Sometimes food labels can be a bit confusing or often sound synonymous. Here are a few humane terms to set the record straight.
Know before you buy!
Antibiotics keep farm animals from succumbing to bacterial infection, but they thereby end up in our food supply; thus consumers can look for antibiotic-free meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. While the USDA does not permit farmers to treat poultry with hormones (i.e. all poultry and poultry products are hormone-free), hormones are commonly given to cattle to stimulate milk production and weight gain. Hormone-free beef is from cattle that have not been given artificial hormones.
As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as "cage-free" are uncaged inside barns, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. However, beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no mandatory third-party auditing, though producers can choose to get certified.
USDA generally permits the term “free range” to be used if chickens have access to the outdoors for at least some part of the day, whether the chickens choose to go outside or not. In practice, most chickens stay close to water and feed, which is usually located within the chicken coop. Chicken labeled as “organic” must also be “free-range,” but not all “free-range” chicken is also “organic.” Less than 1% of chickens nationwide are raised as “free range,” according to the National Chicken Council (NCC).
Cattle called "corn-fed," "grain-fed", or "corn-finished" are typically fattened on corn, soy, and other types of feed for several months before slaughter. As a high-starch, high-energy food, corn decreases the time to fatten cattle and increases carcass yield. Some corn-fed cattle are fattened in concentrated animal feeding operations known as feed lots. In the United States, most grass-fed cattle are raised for beef production. Dairy cattle may be supplemented with grain to increase the efficiency of production and reduce the area needed to support the energy requirements of the herd.
Grass-fed means the animal was fed only grass and forage from birth to adulthood, with the exception of breast milk consumed prior to weaning. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Grass-fed beef contains slightly less total fat than grain-fed beef, but a lot more Omega-3 fatty acids, Carotenoids, Vitamin E, minerals, and CLA which are very beneficial for health.
In theory, a humanely raised animal has been allowed to engage in natural behaviors, has had sufficient space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress, and eats a healthful diet without added antibiotics or hormones. But unless a third-party has certified such treatment, you have to trust the producer.
The USDA defines natural meat and poultry as “minimally processed” and containing no artificial ingredients, flavoring, color or preservatives. Food production companies will often write "natural" or "all-natural" on their products to make them appear healthier, however natural does not mean organic.
ORGANIC, CERTIFIED ORGANIC
Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, bioengineering or radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are fed only organic grain, fruits and vegetables and have been given no antibiotics or growth hormones. “Certified organic” means the food in question has been inspected and approved as organic by the USDA. The USDA essentially owns the word “organic”. If a label does not say USDA Certified Organic, the food is not considered organic.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CHECK OUT THE LINKS BELOW:
USDA Labeling Terms
National Chicken Council
The Humane Society of the United States
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