Food labels for fresh foods can be confusing and misleading. Marketers are in the business to sell their products and will take advantage of labeling guidelines, or lack of labeling guidelines, to differentiate and sell their products. In this article I will clarify what these labels mean so you can make healthy and informed choices.
What is a CAFO
The first term I want to share is CAFO. Although this will never be on a label, it is something that any health conscious individual needs to know. CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. This refers to a mass production farming operation that restricts livestock to a small area to make feeding more efficient.
These products generally deliver less nutritional value. Instead of the animals eating what they would eat in their natural environment, they are fed foods, generally grain-based, that can be purchased and distributed cheaply. Hormones are added to make the animals grow faster; the food generally contains pesticides, and antibiotics are also added. Excessive antibiotics are necessary because the animals are standing in their own poop continually, and because they are confined to such close quarters that spread of disease is a high risk. Given the choice, stay away from animals raised on a CAFO.
Understanding the “Organic” label
Some foods labels can be misleading; however, you can trust the USDA Certified Organic and the Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO) labels. Labels like “antibiotic-free,” “raised without hormones,” and “free range” do not have guidelines for their use, so with the slightest connection to the term one of these labels might be used.
Here is what USDA certified organic means: “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.” (Ref: USDA website)
100% Grass-fed and grass-finished
Even the words “grass-fed” can be misleading unless it says “100% grass-fed.” An animal labeled grass-fed could have been given the chance to graze on a small patch of grass every now and then. The remainder of the time it is fed grains that are unnatural to it and filled with antibiotics and hormones. Free-range eggs can be the same way. There are no specific guidelines for what is considered free-range.
Instead, look for USDA Certified Organic or 100% grass-fed. The next best label is “grass-finished” which means lived out its life in a pasture instead of being sent to a feedlot to be fattened in its final stage before slaughter.
When it comes to produce, the healthiest choice is “locally grown.” This ranks even higher than organic because local produce is fresher and more nutritious than many organic offerings that have come half way around the world. Also, local farmers, while they may not have pursued the official government certified organic distinction, generally use pesticide-free growing methods. When locally grown isn’t available, look for the organic label.
Make the healthiest choice
Following the recommendations above will help you choose the healthiest options. More and more supermarkets are jumping on the bandwagon, so vote with your pocketbook. Farmers Markets and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) providers are also excellent options.
I hope this was helpful. Live Healthy!!