Food Labels- Are You More Confused Than Ever? by Hilary Keeley

Food Labels- Are You More Confused Than Ever? by Hilary Keeley


Organic, locally sourced, free range, vegetarian diet, cage free…. the list goes on and on. Food labels are constantly changing and with the changes often come confusion. Here is a list of commonly used terms:

  1. Organic- Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering (GMOs) may not be used. If you see the USDA organic seal, the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content.

There are other voluntary labels for livestock products, such as meat and eggs. Animal raising claims must be truthful and not misleading. USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service verifies the truthfulness of these claims:

  1. Free-range. This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.
  2. Cage-free. This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.
  3. Natural. As required by USDA, meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.
  4. Grass-fed. Grass-fed animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, while organic animals’ pasture diet may be supplemented with grain. Also USDA regulated, the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Meat products may be labeled as grass-fed organic.
  5. Pasture-raised. Due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems, the USDA has not developed a federal definition for pasture-raised products.
  6. Humane. Multiple labeling programs make claims that animals were treated humanely during the production cycle, but the verification of these claims varies widely. These labeling programs are not regulated under a single USDA definition.
  7. No added hormones. A similar claim includes “Raised without Hormones.” Federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry, pork, or goat.

About the author: Hilary Keeley is the President and Founder of  For more tips follow Diets4Life on Facebook and Twitter @diets4lifellc .  

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