When it comes to selecting your food and the quality of it, we are faced with an array of labels from food producers that make it slightly harder to make a reasonable decision. Often, food labels can be confusing and tricky to understand and we don’t have the time to try and work out whether it is good for us. What we normally do, is select the ones that sound ” healthy ” to us. While buying the best quality is ideal in a perfect world, don’t let those ” best ” labels keep you from doing the best you can within your means.
The food animal industry is a mess. The state that food animals are raised in are questionable, some food animals are raised in confined animal feeding operations. They are forced to stand in small cages all cooped up together, fed in their excreta, they are given hormones to make them grow faster and larger and who knows what other painful mutilations exist in this industry.
Growing awareness of these conditions has led to an array of labels. In this article, we’ll give the low down on the labels out there and what they actually mean in terms of how their living conditions are. When your produce comes from better living conditions and are fed their natural diet, naturally the nutrients you receive are much better.
Animals raised roam freely in their natural environment where they are able to eat grass and other plants that are part of their diet.
Animals raised are uncaged inside barns or warehouses. They may or may not have access to the outdoors. Although they may be uncaged, there is only a square foot of space for them to roam as you can imagine there are probably another 5000 hens packed in that warehouse.
Animals raised may not receive hormones or antibiotics unless there is an illness. They are fed organic feed and have outdoor access. They may not be grass fed. The good thing about having a food produce labelled as organic is that certification of this label goes through third party auditing.
Natural means minimally processed. Free of flavourings and chemicals. The feed can come from any grain or forage product, organic or not. Meat labelled natural does not include any standards regarding farm practices, which means an animal can receive additional growth hormones or antibiotics.
Animals raised in free-range conditions have access to outdoors at least 51% of the time. There are no restrictions in what the birds can be fed and there is no third party auditing.
This means animals are raised without growth promoters or unnecessary antibiotics. This term must not be confused with the term ” All natural “. Naturally raised does have a certification program and all products must be certified by the USDA.
No added hormones
It is illegal to use hormones in raising poultry or pork. The use of this label is a marketing ploy to mislead customers. Usually “no added hormones” as a label misleads the customers into perceiving the product as different and better and hence worth the higher price tag.
The health benefits
Eggs from pastured hens have less cholesterol , more Omega-3’s, less saturated fats, 3 times more Vitamin D and more Vitamin A and E than factory- farmed eggs.
Produce from grass-fed animals is also a better choice due to their diet and lifestyle. They have less saturated fat, less cholesterol, less fat, more Vitamins and Omega-3’s than factory farmed produce.
It all comes down to ” you get what you pay for”. Most consumers will look at price but the best thing we should be doing for our health is to be getting quality food which comes with a heavy price tag. An interesting quote by Michael Pollan sums up what we are trying to say ” you pay your grocer now or pay your doctor later”.
What to look for with all animal produce
1. Look out for pasture-raised produce
Animals raised in these conditions are generally much happier, healthier and lead natural lives which means the food we take from them is safer, tastier and much healthier. Pasture raised is the gold standard.
2. Grass fed is good but the label is weak
Animals are designed to spend their days slowly foraging and walking to gather their food. Cattles are meant to live on grass. However , the standards proposed by the USDA is not one without problems. It does not require animals to be on pasture and allows them to be fed stuff that is not grass.
3. Organic is good but the label isn’t without flaws
The great thing about the term ” organic” on food labels, is that the USDA regulates it. The USDA oversees that the food item is produced according to their standards. Organic labelled food must be fed only organic feeds and must not contain slaughterhouse waste, antibiotics or modified grains. The standards also mandate that animals must have access to the outdoors. The problem lies as it does not mandate that the outdoors has to be pastures. Thus, what normally happens is these animals are housed in metal sheds and spend most of their days on cement floors.
4. Free range is not too bad but once again the label is flawed
There is a distinction between free range for poultry and free range for eggs. The label does require that the birds have some access to the outdoors but no requirement for it to be pastures. There are no definition of free range for egg laying hens. They could label their eggs ‘free range’ without providing any outdoor access.