Understanding the different food labels is essential to become a savvy organic food shopper. The different food labels contain information about how they’re grown or processed. Next time you’re shopping organic food keep in mind what the following labels means:
- 100% Organic: Foods that are completely organic or made with 100% organic ingredients may display the USDA seal.
- Organic: Foods that contain at least 95% organic ingredients may display the USDA seal.
- Made with organic ingredients: Foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients will not display the USDA seal but may list specific organic ingredients on the front of the package.
- Contains organic ingredients: Foods that contain less than 70% organic ingredients will not display the USDA seal but may list specific organic ingredients on the information panel of the package.
Other important terms you need to consider when shopping meat and dairy labels are:
- Natural: this label means “minimally processed” and that the meat can’t have any artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or any other artificial ingredients in it. Animals can still be given antibiotics or growth enhancers.
- Grass fed: this term means that the animals are fed solely on a diet of grass or hay. These animals have access to the outdoors. Cattle are naturally ruminants that eat grass, so they tend to be healthier and leaner when fed this way. In addition, grass fed beef has been shown to have more of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Free range: means that the animals weren’t confined to a cage and had access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, in the U.S. at least, the animal density can still be very high and the animals may have only short periods outside in an area that’s quite small. Therefore, it is difficult to tell exactly what free range means when you see it on meat packaging in the U.S. You can contact the producer directly for clarification.
- No hormones added: in the U.S. and some other countries where the use of growth hormones is permitted, this term indicates that animals are raised without the use of any added growth hormones. For beef and dairy products it can be helpful, but by law, poultry and pigs cannot be given hormones, so don’t pay extra for chicken or pork products that use this label.
Keep in mind that even if a producer is certified organic in the U.S., the use of the USDA Organic label is voluntary. At the same time, not everyone goes through the rigorous process of becoming certified, especially smaller farming operations. When shopping at a farmers’ market, for example, don’t hesitate to ask the vendors how their food was grown.