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Is It Organic or Not? Don't Let Labels Fool You

Is It Organic or Not? Don't Let Labels Fool You
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By    |   Wednesday, 07 February 2018 01:25 PM

We all know we need to eat better, but what labels should you trust? Organic? Natural? Is free range best? What about hormones and antibiotics?

If you find the many labels on foods in your supermarket confusing, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are ways to cut through the confusion.

A recent survey found that eight out of 10 people reported finding conflicting information on food labels.

Not only that, but more than half (56 percent) said that such conflicting information caused them to second guess their choices, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food and Health Survey.

Dr. Charles Platkin, Ph.D., tells Newsmax Health that food labels often cause confusion for consumers about which foods are best.

“There are labels that are meaningful, but even these don’t mean as much as people think they do,” says Platkin, executive director of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center in Manhattan.

Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit environmental organization, notes that many food companies engage in “greenwashing” to make their products seem healthier or more environmentally friendly.

 “When it comes to labeling, there’s a lot of ‘greenwashing,’ that goes on,” she tells Newsmax Health.

In order to find the best products, you need to do your homework ahead of time, which means researching the companies while you’re at home, instead of trying to figure out the labels while you’re out shopping.

Also, do it systematically, says Lovera.

“I tell people to research one food at a time; otherwise, it’s overwhelming,” she adds.

So, for instance, if you always buy chicken, make a note of the top three brands, and research them. Select your favorites, then you can choose them repeatedly, she notes.

Keep these points in mind, says Lovera:

  • Look for the green-and-white “USDA Organic” label. This label means foods generally meet the criteria that most people look for when buying organic, so you don’t need to do further research. If the product doesn’t have this label, then keep the other ones on this list in mind.
  • Is the label verifiable? Does the company have to meet specific criteria to get its label, and is this information overseen by an independent organization?
  • Watch out for “fluffy” language, like companies saying their product is “great for the environment,” “all natural,” or “sustainable.” These are terms that don’t necessarily mean anything, says Lovera.
  • Buy your food products at farm stands or local companies. This allows you to ask questions about the product of the grower or producer directly, so you don’t need to worry about the label.

To demystify food labels, the nonprofit environmental organization Food & Water Watch compiled this list:  

USDA Organic: This U.S. Department of Agriculture label certifies that the product was grown without synthetic fertilizer, pesticides or sewer sludge; not genetically engineered or irradiated; that animals were raised on organic feed and not treated with hormones or antibiotics; the animals had access to the outdoors, and none were clones.

Natural or Naturally Raised: According to the USDA, “natural” meat and poultry products cannot contain artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or other artificial ingredients and they should be “minimally processed.”  But this label does not tell how the animal was raised, if antibiotics or hormones were used, or other aspects that consumers might logically expect from something labeled “natural.”

USDA Inspected: This seal means that your food meets certain quality standards and has been inspected by USDA employees or company employees under USDA supervision to rank its quality. But it doesn’t necessarily answer other questions, like how the animal was raised.

Country of Origin: This federally required label provides information on where chicken, seafood, produce, and some nuts were produced. This is useful if consumers are trying to avoid purchasing foods grown or produced in certain countries.

Treated with Radiation: The “radura,” which is usually green and depicts a plant in a circle, is the international sign that tells if a product was irradiated.

Cage Free Eggs: “Cage free” means that birds are raised without cages, but it tells you nothing more about their living conditions, such as whether they were raised with room to walk around but in overcrowded conditions.  

Pastured-Raised: “Pasture-raised” or “pastured” means that animals spent at least some time outdoors on pasture, feeding on grass or forage, but it doesn’t tell you how much of their lives were spent there.

Grass-Fed: "Grass-fed” means that an animal’s primary source of food came from grass or forage, not from grains, such as corn.

No Antibiotics: This means the animal received no antibiotics over its lifetime, but tells you nothing else about it, like whether it was treated with hormones.

No Hormones: Labels like “raised without added hormones,” “no hormones administered” or “no synthetic hormones” means the animal received no synthetic hormones but that is meaningless for pork or poultry, because their use on these products is prohibited.

Fresh: The label “fresh” is used only on poultry to indicate it was not cooled below 26 degrees. The label is meaningful on seafood, but is meaningless on meat, or other products, which don’t have to be labeled as “frozen,” unless they are kept at zero degrees. 

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You know you should eat organic foods in order to eat healthier, but there are many different labels and it's difficult to know which really denote foods that meet this criteria. But these expert tips can show you how to separate the organic foods from the pretenders.
organic, health, food, labels
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 01:25 PM
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