Clean Eating & Label Reading
Photo by Weston Carls
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You go to the grocery store, and a snack with an “organic” label catches your eye. From what we know, organic is a good thing, right? Unfortunately, this is only half true. The myriad of food labels plastered on packaging can make clean eating more confusing than it should be. And with a diverse group of auditors and regulations, some questionable practices allow foods to slip through the cracks with a friendly–yet misleading–stamp on it. Let’s break it down:
Grassfed: There are 2 popular “Grass-fed” labels, the American Grassfed label and the Grassfed USDA Process Verified label.
The “American Grassfed” label represents animals that were grass-fed throughout their entire lives. These animals have access to pasture when weather permits, in which case if it doesn’t, they are given a grass-based meal. This label also represents meat that is free of antibiotics, growth hormones, and certain parasiticides. This label is verified by the American Grassfed Association, independently, who inspects farms annually.
The “Grassfed USDA Process Verified” label is given when animals are fed grass, hay, silage (grass stored in airtight conditions in a silo), or other non-grain crops such as legumes and cereal grain crops in the vegetative state, throughout their entire life. The animals are never purposefully fed grain, yet if they are exposed to non-‘standard’ food, the farmer must simply document the case and decertification is not necessary. These animals may be confined or treated with antibiotics and growth hormones. They may also be fed milk, prior to weaning.
Note: The USDA allows producers to make the "grassfed" claim without verification. If the statement "USDA Process Verified" accompanies the "grassfed" claim, then the USDA has verified the claim through an audit.
Grain-finished – The animal was raised on grass, then fattened with grain.
Vegetarian fed – The animals weren’t fed other animals. The animal never went outside (if it did, it might have consumed another animal).
Free-range: The “free-range” labels simply tell consumers that birds were not in cages while they were raised. The USDA has defined free-range or free-roaming for poultry products, but for eggs and all other animals, there is no regulated standard. In addition, free-range represents that the bird was able to roam freely outdoors for a period of time every day. The catch? The USDA believes that five minutes of open-air access each day is sufficient enough to claim “freerange”.