Foodie Buzzwords

     As the locally-produced, “green” food movement gains momentum, more and more producers and companies are slapping labels on their products that tell you their food is “hormone-free” or “naturally-raised.” But do these hot phrases actually mean what we think they mean? Suprisingly, the regulations surrounding many buzzwords that would cause you to buy one product over another are surprisingly unregulated . We were asked to research the definitions of some of the words that pertain to our food, labels that companies use to market their products; so read on to find out what these things actually mean!

Conventionally Raised: This term applies to both meat and crops. It means that the product was raised on a large or small farm, using conventional methods, which would include using chemicals to control weeds or pesticides (crops) and  antibiotics to prevent illness, and sometimes hormones to stimulate growth or production (animals).

What labels make us think!

Naturally Raised: This term usually applies to meat products. It is a loosely-regulated term, so be cautious when you see it. It means that the feed the animal received wasn’t loaded with antibiotics, and they weren’t given hormone injections. It’s meat – of course it’s natural!  If possible, ask the seller what it means for the product he is selling.

Organic: This term applies to both meat and crops. This term means that all of the products used on the food was biologic in origin, and that the crop was grown without synthetic additives such as herbicide, fertilizer, or antibiotics. Be wary of an “organic” label. Unless it says “certified organic” or “USDA organic” you can’t be sure that it is organic. This term is usually seen at farmer’s markets, where smaller farmers use organic methods, but haven’t gone through the extensive certification process.

The only label that matters

Certified Organic: This term applies to both meat and crops. It means that the farm that produced the food product has undergone a  rigorous process to obtain the certified organic designation. No synthetic additives are used at all, and animal products with the designation are raised with access to the outdoors, although the quality of outdoor time is not regulated. Animals must also be given bedding material.

USDA Organic: This term applies to both meat and crops. It has the same designation as certified organic, but the use of the USDA Organic sticker on products is not required for producers who have obtained certified organic status.  Look for this term on the sticker of “organic” displays in grocery stores.

Hormone-Free: This term usually applies to beef and dairy products. It means that the animals used in the production of the product were not given hormones to increase muscle mass or milk production. Pork and chicken producers are not allowed to use hormones at all.

Whole Foods: This term means foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, such as an apple, or that are as minimally-processed and refined as possible, such as regular oatmeal or a pork chop. While minimally-processed foods are indeed better for you than a package of cookies or even Cheerios, and we should try to eat as many of this type of food product as possible, the term “whole foods” is becoming a marketing gimmick for health-food advocates.

Labels like this are ok at a farmer’s market

Free-range: This term applies to meat and poultry products. It is largely unregulated. The USDA allows producers to use the label if they give their animals about 5 minutes of open-air access a day.  Many egg producers are moving toward free-range and cage-free, because the public is demanding it.

Cage-free: This term applies to poultry products. It means that the chickens are not kept in small cages, but does not mean that they are outside, or that they are fed organic, antibiotic-free food.  It does mean that they have room to spread their wings and run around.  In many cases, chickens are kept in large, indoor, open chicken barns which have good ventilation.  They might have a roost to perch on, go into a small nest to lay their eggs, walk to their water and food, and move about much of the day.

Look for this certification on meat products

Grass-fed: This term applies to beef products. Unless the label includes “certified” this term could be meaningless. A certified grass-fed product means that the animal was raised in a pasture or open range and ate exclusively grass and other plants.  Additionally, it would not have been corn-finished, but grass finished, which means that it should be lower in cholesterol, and better for you.

Superfood: This term usually describes a food that is high in nutrients or chemicals that provide a lot of health benefits. It is totally a marketing buzzword.

Check out the following sources for more information about the above terms, and to learn more about a bunch of other labels you might see:

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