I learned something interesting today, something that I’m pretty sure that a lot of people aren’t aware of. You know that package of “hormone-free” chicken that you make a point of buying? Well, that claim to fame is one that any chicken or poultry product could make, because poultry by law cannot be given hormones. Packages that make the hormone-free claim are required to also have a statement on their packaging saying that federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones, although this statement might be easily overlooked if it’s in fine print. Pork, too, cannot be raised with hormones.
It’s yet another example of how the claims on packaging labels are often misleading or even meaningless. In a time where consumers are more and more concerned about what they eat both from a health and an environmental standpoint, manufacturers are eager to capitalize on this interest with products that are purportedly better in some way.
Next time you go grocery shopping, be wise to some of the terms on the packages… they might not be as beneficial for you (or the earth) as you think they are.
Natural: The USDA has started cracking down on the use of this term, and now says that it must not contain artificial ingredients or colors and must be minimally processed. But, it’s still a nebulous term open to interpretation. The important thing to remember is that “natural” does not mean “organic.”
Free Range: There are regulations as to who can use the term “free-range,” but again, they’re open to interpretation. Chickens labeled “free range” must have demonstrable access to the outdoors. But the truth is, just because they have access to the great outdoors, doesn’t mean they take advantage of it. And since they’re flock animals, chances are, they’re staying right where they are… inside a crowded, dank chicken coop.
Hormone-Free: As earlier mentioned, poultry and pork are legally required to be raised without hormones. If a pork or poultry product is labeled “hormone-free,” there must also be a statement on the label noting that federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.
Multi-Grain: It sounds like it’ll be wholesome and chock full of fiber and nutrients, but the term “multi-grain” only means that the product was made with more than one type of grain, whole or refined. A better term to look for is “whole grain” or “100 percent whole wheat,” or, better yet, look for the Whole Grains Stamp for assurance that the product contains at least 16 grams of whole grains per serving.
Organic Fish: Because it’s practically impossible to control what a fish ingests into its digestive system, a fish can’t be labeled organic. And in the case of farmed fish, which are raised under more controlled circumstances, the pollution often caused by the farming seems to negate the environmental benefits of being organic. The USDA is working to determine how to apply the organic label to fish, so stay tuned.