Food Production & Labeling Terms

What do some common food and labeling terms actually mean?

What does the term “Natural” mean in Food Labeling?

Basically…nothing.

No formal definition for the use of “natural” on food labels has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, “natural” claims have become common on foods and beverages. FDA follows a 1993 policy that states:

[FDA] has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Use of the term “natural” is not permitted in a product’s ingredient list, with the exception of the phrase “natural flavorings.”

USDA allows the use of the term “natural” to be used in meat and poultry labeling on products that
contain no artificial ingredients or added color. The product also must be only minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the term natural, for example, no added coloring; minimally processed.

Other Food Labeling Terms:

There are other voluntary labels for livestock products, such as meat and eggs. Animal raising claims must be truthful and not misleading. USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service attempts to verify the truthfulness of these claims:

Free-range  This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.

Cage-free  This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.

Natural  As required by USDA, meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.

Grass-fed  Grass-fed animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, while organic animals’ pasture diet may be supplemented with grain. Also USDA regulated, the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Meat products may be labeled as grass-fed organic.

Pasture-raised  Due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems, the USDA has not developed a federal definition for pasture-raised products.

Humane  Multiple labeling programs make claims that animals were treated humanely during the production cycle, but the verification of these claims varies widely. These labeling programs are not regulated under a single USDA definition.

No added hormones  A similar claim includes “Raised without Hormones.” Federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry, pork, or goat.

Biodynamic  Biodynamic farming is based on the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. In addition to organic practices such as crop rotation and composting, Biodynamic farmers rely on special plant, animal and mineral preparations and the rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets, and stars.

The Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard is a comprehensive organic farming method that requires the creation and management of a closed system, minimally dependent on imported materials.

More information on Biodynamic Farming can be found here: Biodynamic Farming

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