Know Thy Food Labels

Blog 11_13_No 1

(AWA Approved Rain Crow Ranch)

Let the truth be told, when it comes to food labels there is a lot to get your head around. Today, tornados of terms are used to tell the story of your food, especially anything animal. If you set off to procure beef and it says “all natural, pasture raised” buying that brand seems like a no brainer. But think again. While some terms are defined by government regulation, most of these storytelling stickers are not. So once again, you are most likely buying into bullshit.

But, thanks to Animal Welfare Approved (AWA)—the national organization known for their highly stringent auditing program that certifies farms who truly put the health and well being of the animals and the environment first—and their recently released Food Labeling for Dummies: A Definitive Guide to Common Food Labels, Terms and Claims, you now have the ultimate blueprint for food clarity. So best bet is to learn the labels as it’s the surefire way to know who and what to trust.

Here is a list of some of the most common labels you will see and their definitions (whether legally defined or not). Gain a little insight and see what AWA has to say about them (taken from Food Labeling for Dummies):

American Humane Certified—A verifiable assurance that products carrying this label have met rigorous, science-based welfare standards and were humanely raised throughout their life process.

AWA:  Despite their statement above, this animal welfare certification supports caged production for chicken as “humane”. There are no requirements for pasture access for any species.

Cage-Free—This term is most often applied to egg laying hens, not to poultry raised for meat. As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are raised without using cages, but almost always live inside barns or warehouses. This term does not explain if the birds had any access to the outside, whether any outside area was pasture or a bare lot, or if they were raised entirely indoors in overcrowded conditions. Beak cutting is permitted. No independent third party verification.

Free Range/Free-Roaming— Producers must demonstrate to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

AWA:  Buyers should be aware that the type of outdoor access provided (such as pasture or dirt lot), the length of time the birds are required to have outdoor access, and how this must be verified is not legally defined and therefore varies greatly from facility to facility. Crowding is not uncommon. No independent third party verification. There is no legal definition for any species outside of poultry.

Grassfed—As per the USDA, 100% of the diet of grass-fed animals consists of freshly grazed pasture during the growing season and stored grasses (hay or grass silage) during the winter months or drought conditions.

AWA:  This term refers only to the diet of cattle, sheep, goats, and bison. It does not indicate if an animal has been given access to pasture, or if it has been raised in a feedlot and/or given antibiotics or hormones. The USDA definition goes on to state that “if for environmental or health of the animal reasons supplementation can be used if the producer logs the type and amount.” Hence, feedlot cattle could be fed harvested forage and supplements, antibiotics and synthetic hormones and still bare the USDA grassfed label. The American Grassfed Association (AGA) has an independent third party certification program available to ranchers. The AGA certified program is recognized by FSIS (the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service) and verifies a 100 percent forage diet, raised on pasture that has a minimum of 75 percent cover, no confinement, no antibiotics and no added hormones. Meat purchasers seeking truly grassfed meat should source AGA certified products.

Natural—As per the USDA, a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process that does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural. The label must explain the use of the term natural (such as—no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed).

AWA:  As defined by the USDA, the term applies only to how meat from the animal is processed after it has been slaughtered. It is important to note that this commonly used term is used for meat or livestock products and does not refer in any way to how an animal was raised, so the farming system may have involved feedlot and confinement systems or the routine use of antibiotic

Naturally Raised—The naturally raised marketing claim standard states that livestock used for the production of meat and meat products have been raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics (except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control), and have never been fed animal by-products. The voluntary standard will establish the minimum requirements for those producers who choose to operate a USDA-verified program involving a naturally raised claim.

AWA:  Buyers of products bearing this label should be aware that this definition does not explain if the animals were raised outdoors or confined in feedlots or cages.

No Additives—“No additives” is a general claim that a product has not been enhanced with the addition of natural or artificial additives. The USDA and FDA define and regulate additives; however, as there is no USDA definition of the term “no additives,” anyone using the term may or may not be referring to this legal regulation. No third party verification.

No Animal By-Products— For meat products this term implies that no products that derive from animals have been used in livestock feed. While the term “no animal by-products” might appear self-evident, there is no legal definition of what constitutes an animal by-product, so a variety of animal-derived ingredients, such as milk or fishmeal, may still be included under this label. No third party verification.

No Antibiotics—As per the USDA, the term “no antibiotics added” may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.

AWA:  Antibiotics are given to animals, such as cattle, hogs, sheep, and chickens, to prevent or manage diseases. Although the USDA is accountable for proper use of these claims, there is no verification system in place.

No Hormones Added—As per the USDA, hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

No Hormones Administered—As per the USDA, the term “no hormones administered” may be approved for use on the label of beef products if sufficient documentation is provided to the Agency, by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.

AWA:  Hormones are commonly used in the commercial farming of animals such as cattle to speed the growth rate or to increase milk production. (In dairy cattle, see information on “rBST and rGBH” below).

Organic/Certified Organic—According to the USDA, all products sold as “organic” must meet the Agency’s national organic program production and handling standards. certification is mandatory for farmers selling more than $5,000 of organic products per year, and is verified by an accredited certifying agency.

AWA:  In general, organic production limits the use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other inputs. However, it does not strictly define production practices related to space per animal or outdoor access requirements – for example, confinement areas are permitted to fatten organic beef cattle. For information about the National Organic Program and use of the term “organic” on labels, check out The National Organic Program and Organic Labeling and Marketing Information.

Pasture Raised—Implies that animals were raised outdoors on pasture. However, since the term is not regulated or certified, there is no way to ensure if any claim is accurate.

rBST/rBGH Free—rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) and rGBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) are hormones used to boost milk production in dairy cattle and have been found to leave residue in the milk. This claim is not verified.

Folks, these are just some of the labels!!! You can see them allhere or download the handy Animal Welfare Approved smart phone App for easy food navigation at your fingertips. Bottom line, when it comes to anything animals, you want to aim for the highest welfare certifications despite the lack of a formal definition for humane or high welfare. So, stay on the lookout for:

Animal Welfare Approved (AWA)the national nonprofit organization that audits, certifies and supports family farmers who raise their animals according to the highest welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range. One of only two seals that require audited high welfare slaughter practices – and the only seal that requires pasture access for all animals – AWA is the most highly regarded food label when it comes to animal welfare, pasture-based farming and sustainability.

Certified Humane—a third party accreditation that requires that ruminants have continual outdoor access; defines space requirements and bird and animal management, and has rigorous auditing to its published standards. One of only two seals that require audited high welfare slaughter practices.

And AWA suggests taking a look here for a comparison chart on humane treatment of animals. Happy eating!

And, don’t forget to tune in to Stirring the Pot on WPPB 88.3 FM Thursdays at 5:30pm (with an encore Saturdays at 5pm) for Animal Welfare Approved and surely check out the Weekly Yum Recipe.

Blog 11_13_No. 3

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