Top Ten Most Misleading Food LabelsApril 28, 2016
Do you ever stand in the egg section of your favorite grocery store, having an internal conversation about which type of eggs you should purchase? Organic, cage-free, and naturally grown are common labels you may find on the cartons. Grocery items that are found containing these labels may be packaged in vibrant earthy tones with claims that they come from happy animals. So it must be better for you and the animals, right? Don’t get me wrong, you have complete freedom to choose whatever products your heart desires, but before you pick up that package, let me help you decipher between food labels and tell you what they truly mean (if anything at all).
1) Angus/Certified Angus Beef
We have all probably noticed the advertisements on the local fast food restaurant windows that claim that their beef is Angus Certified. In regards to the USDA regulation, this means absolutely nothing. Although it is true that Angus beef is known for its quality and marbling content, the American Angus Association has formed a more concrete definition with the USDA. In order to be considered certified Angus, the animal must have 50% of Angus genetics or a hide that is at least 51% black. However, there is no legal definition and definitely no regulation to follow with this claim (but don’t get me wrong, I love a good steak any day of the week).
2) Cage Free (both for eggs/laying hens and poultry meat)
So this is a claim you may have seen on an egg carton or on the poultry meat you buy from the store. Either way, this claim, in no way, means that the chickens are raised outside. It also has nothing to do with their diet. In almost all cases, these poultry animals are raised indoors with no extra regulation regarding to the number of animals within the building. So really, these birds may still be living in extremely confined areas regardless of the fact that they are cage free. Again, this is not a legal definition, thus no regulation is implemented.
3) Certified Naturally Grown
This is a label created by a non-profit organization which is directed towards small producers and farmer-to-consumer marketing. Producers that are Certified Naturally Grown do not use genetically modified seeds or synthetic pesticides (keep in mind that does not mean they rule out all fertilizers). This label claim is not verified by any type of government program.
This one may be my all-time favorite label. Although this type of label is not allowed to be used within the food industry according to USDA Food Safety and Inspection, I have seen this label on things such as oils, shampoo bottles, and other hygiene-related products. Personally, I don’t think this label should be allowed on any items. There is no such thing as “chemical-free”. Water is a chemical, nitrogen is a chemical (which is found in 68% of the air we breathe), and it is most definitely found in the everyday items that we use.
Genetically modified organisms do not have any legal definition or claim yet. However, as of now, there are multiple states that have passed or are planning to pass regulation regarding to state mandated labels on food and beverages that contain GMOs. Although there is no actual scientific evidence showing that GMOs may be harmful for humans, there is a large group of consumers who are against GMOs. GM products do not pose any threat on the consumer, however I can assume that we will be seeing more about this label claim in years to come.
This term seems pretty simple. I mean, what is there to elaborate about when it comes to grassfed? Some people think that this automatically means that the animal product or animal that they are about to consume was on a strict all grass diet, which is false. Although some people strive to put their animals on a complete all grass diet, most still receive grain rations because of the slower growth process that occurs when livestock replace grain with grass. Although some people may claim that grassfed beef holds a higher concentration of Omega-3 fatty acid, the amount is so small that it is almost not worth mentioning—and definitely not worth the extra price. It is also important to note that Grassfed ruminants and their meat are not certified by any type of USDA entity. At one time the USDA’s Animal Marketing Service has a certification process for grassfed ruminants. However, as of last January, they dropped that certification process.
7) Hormone-Free/No Hormones
This claim is not allowed to be used on beef, pork, or poultry because animal proteins do contain hormones naturally. However, you may be familiar with the term “no added hormones”. This term can be used for both pork and chicken—only if there is an explanation somewhere on the packaging stating that federal regulation prohibits the use of hormones in pork and chicken (but let’s be real, most people probably haven’t stopped to read the fine print).
8) Naturally Raised
This label claim is defined by the USDA. The animals that are considered to be naturally raised are fed feeds without animal by-products and are not given any type of growth hormones. These animals are also given a minimal amount of antibiotics. They are only given antibiotics for parasite control. This label claim does not specify any of the animals’ living conditions, welfare, or environmental management practices.
9) No antibiotics (for red meat and poultry)
O.K. I lied, this label is my favorite one actually. This label is very misleading because all meat contains no antibiotics. When livestock are given antibiotics while they are sick, they have to go through a certain withdrawal period before they may be processed (or milked if we are talking about dairy cattle/goats). The term “no antibiotics added” is just what it sounds like. These animals are never given any antibiotics during their life. However, it is important to note that antibiotics are extremely important when it comes to nursing a sick animal back to good health. Without the use of antibiotics, it becomes extremely difficult to care of sick livestock.
Recombinant bovine somatotropin, also known as rBST, is a growth hormone that dairy cattle producers use in order to boost milk production. This hormone has not been shown to have any apparent threat to the cattle or to consumers, although some would argue that this type of growth promotion will wear the dairy cows out quicker and is an animal welfare issue. It is very common to find a label that says “our cattle are not given rBST hormones”. There is no type of legal definition for this label.
So next time you find yourself confused about the label claims on your grocery store’s items, take the time to read the fine print or do a little bit of research. There are claims out there that are regulated by government entities which can help consumers decide what they really want out of their groceries.