13 May 2010

Truth in Labelling

So what are the rules about labeling anyway? If I see "Organic" on the front, what is that telling me? Why do I see "organic" in the ingredients list, but not anywhere else on the label? Believe it or not, all of these things are covered. You want to put the word "organic" on any product, you better believe there's a checklist of requirements to even consider it.

But what about "all-natural," or "hormone-free," or "free-range?"

Let's dive right in, shall we?


Per the USDA, there are 4 definitions of "organic"

100% Organic - If you see this on your food, it means exactly what it says: 100% of the ingredients are certified Organic. The producer can put the seal right on the label, and make the claim right on front of their product.

Organic - When you see just "organic," as well as the USDA seal, this certifies that at least 95% of the product is organic ingredients. Again, the seal can be used, and the claim made in a prominent place on the packaging.

"Made With Organic Ingredients" - This means that at least 70% of the ingredients in your product are certified. At this level, a producer CANNOT use the USDA seal. They can't have been processed using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionized radiation (as with both categories above). In addition, all three of these categories have to identify all organic ingredients in their ingredient lists, and show the name and address of the agent who certified them.

Anything less than 70% organic cannot make the "organic" claim on the front of their packaging. They can, however, identify organic ingredients in their ingredient list.

Other Labels

"All-Natural" With beef, this just means they were fed "naturally" and were minimally processed. Although the term "natural" implies a product might be better, or more healthful, there's no real legal definition (outside of livestock) that I can find.

"Free-Range"  This one's my favorite. According to the USDA website, in order to label your chicken as free-range: "Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside" That's it. There are no specifications as to the environment, or a minimum time actually spent outside. The fact is, chickens are kind of stupid. If you open the door, yes they have access to the outside, but if they've never been outside, do you really think they'll decide "Well, today's the day!"? I'm thinking not...

"Mechanically separated" ...OK, I was going to define it, but it's actually really gross. If you are that curious to know what you're eating when a product list says "mechanically separated poultry" go to this website, and read it for yourself.

"No hormones..." Well, for pork and chicken, hormones aren't legally allowed anyway, so the label isn't really telling you anything special. If it's on a beef product, the producer had to submit "sufficient documentation" for approval... whatever THAT means (same goes for "no antibiotics")

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