Monday, February 28, 2011

Organic Food Labels

I found this fairly helpful explanation of organic food labels over at while looking for something completely different. It's a really clear and simple explanation of those confusing labels that seem to be popping up on all kinds of products.

Here's a crash course in label reading from Consumer Reports:

What to buy 



"100% Organic." Translation: By law, a product with this label has to be made entirely of certified organic ingredients, produced in accordance with federal organic standards, and include no synthetics.
Conclusion: You get what you pay for. 

"Organic." Translation: Products bearing this label are required to contain no less than 95% certified organic ingredients. The remaining 5%: Non-organic and synthetic ingredients.

Conclusion: Good and (mostly) good for you.

"Made with Organic Ingredients." Translation: These products contain a 70/30 split of organic ingredients and other non-organic products that have been approved by the USDA
Conclusion: The good stuff, plus a little extra.

What to avoid

"Free-range" or "Free-Roaming." Translation: For many of us, these words evoke images of chickens free to roam the broad expanses at will. Don't be fooled. This label (stamped on everything from eggs to chicken and meat) does not necessarily mean that animals have spent most of their lives outdoors. To label a product "free-range" or "free-roaming," producers have only to offer the animals outdoor access every day for an "undetermined period"-- which can mean as little as five minutes.

Conclusion: Use with caution.

 ( This actually upset me a bit. I always had this nice image of chicken running around in a large pen or around the prairie. This "undetermined period" could mean just about anything. )

"Natural" or "All Natural." Translation: These labels can mean many things. In the case of meat, they mean that the manufacturer claims to have used no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or synthetics. When it comes to nonmeat products, the label is largely meaningless because there is no accepted definition of "all natural."

Conclusion: Don't confuse all natural with organic.

"Organic labels on seafood." Translation: This label can be applied at will, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has set no standards for organic seafood.

Conclusion: Don't believe the hype.