Category Archives: Definitions

Local food related definitions

Deciphering Food Labels

Deciphering Food LabelsI’m a big fan of my local health food store/grocer. Nature’s Fare Market has a great selection of products and is staffed by well-informed staff, especially in their vitamins and supplements department. In addition, they are involved in the community and regularly offer educational seminars. Another of their great educational tools is their newsletter, The Good Life. In an issue this past summer they included a great explanation of food labels that was so clear and thorough I am reprinting here, with permission.  Continue reading

Making Food Labels Make Sense

It takes a degree in food sciences to understand what’s really in the packaged food that crowds supermarket shelves. It’s one thing to know that sugar masquerades as anything ending in -ose, as well as more healthy sounding things like molasses and evaporated cane juice.

It’s quite another thing to understand what the nutritional information actually means and to effectively compare it between products.

I’m a big fan of eating whole foods which neatly avoids the need to read labels, but in real life it’s not always possible. When it’s not, I want to make the better choice and lay off on the guilt. A few ways to make label reading easier:

  • Avoid products with unpronounceable words in the ingredients list — those things are not food
  • Check the order of the ingredients on the label — the earlier on the list, the more of it in the box
  • Be on the lookout for sodium and fat. You don’t want too much of either and processed varieties are not typically good quality

Another even easier way to read labels is to download the Cereal Scan application for iPhone and scan labels as you shop. An easy-to-read display gives you a green, yellow or red light on the product and offers recommendations on better alternatives. It also includes easy-to-understand headlines that reveal the truth behind the labels.

Brought to you by Fooducate, the application was created by dietitians and concerned parents who wanted better information so they could make more informed food choices for their families.

Food Labels: Naturally Raised (or Natural) Meat

Food Label Tag GreenExcerpt from Ecoholic

“According to the CFIA, this label should mean the animal was raised without human intervention (i.e. vaccines, hormones or antibiotics). Some health stores use the term on their meat to mean hormone-, antibiotic-, GMO- and animal-by-product-free, as well as free-range. But the feed isn’t organic.”

Excerpt from

“If you came across a package of ground beef with a “naturally raised” label on it, it might conjure up images of animals roaming freely and grazing on open pasture. But unfortunately, that’s not the case with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new voluntary standard for the naturally raised claim, which the agency issued on January 16, 2009.”

“For livestock used for the production of meat and meat products, the USDA’s naturally raised marketing claim standard:

  • Prohibits growth promotants (including growth hormones);
  • Prohibits animal byproducts in feed—which are implicated in causing mad cow disease; and
  • Claims to prohibit antibiotics (but allows ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control).

While those are important practices, Consumers Union believes only specific product claims should be allowed, such as ‘no antibiotics or hormones ever administered’. They should not be couched under a vague and misleading term that does not address how the animals were raised, their main diet, treatment of animals, space requirements, and other concerns.

“This regulation will allow an animal that has come from a cloned or genetically engineered stock, was physically altered, raised in confinement without ever seeing the light of day or green of pasture, in poor hygiene conditions with a diet laced in pesticides to be labeled as ‘naturally raised.’ This falls significantly short of consumer expectations and only adds to the roster of misleading label claims approved by USDA for so-called natural meat,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union, and Director of”

“A national telephone poll conducted by Consumer Reports’ National Research Center released in November 2008 showed American consumers want the “naturally raised” meat claim to mean more than USDA’s standard, including that it came from an animal that:

  • Had a diet free of chemicals, drugs and animal byproducts (86%)
  • Was raised in a natural environment (85%)
  • Ate a natural diet (85%)
  • Was not cloned or genetically engineered (78%)
  • Had access to the outdoors (77%)
  • Was treated humanely (76%)
  • Was not confined (68%)”

Food Labels: Grass-Fed (or Pasturized) Meat

Food Label Tag GreenDon’t “All Cows Eat Grass”? I was pretty sure it was more than a mnemonic used to teach children to read music. Apparently, commercially-raised cows have been switched to a grain feed. Apparently, the mnemonic isn’t as accurate as it once was…

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“Grass-fed cows are said to be much healthier (the animals get sick less and their meat is more nutritious to the end consumer) than a typical grain-fed cow. In fact, USDA researchers have found that hay- or grass-fed cows are less likely to have E. coli in their digestive tracts than grain-fed types (and that’s a good thing, considering E. coli might otherwise contaminate your burger). But there are no federal standards or enforcement mechanisms in place for this label.”

Excerpt from

“Currently the United States Department of Agriculture has not adopted an official definition of Grass Fed Beef. There are two terms, often used interchangeably that people find confusing, they are; Grass Fed Beef and Grass Finished Beef.”

“The definition of Grass Fed Beef generally means beef from cattle that have eaten only grass or forage throughout their lives, however some producers do call their beef grass fed but then actually finish the animals on grain for the last 90 to 160 days before slaughter.

A more specific definition is Grass Finished Beef. Finishing is just another word for the time that cattle are normally fattened for the last few months before processing. Typically, feed lots finish cattle for 90 to 160 days on grain, usually corn, whereas, grass finished cattle are fattened on grass only, until the day that they are processed.”

