All natural. Free range. Organic. Pesticide free. Genetically modified. Made with organic ingredients. Hormone free.
Which of these terms mean something? Which are practically meaningless?
If you’re at all concerned about the health and nutrition of the food you feed your family, you’ve got to look behind the labels of your food. Peel back the pretty, “wholesome” looking packaging. Ignore the fantastical descriptions on the back.
Most of it? Just marketing.
Perhaps the most confusing segment of food labels is meat and poultry. Several of the “natural foods” stores here in Colorado Springs tout their meats as all-natural. But are they? And if they are, what exactly does it mean?
Understanding The Lingo
Let’s look at the official definitions of some of the terms you’ll see on meat packaging:
Free Range / Free Roaming (poultry): Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
Natural: A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural. The label must explain the use of the term natural (such as – no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed.)
No Hormones (pork or poultry): Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
No Hormones (beef): The term “no hormones administered” may be approved for use on the label of beef products if sufficient documentation is provided to the Agency by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.
No Antibiotics (red meat and poultry): The terms “no antibiotics added” may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.
Organic: Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
The NOP (National Organic Program) regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production and handling. As a general rule, all natural (non-synthetic) substances are allowed in organic production and all synthetic substances are prohibited.
Here’s a list of prohibited and allowed substances under the NOP regulations.
Is It All Semantics?
The biggest thing that stands out to me in the above information is that hormones are not allowed in the raising of hogs or poultry. This means that, while accurate, seeing the term “hormone-free” on a package of chicken breasts really means nothing, as it’s illegal to use hormones in hogs or poultry.
But, from the same standpoint, hormone-free does actually mean something on a package of beef, as the USDA does allow the use of hormones in beef product.
What about cage-free and free-range chickens (eggs are most often labeled with those terms)? Free-range does have an official USDA definition, though in my opinion it seems a little broad to really matter much. Cage-free has no legal definition and thus could *probably* be used by anyone raising chickens in any manner.
And all-natural. Technically, it means that the product contains no artificial flavor or color and is “minimally processed”. But as you’ll see in the next post in this series, almost everyone labels their chicken all-natural, so this must not be a hard standard to meet.
Why Are You Telling Me This?
So, why all this information? Am I saying that you should only buy organic, or only buy your meat and eggs from local farmers that allow you to see how they raise them?
While I’d love to only buy organic foods and locally-raised meat, it’s not in the budget right now. I hope that it will be someday, but for now, I still buy store-brand eggs and whatever brand of chicken is cheapest, and do my best to create meals primarily from whole foods, even if they aren’t organic.
What I’d like to communicate is this:
If you’re spending more to buy “healthier” foods, make sure that it’s really worth it.
If you’re buying a certain brand of meat because you think it tastes better than other brands, go for it. But if you’re buying that brand of meat because it’s touted as “all-natural” and “hormone-free”, you may be spending more for nothing, or thinking you’re getting something you’re not.
Invest in food that is good for you; don’t waste your money on food that claims to be good for you. Know exactly what you’re buying, and that it’s all it you believe it to be.
Stay Tuned For More
Next Thursday, we’ll look at a bunch of different brands of chicken and compare their product claims with each other. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at things like organic labeling, different types of olive oil, and more, as well as open the floor for you to share your favorite sources for locally, organically-grown food.
And while much of this ongoing series will focus on the health claims of foods, we’ll also take a look at the differences in different types of products, such as the different grades of maple syrup, the beef grading system or the different types of sugars.
Stay tuned – and let me know if you’ve got an idea for something you think should be covered in this type of a series!
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Welcome to Springs Bargains, a service of our real estate business, Circa Real Estate Group! I’m Carrie, and since 2008 I’ve been sharing free and discounted ways to eat, play, and enjoy life in Colorado Springs.