Labeling Deceptions

Food labels are filled with deceptive tactics and knowing which label you can trust and which one is bogus can be tricky. Today we explore how to decipher which claims bear truth and those which are questionable:

GRASS-FED can be tricky. There is a USDA definition which requires that 100 percent of a grass-fed animal’s diet consists of freshly grazed pasture during the growing season and stored grass in winter or drought. But it doesn’t tell the consumer if that cow, sheep, goat or bison was actually on a pasture or feedlot, and it doesn’t address antibiotic use. However, there is a way you can be certain you’re getting your money’s worth: Rangan says look for grass-fed products that carry the American Grassfed Association logo. “It’s bona fide,” she says.

If you pick up a package of chicken or pork chops that carry a “No Hormones Added” sticker on it, don’t spend any extra coin for it. The USDA doesn’t allow hormones to be used in hog or poultry production. That’s why you’ll see the phrase “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones” after the bogus claim. When “No Hormones Administered” appears on a package of beef, however, the wording has some truth since producers have to document the cattle were raised without hormones. But if you spot “Hormone-free,” beware. The USDA says that term is “unprovable.”

According to Animal Welfare Approved Food Labeling for Dummies guide, a fair-trade label is third-party verified, legally defined and one you can trust. It means products that carry this label pay farmers and workers sustainable prices for their ingredients. Products where you’ll likely see this label include coffee, tea and chocolate items.

Sadly, there is no legal or regulated definition for pasture-raised animals, even though the words conjure up green grassy fields and butterflies. Unless you know your grower, it’s hard to know for sure the claim is legit. Buyer beware.

Cage Free
Usually applied to eggs, “cage free” means the hens are raised without the use of small battery cages. But don’t automatically assume these hens are roaming around on green pasture pecking at bugs and seeds. Most cage-free eggs come from hens that spend their lives indoors. If you think a supermarket “free range” egg might be better, don’t get your hopes up. When applied to eggs, the term “free range” is not regulated.

No Antibiotics Administered
While “No Antibiotics Administered” and “Raised Without Antibiotics” may be used on meat and poultry labels, and does, in fact, mean that the animal was not given antibiotics during its lifetime, buyer beware if you spot the term “Antibiotic Free.” The USDA says that term is “unapprovable” and can’t be used on meat products. Even more confusing? Farmland Foods, a Smithfield Foods company, began using the phrase, “no antibiotic growth promotants,” when marketing its pork products. That’s not a USDA-approved claim, says Rangan. So what happened? “The USDA inadvertently approved the claim in January 2010, and Smithfield used it for three years.” But they won’t be able to for long. The company was given June 2013 to remove the label off packaging.


Source: Clare Leschin-Hoar

Susan Arruda