We all want to eat right. right?
Whether we actually follow through on that desire is up to us.
But it helps to at least know what you are eating, and all the labels on foods these days can make your head spin.
With help from folks at the Alamance County office of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, we decided to break down a few tricky labels and what they mean.
Q: what are the requirements for “locally grown” products?
A: there is no specific answer, said Jessica Oswald, a registered dietician and family and consumer sciences agent at the Cooperative Extension office. People and businesses are allowed to make up their own definition for what they consider to be locally grown products. Some grocery stores define local as being less than six hours from the store or less than 250 miles from the store.
Q: what does it mean for a product to be “all-natural”?
A: for a product to have an all-natural label it must have no artificial ingredients or colored dyes. it must also have been minimally processed, meaning the process does not fundamentally alter the raw product, said Jennifer King, a livestock agent at Cooperative Extension.
Q: what are the requirements for meat or poultry to be labeled “hormone free”?
A: the phrase “hormone free” is not allowed on meat or poultry products, according to USDA, regulations because hormones naturally occur in animals. Added hormones are prohibited when raising pork or poultry but are allowed in beef and dairy cows.
Q: what does it mean for produce to be “pesticide free”?
A: there is no legal definition or regulation of this label by the USDA. for produce to have this label there must be no pesticide residue on the crop, said King. this label does not address if pesticides were used in any other stages of growing.
Q: what does it mean for a product to be labeled “organic”?
A: Farms that grow USDA-certified organic products must meet certain standards and regulations set out by the USDA and must use environmentally sustainable farming practices, said mark Danieley, a Cooperative Extension horticulturist. Organic dairy and meat products come from animals that were not given any antibiotics or growth hormones. Fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, sewage sludge, and conventional pesticides are not used on organic produce.
Q: what are the qualifications for poultry and eggs to be “free-range”?
A: Chickens are raised with the ability to roam freely in a pasture or dirt lot. They may also be sheltered in a hen house or chicken coop, but they have the option to roam if they want to, said Oswald.
Q: what does it mean for eggs to be “cage-free”?
A: this label is not defined or regulated by the USDA. Egg-laying hens are not raised in individual cages, but are almost always raised inside barns or warehouses, King said.
Q: what does it mean for beef to be “grass fed”?
A: For beef to have this label the cow must be raised on forage such as grass or hay and have the ability to roam. most mass-market beef cows are fed grass and some type of grain, such as corn or soybeans. King said studies done on the nutritional benefits of grass-fed beef versus grain-fed are still inconclusive.