Thursday, September 29, 2011

Understanding Organic Food Labels

I was walking around the local grocery store picking up some odds and ends and I stopped at the applesauce - one of Ellery's favorites. I got looking at the organic applesauce verse the natural applesauce, primarily because the natural one was on sale. But I immediately start thinking "buy the organic - apples are on the dirty dozen list", but at the same time I am thinking, "seriously what is the difference between made with organic, organic, natural, etc." All of these labels have marketing written all over it. And trust me, I spent 10 years marketing, so I get it. Well, I did a little digging around and found out some interesting information on this topic. Here is the short of the long of it.

Organic
"Organic" - Products must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients and will carry the USDA seal on the package "Made With Organic Ingredients" - Products consist of at least 70% organic ingredients and must follow the USDA production standards. The USDA label can not be used on the packaging.

"Some Organic" - Any products that have 70% or less organic products, can not use the word organic in their packing, but they can call out the organic ingredients used on the ingredient list

Natural
To me this is hands down the most confusing. Packages that state "Natural", "100% Natural, and "All Natural Ingredients" is actually misleading because it isn't unregulated by the USDA unless it is meat or poultry according to the Food Marketing Institute.

The term "Natural" applies broadly to foods that are minimally processed and free of synthetic preservatives; artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and other artificial additives; hydrogenated oils; stabilizers; and emulsifiers. Most food labeled natural are not subject to government controls beyond the regulations and heath codes that apply to all foods. So the term natural is loosely used.

Even though the USDA regulates the term "natural" with meat that only means the meat doesn't contain artificial ingredients or added color and is minimally processed - it has nothing to do with how the animal was raised. Minimally processed means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed"). Animals can be given hormones and antibiotics, except poultry - FDA regulates that one, and still claim "Natural" on the label. So if you can't find organic meats, look for labels that say "raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics"

All in all, "Natural" really doesn't mean much more than the product doesn't have added preservatives and isn't regulated. If you want to know for sure you are buying natural food, stick with products that have the USDA seal of approval on it - or look very closely at the ingredient label!

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