You’ve probably seen buzzwords like “natural,” “sustainable,” and “cage-free” on food labels at your supermarket, but you don’t necessarily know what they mean. If you’ve ever wondered if they were regulatory terms or just marketing jargon, you’re on to something.
Food brands understand that shoppers want to make informed purchases, and sometimes even profit from it.
“Food labeling is important because consumers have so much power over what we buy; buying is an endorsement and a vote of confidence,” said Melissa Nelson, professor of indigenous sustainability at Arizona State University. “The tricky part is that labeling is not normative, and often What people don’t know exactly what they mean.”
One thing to keep in mind: Standard definitions and more regulations for food terms might make things easier for consumers, but more rules and regulations usually mean farmers have to pay for certification.
Here are some common terms found on food packaging, and what they (or don’t) actually mean.
CERTIFIED ORGANIC: Regulated by the USDA
“Organic” is a term most people are familiar with, but they may not realize that farms and food producers cannot claim the label unless they are certified organic.
“Certified Organic” was created in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 and is defined by federal law.
Farmers and producers must adhere to established guidelines to become certified and maintain certification.
“Organic farms and farms comply with federal regulations that prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and require the use of a combination of practices such as composting … and crop rotation that build healthy soil,” Brock said.
“Whether the farm is large or small, there is a basic rule of practice required to obtain and maintain organic certification, such as starting with a three-year transition period and participating in annual inspections.”
Concerned consumers should look for the USDA Certified Organic seal. According to the agency, anyone who sells a product as “organic” without adhering to USDA requirements risks paying a fine.
However, some small farmers may grow organically but not be certified because of the high costs and time commitment.
“The path to ‘organic’, especially for smaller producers, comes with significant barriers and financial risks,” said Brooke.
Cage-Free: Regulated by the USDA
With eggs, there are different ways to raise chickens. “Cageless” sounds great, right? But the truth may not be what you assume.
“The cage-free eggs come from hens that are free to move around inside a large confinement house, where there can be 10,000 to 20,000 chickens in one building,” said Craig Schmidt, renewable farmer and owner of Shaded Grove Farm Market in Mississippi. .
“They are raised using artificial lighting to manipulate the chickens to produce as many eggs as possible, because chickens are sensitive to daylight by nature.”
Free range: regulated by the US Department of Agriculture
The phrase “free-range eggs” conjures up images of chickens roaming around at will, but this may not be entirely accurate.
“[The term is] It’s quite out of reach and can vary, but basically laying hens have access to the outdoors through small doors in the coop where they can go outside if they choose, Schmidt said.
“[‘Free-range’] Still a misnomer, the chickens are raised in a large semi-fenced house with small access doors where the chickens can exit outside the house. “The problem is that the sheds are fixed and the outside space is limited.”
If you have to choose between the two options, Schmidt argued, free-range eggs are a better choice than cage-free eggs.
Genetically Modified, Genetically Engineered, and Bioengineered: Regulated by the FDA, USDA, and EPA
There are many terms used for manipulated and modified foods, including “GMO,” “genetically engineered,” and “bioengineered.” Food and Drug Administration, The United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency are working together to regulate and Allow Such foods in the United States
“Many of the foods — plants, animals, oils — that humans consume are genetically modified, which means their DNA has been manipulated and modified,” Nelson said, noting that this could help do things like “Make tomatoes ripen faster, make canola resistant to herbicides, or make salmon grow bigger.”
The process could involve “inserting genes from different species, often viruses and bacteria” into other species, Nelson said.
Consumers may not always know if their food is genetically modified because disclosure is not always required. However, you can check out the USDA’s list of bioengineered foods, which is a more specific category. As of January 1, 2022, the administration’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard requires food manufacturers to disclose whether or not bioengineered ingredients have been used.
Non-GMO: Non-profit organization
I wonder if there is a way to tell if GMOs are present no in your food? The non-profit organization Non-GMO Project Provides verification to companies that manufacture products without GMOs.
“People have a right to know what foods they are consuming, especially when they have been genetically manipulated by humans in laboratories,” Nelson said, adding that this is “often for experimental or economic reasons” and not “Causes of human health.”
“You see that [non-GMO] Charles Rosen, founder and CEO of Ironbound Farm in New Jersey, said:
Although the final product is GMO-free, Rosen said the labels don’t include the whole origins of the food.
“The label does not reflect the farming system in which those ingredients were grown or the chemicals used in processing,” he said. “So, as important as it is, the poster only tells part of the story.”
Locally and locally sourced: Regulated by the USDA, but not nationally
The terms “local” and “local source” get thrown around a lot, but the meanings can change from one label to the next.
