I only imagined, but honestly, I had no idea. The old saying holds true, you don’t know what you don’t know. And once you learn it, you can’t un-learn it. I was one who actually trusted labels…until now.
I just tried to watch the video Glass Walls by Sir Paul McCartney. I screamed out loud 3 times, cried like a baby and – for mature audiences only – I threw up. I only got through one minute and 45 seconds before I had to turn it off I was so sickened by what I saw.
The reason for me even attempting to watch this video was because I had always bought ‘cage-free’ eggs for my husband and yesterday learned in my Integrative Nutrition class that Food Label Claims are NOT always what you think they are. Words like free-range, grass-fed, natural, and organic seem to be everywhere and seem self-explanatory – but their actual meaning isn’t as crystal clear as I had hoped. Let me explain:
Antibiotic-free – Antibiotic-free means that an animal was not given antibiotics during its lifetime. Other phrases to indicate the same approach include ‘no antibiotics administered’ and ‘raised without antibiotics’.
Cage-free – Cage-free means that the birds (chicken, turkey, etc.) are raised without cages. What this doesn’t explain is whether the birds were raised outdoors on pasture or if they were raised indoors in overcrowded conditions. This one really upset me. In the video, if you can get past the first few seconds, they’ll show you cage-free birds in unbelievably crowded barns, living in their own feces. They’re fed hormones to the degree that they get so huge, their legs actually break under their own weight. It’s awful.
Fair trade – The fair trade label means that farmers and workers, often in developing countries, have received a fair wage and worked in acceptable conditions while growing and packaging the product.
Free-range – The use of the terms ‘free-range’ or ‘free-roaming’ are only defined by the USDA for egg and poultry production. The label can be used as long as the producers allow the birds access to the outdoors so that they can engage in natural behaviors. It does not necessarily mean that the products are cruelty-free or antibiotic-free or that the animals spent the majority of their time outdoors or outdoors at all. Claims are defined by the USDA, but are not certified by third-party inspectors. What??!? Yep, that’s correct, there are no third-party inspectors involved whatsoever.
GMO-free, Non-GMO, or No GMOs – GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants, and animals. Products can be labeled “GMO-free’ if they are produced without being genetically engineered through the use of GMOs.
Grain-fed – Animals raised on a grain diet are labeled ‘grain-fed’. Check the label for a ‘100% vegetarian diet’ claim to ensure that the animals were given feed containing no animal by-product. As for animal by-product, I’ll save that disgusting blog post for another time.
Grass-fed – This means the animals were fed grass, their natural diet, rather than grains. In addition to being more humane, grass-fed meat is more lean and lower in fat and calories than grain-fed meat. Grass-fed animals are not fed grain, animal by-products, synthetic hormones, or antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease; although they may have been given antibiotics to treat disease. A ‘grass-fed’ label doesn’t mean the animal necessarily ate grass its entire life. Some grass-fed cattle are grain-finished, which means they ate grain from a feedlot prior to slaughter. Seriously L Look for ‘grass-fed’ and ‘grass-finished’.
Hormone-free – The USDA has prohibited use of the term ‘hormone-free’ but animals that were raised without added growth hormones can be labeled ‘no hormones administered’ or ‘no added hormones’. By law, hogs and poultry cannot be given any hormones. If the meats you are buying are not clearly labeled, ask your farmer or butcher if they are free from hormones.
Pasture-raised – ‘Pasture-raised’ indicates that the animal was raised on a pasture where it was able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants rather than being fattened on grain in a feedlot or factory barn. Pasturing livestock and poultry is a traditional farming technique that allows animals to be raised in a humane manner. Animals are able to move around freely and carry out their natural behaviors. This term is very similar to ‘grass-fed’, thought the term ‘pasture-raised’ indicates more clearly that the animal was raised outdoors on a pasture.
You can’t un-learn what you learn. I hope this outline helps just a bit.
Read your labels, educate yourself as best you can and try and make the best choices for you and your family. I’m here to help answer any questions you may have and if I don’t know the answer, we can research it together!