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Q&A: Organic and Other Labels

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I posted on my Facebook page last week, asking for people to leave any questions they have that they would like answered in a blog post. I’ll be working on answering these questions as they come up. Please feel free to shoot me an email (joanna@wellnesswithjoanna.com) or leave a comment at any time with questions!

Here’s a great one that I think a lot of people get confused about.

Question: What is the difference in “terms” you see in your grocery store? Organic, grass fed, grass finished etc. They all sound healthy but I’m sure some of it is marketing and you aren’t getting what you think you’re buying.

Answer: Yes, a lot of it is marketing! Here’s a list of some common terms and labels and my simplified definitions. 

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Organic: If a food is labeled organic, then it means that no synthetic chemicals have been used to grow it or make it. That means no GMO ingredients, food additives, antibiotics, sewage sludge (yes, this is used in conventional food!), or pesticides. Animals must be fed organic feed without animal byproducts.

Natural: In the USA, this term really has no meaning. It is not regulated at all, and so can be used by anyone on any product. Of course the term implies minimal processing, but because it is not regulated, it cannot be trusted and is often used to trick consumers into paying more money for a less than desirable product.

However, in Canada, the term is regulated and can only be used as a label on foods that do not contain any food additives, artificial flavouring, and have not been significantly altered by processing.

Cage Free: This means that the animals were not raised in cages, but does not tell you what the animals were fed or describe any other living conditions. These animals could still be packed into barns with no room to move and no access to pasture.

Pastured: This indicates that the animal has been raised outside, but it does not tell you the amount of time spent outside. (It could be outside for a very limited time each day, making the term misleading).

Free Range: Free range hens must have access to the outdoors for the majority of the year. Their feed cannot contain antibiotics or hormones. (These are the eggs I insist on buying.)

Free Run: Free run hens are not confined to life in a cage, but are allowed to only roam on the barn floor. They are not required to be allowed access to outdoors, and they eat the same feed as conventional hens, including antibiotics and hormones.

Grass Fed: Grass Fed is a term that is quickly becoming over used and misused. Originally, grass fed implied that the cow was raised on grass exclusively, and allowed to range free. Recently, because of the increasing demand for grass fed beef, the term has sometimes now been used to describe cows that have been only partially grass fed. Often, farmers will feed the cow grain to sweeten and fatten the cow for a few months before it is butchered. This alters the nutrition immensely (negatively). This is one example of the importance of knowing where your food comes from. Get to know your local farmers and the people you buy your food from!

Grass Finished: This means that the cow has been grass fed for the entire duration of it’s life. No grain, no corn and no antibiotics or hormones.

Hormone Free: This means that no synthetic hormones were administered to the animal at all. This one is tricky and often used to mislead consumers into paying a higher price for food than is necessary. Federal Law permits the use of hormones in poultry or hogs, but the meat is often labeled ‘Hormone Free’ anyway. Do not pay more for chicken labeled hormone free, as it is no different than chicken without the label. However, keep in mind that ‘hormone free’ still does not tell you what the chicken has been fed or how it was raised (humanely or squished into horrible cages).

Antibiotic Free: This means that no antibiotics were used over the animal’s lifetime. Again, this is a good thing, but still does not tell you how the animal was raised or what it was fed.

Farmed (referring to seafood): This means that the fish have been raised in tanks or enclosures. They are often contaminated, given antibiotics, and have two to three times less Omega 3’s than wild fish.

Wild Caught (referring to seafood): This means the seafood has been caught by fishermen in the open water, in their natural habitat.

Any more labels you’ve been seeing in your grocery store that are confusing? Leave a comment and I’ll add it to this list.

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