“Locally sourced means that the food has been produced within a certain radius of the store/establishment/business where it is sold or served,” Brock said.
For cultivation, some individuals US Department of Agriculture Identified ocean software. The department doesn’t have a national definition of “domestic,” but in some USDA programs, that means a maximum of 400 miles between growers and consumers.
Many people associate “locally” with something that may not be the case.
“People tend to confuse ‘local’ with ‘sustainable’ or ‘organic,’ and they also assume that if something is ‘locally sourced,’ it naturally comes from a small family-owned farm,” Brock said. “None of this is necessarily true.”
100% NATURAL AND NATURAL: USDA regulated for meat and poultry
“Natural” and “100% natural” have made their way onto ingredients lists as a way to promote a product as healthy.
“‘Natural’ is not a meaningful marketing term because it can be defined broadly and does not differentiate ingredients derived from chemical-intensive agriculture versus those grown through green agriculture,” Rosen said.
“People make many assumptions about ‘natural’ and think it means the same as ‘certified organic,’” Brock said. “In fact, ‘natural’ is defined by US Department of Agriculture For meat and poultry only, indicating that it is minimally processed and contains no artificial ingredients.
Pasture-raised: Regulated by the USDA
“The phrase ‘pasture-raised’ describes the philosophy of raising animals—throughout their entire life span—in a way that respects the animal’s right to act with its inherent desire to graze, forage, peck, scratch, wallow, etc.” Rosen said. .
“Pasture-raised animals spend their entire lives outdoors in pastures or forests,” Schmidt added.
Raising animals on pasture is usually better for the animals’ quality of life and for the environment.
“Allowing the animals to do this, under skilled management, provides significant environmental services to the farm—fertility, pest management, mowing, pasture improvement—as well as improving the nutritional status of the meat and eggs from that farm,” Schmidt said.
Unfortunately, meat and eggs are sometimes incorrectly labeled as “pasture raised.”
“Stacking pastures with livestock or poultry, and then feeding them a diet consisting primarily of grain and hay, is not ‘pastureland,’” Rosen said, “but it can still be marketed as such.”
Herbal & Breed Reserve: Not regulated
Cows naturally eat grass. But most of the cattle are given a corn diet to fatten them up quickly so they can be sold for beef.
“Grass-fed and grass-fed beef is a grass-fed and grass/hay diet,” Schmitt said.
However, this label is not regulated, so it is possible for a cow to be raised on pastures but then given a diet of corn in the last months of her life.
“Many producers will raise their livestock on pasture for most of the animal’s life, but then the grain finishes the beef for the last 90 to 120 days of its life,” said Schmitt. This is sometimes called ‘raising it on the lawn’.
Want to know if your beef is really grass-fed? You will need to know the breeder.
“The best and really only way to know how the beef you’re eating was raised is to develop a relationship with the producer or at least do some research on the farm or ranch where your beef is produced,” said Schmidt.
Here’s a handy guide to what to look for when shopping.
Renewable agriculture and livestock: not regulated
Regenerative agriculture is not a new practice; In this way many ranchers and farmers were working the land before pesticides and chemicals hit the market.
“In regenerative agriculture, the focus is on building and restoring soil health and function, which have been severely degraded over the past 80 to 100 years with the advent of commercially manufactured fertilizers and the myriad chemicals used to kill weeds and pests,” said Schmitt.
“Instead of tilling and tilling the soil, regenerative farmers do not till their cash crops followed by cover crops, which helps prevent soil erosion as well as build nutrients in the soil and sequester carbon from the atmosphere.”
Renewable growers do not use chemical sprays. Instead, they rely on crop rotation or moving livestock from one pasture to another each day.
“This is essential for building healthy soil, controlling unwanted forage species, and is very beneficial for livestock health,” said Schmidt.
However, anyone can claim to be practicing regenerative agriculture since there is no regulation.
The term is unregulated and widely adopted by [the] Industry, where it is used to describe practices such as planting the cover crop, and killing it [the herbicide] “Glyphosate, and then instill in it,” Rosen said.
sustainable: not regulated
“Sustainable” is a word that has become fashionable and overused. People and companies have their own understanding and ways of defining what that means.
“In general, this term came to describe the processes and procedures through which humanity avoids the depletion of natural resources, in order to maintain an ecological balance that does not allow for a decline in the quality of life in modern societies,” said Holly Kuhn, executive director of the nonprofit. Mountain Roots Food Project in Colorado.
“”Keep’ It means “to support,” “to stand,” “to bear,” or “to keep up.” Many of the systems – dietary, political, social, economic, etc. – we have all over the world are failing. “