheep and goats—given access to pasture, but the amount, duration and quality of outdoor access is undefined. animals must be provided with bedding materials. though the use of hormones and antibiotics is prohibited, surgical mutilations without any pain relief are permitted. these are requirements under the national organic program regulations, and compliance is verified through third-party auditing. currently, there are no federal or state programs to certify aquatic animals, including fish, as organic.
certified humane: the animals must be kept in conditions that allow for exercise and freedom of movement. as such, crates, cages and tethers are prohibited. outdoor access is not required for poultry or pigs, but is required for other species. stocking densities are specified to prevent the overcrowding of animals. all animals must be provided with bedding materials. hormone and non-therapeutic antibiotic use is prohibited, while surgical mutilations without any pain relief are permitted. compliance is verified through third-party auditing.
were you familiar with the meaning behind these labels? i knew many of them, but still learned quite a bit about the specifics while doing research for this post. to me, this is a great testament to eating local if at all possible. talk to your farmers, ask for a visit, and see what the animals are like and what the growing conditions are like for your fruits and veggies. it's easy to have fun getting to know where your food comes from, and if you have children, what a fun lesson for them to learn!