Food Labels: Antibiotic or Hormone-Free Chicken

Food Label Tag GreenDid you know that it’s actually illegal to give hormones to chickens in both Canada and the US? Huh. Read on…

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“The CFIA [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] says no poultry can be injected with hormones in this country, so that part of the claim is kind of useless (beef cattle are the only animals that can be treated with growth hormones in Canada). As for antibiotics, the CFIA says even conventional birds shouldn’t be shipped ot the slaughterhouse until they test clean for drugs. If the product is federally registered, this label will be pre-approved for accuracy. If it’s provincially registered, it’s open to spot checks or complaint-driven inspections.”

From the US Department of Agriculture

“No hormones are used in the raising of chickens.

Antibiotics may be given to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency. A “withdrawal” period is required from the time antibiotics are administered before the bird can be slaughtered. This ensures that no residues are present in the bird’s system. FSIS randomly samples poultry at slaughter and tests for residues. Data from this monitoring program have shown a very low percentage of residue violations.”

Food Labels: Grain-Fed Chicken

Food Label Tag GreenThis term seems to be used quite a bit these days, especially on TV commercials. What does it really mean? Read on…

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“This label is meant to signal, ‘This bird wasn’t fed other birds or animals.’ The feds object to the label, saying the definition is too narrow and doesn’t account for supplements such as vitamins or even antibiotics. They prefer the more pointed ‘animal by-product-free’. Policing is the same as for antibiotic-free.”

According to

“All chickens in Canada are grain-fed so be assured that every time you buy chicken you’re getting a grain-fed bird. In Manitoba, farmers feed a blend of wheat and barley which gives the chicken skin and fat the white colour we’re accustomed to. In other parts of Canada, and in the USA, chickens eat more corn than wheat. Corn gives the skin and fat a yellow colour.”

However, according to a recent article in Canadian Running magazine

“‘Grain-fed’ is also a questionable term. Grain is the main ingredient of all chicken feed, including seeds and meal made from seeds, such as canola or soybean. All chickens in Canada are essentially grain-fed, but about 10 per cent of chicken feed is meat and fat. Since no one is monitoring whether farmers are giving chickens pure grain and seed feed or feed with animal by-product, you’d be smarter to buy organic rather than grain-fed chicken.”

Food Labels: Free-Run Chickens

Food Label Tag GreenYes, I too have spent significant time reading the packaging at the supermarket. Which is better? Free-Run? Free-Range? They aren’t the same?

Read on for more. Check out the definition for Free-Range Chickens as well.

Please note: Free-run chickens can also be called “cage-free chickens”.

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“These chickens get to run around open-concept barns equipped with wire grid floors, but they have no access to the outdoors. By the way, this is an industry-devised term; no feds oversee the label or inspect the farms.”

From the BC SPCA website

free-run-chickens“Free-Run hens are raised free from battery cages and are kept entirely indoors on a barn floor. Free-Run housing that provides deep bedded sawdust (or other fibrous bedding material) is often referred to as a Deep-Litter System. Free-run housing does not necessarily provide more space per hen than conventional battery cages, and is not required to provide resources such as nest boxes, perches, or a substrate for dust-bathing.

While free run hens have no access to the outdoors, the barns may be designed to allow natural light to enter and the birds are better protected from external threats, such as predators.

Note: The ‘free run’ label that may be seen on some broiler (meat) chicken can mislead consumers by suggesting that meat chickens are raised in cages. In fact, no meat chickens are raised in cages; they are either free run or free range.

Food Labels: Biodynamic

Food Label Tag GreenThis one might be new to a lot of us. I’ve only ever heard it used in reference to wine. Let’s see what others have to say…

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“Certification standards for this label are similar to those for organic but go one step further by requireing farmers to be in sync with the rhythms of nature and the cosmos and to use specially prepared herbs and minerals in compost and field sprays. Biodynamic farming embraces a philosophy focused on healing the eart; certifiers include Demeter.”dbta-logo-small

From the Society for Biodynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario

“Biodynamic agriculture is a unique form of organic agriculture. It seeks to actively work with the health-giving forces of nature, recognizing the spirit as well as the physical. Biodynamic practitioners work to balance the life-forces and heal the earth, while producing food that is truly nourishing.

The biodynamic method is based on the insights of the philosopher and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. In 1924, he gave a series of eight lectures to experienced farmers in Koberwitz, Germany. Since then, farmers and gardeners all over the world have pursued this ongoing path of knowledge.”

Food Labels: Free-Range Chicken

Food Label Tag GreenI suspect this is much closer to the images of happy chickens we assume to be chicken-farming reality.

Read on and check out the definition for free-run chicken as well.

Please note: “Free-Range” and “Free-Roving” are interchangeable

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“These hens get to see the light of day and snack off the land. Not a government regulated term. Only backed up on certified organic eggs.”

From the BC SPCA website

“Hens that are raised in free range systems are free from battery cages and are allowed some access to the outside. As with free-run housing, free-range systems do not necessarily provide more space than conventional battery cages, and are not required to provide resources such as nest boxes, perches, or a substrate for dust-bathing.”