Food Labeling 101

Food Labeling 101

By Nate Furler, Marketing Manager

It is always good to have a refresher concerning food labels.  We’ve been hearing a lot from our producers, other food co-ops, members, customers, and the media about product labeling.  The resurgence lately has been particularly focused on the difference between the terms “organic” and “natural.”

Through the information contained below, we have attempted to outline the most widely used claims found on food labels. We hope this enlightens you and gives you something to think about during your next grocery shopping trip.

The majority of the information comes directly from the USDA and FDA.  If you wish to know more about organic standards in particular, we urge you to visit the following USDA source online: www.ams.usda.gov.  Simply look for the link to the National Organic Program on the left side of the page.  Concerning nutritional labeling, including the use of the term “natural” as it pertains to products aside from livestock and eggs, check out the FDA website at: www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm094536.htm

On the label: “100 percent organic”

Label specifics: The label must identify each organically produced ingredient in the ingredient statement on the information panel.  The name of the certifying agent of the final product must be displayed on the information panel. There are no restrictions on use of other truthful labeling claims such as “no drugs or growth hormones used,” “free range,” or “sustainably harvested.”

Use of USDA Organic seal: YES, may use but not mandatory.

What it means: Products must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids.

Main items you won’t find used to make or included in the product containing this label: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEO), growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, irradiation, animal confinement, sewage sludge.

On the label: “Organic”

Label specifics: The label must identify each organically produced ingredient in the ingredient statement on the information panel.  The name of the certifying agent of the final product must be displayed on the information panel.  There are no restrictions on use of other truthful labeling claims such as “no drugs or growth hormones used,” “free range,” or “sustainably harvested.”

Use of USDA Organic seal: YES, may use but not mandatory

What it means: Products labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and sale). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List including specific non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.

Main things you won’t find used to make or included in the product containing this label: GMO, GEO, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, irradiation, animal confinement, sewage sludge.
On the label: “made with organic ingredients”

Label specifics: The percentage of organic content and the certifying agent seal or mark may be used on the principal display panel.

Use of USDA Organic seal: NOT ALLOWED

What it means: Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients” and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel.  For example, soup made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may be labeled either “soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots,” or “soup made with organic vegetables.”

Main things you won’t find used to make or included in the product containing this label: GMO, GEO, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, irradiation, animal confinement, sewage sludge.
Products containing less that 70 percent organic ingredients cannot use the term organic anywhere on the principal display panel.  However, they may identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel.
Additional USDA voluntary labels for livestock products, such as meat and eggs:

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 (from the USDA) for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs. (See FDA specs on “natural” labeling below)

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 labeling policy 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.

 

Natural, All Natural, and additional label claims – from the FDA

According to the FDA, the term “natural” on a product label only means the product does not contain synthetic or artificial ingredients.

Here are a list of label claims and buzzwords that you may want to inquire about further:

– minimally processed

– free of : synthetic preservatives, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, artificial flavors, other artificial additives, growth hormones, antibiotics, hydrogenated oils, stabilizers, emulsifiers

Methods that may apply to the raising and manufacturing of natural and all-natural products include:

– Animals may be raised in confinement

– Ingredients may be sprayed with herbicides and pesticides

– Ingredients may have been grown or produced using Genetically Engineered (GE/GMO) seed and inputs.