Whether we buy at the supermarket or at the farmer’s market, the foods we buy carry a wide variety of labels. And we rely on these labels to provide us with information about, among other things, how the food was grown and/or prepared, or in the case of meat and meat products, how the animals were raised. .
When we choose to buy food products that we think are better choices, based on the labeling, do we want to know that we are buying healthier foods for our families and the environment? And most people would agree that consumers have a right to know. But, any marks, images and/or descriptions we find on or attached to food products or packaging may be misleading. And, sometimes, misleading.
The label that I am most often asked for is:
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program regulates labeling requirements for organic agricultural products, including fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, processed foods, condiments and drinks. Food products labeled organic must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. And all products bearing the USDA organic label must be grown and processed without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetic engineering, antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones, artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives, irradiation and/or sewage sludge.
It is important to stress that “without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers” does not mean that no pesticides can be used. When an organic farmer is faced with a potentially large loss and all other methods of control have failed, the use of targeted sprays of organically approved pesticides is permitted. Consumers should also be aware that the specified synthetic substances are permitted in organic animal production for use, among other things, as disinfectants, sanitizers and medical treatments, where appropriate (e.g. aspirin to reduce inflammation, propionate calcium [CAS – 4075-81-4] for the treatment of milk fever, vaccines).
The second most asked topic about etiquette is:
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants, animals, microorganisms and other ingredients that have been manipulated by scientists to facilitate their production, preparation or use as food. Scientists manipulate or modify genes in ways not possible in nature or through interbreeding.
Whether or not using GMOs is safe depends on who you ask. According to the National Academy of Sciences and the Food and Drug Administration, GMO foods pose no risk to your health. And, in 2016, the Alliance for Science at Cornell University, in an article written by Mark Lynas, environmental activist and author of several books on the environment, including “Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency”, which won the Royal Society’s Science Book Award in 2008 and adapted into a documentary broadcast on the National Geographic Channel, said “the GMO safety debate is over”.
But opponents fear that consuming GMOs could lead to higher rates of cancer or other diseases. And they worry about cross-pollination of GM field crops with non-GMO and organic crops (e.g. corn, alfalfa) and the potential threat to native species if they escape into the wild (e.g. example, salmon).
The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization that provides the only third-party labeling program in North America for products grown without genetic engineering. Their product verification program evaluates products, ingredients, and manufacturing facilities to establish seed-to-shelf compliance with their stringent best management practices to avoid GMOs.
New GMO labels: Bioengineering / Derived from bioengineering
On January 1, a new federal law, the National Bioengineering Food Disclosure Law (NBFDL), came into effect. Food manufacturers, importers and retailers who package and label bio-engineered foods (synonymous with genetically modified) or contain bio-engineered ingredients for retail or bulk sale of foods to United States must disclose this information to consumers. One way to do this is to label foods with bioengineered ingredients using a “bioengineered” logo created by the USDA and foods containing bioengineered ingredients , a “derived from bioengineering” logo created by the USDA.
Common packaging labels for chickens and eggs: non-cage
Cageless laying hens are kept in open indoor spaces, instead of small cages. To receive USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) approval, cage-free eggs must be produced by birds housed in such a way as to “provide unrestricted access to food and water” and “freedom to move during the spawning cycle.
Free-range egg-producing hens must have access to fresh food and water and be able to go outside whenever they want throughout their laying cycle. Outdoor facilities provide perches, nests, scratching areas, access to litter, and protection from predators.
Pasture-raised egg production is not regulated by the USDA. Third-party certifiers determine the standards, so the standards vary. In general, pasture-raised eggs come from hens that have access to pasture and, as such, access to natural food (eg bugs, grasses, seeds), in season.
There is no regulatory oversight or official definition of the term “grass-fed” or differentiation between pastured cattle and those that are lot-fed but never grain-fed. All cows eat grass. But farmers generally need a year longer to finish grass-fed cattle to slaughter weight than grain-fed cattle.