What your food labels really mean

Think you know what a food label means when it says “natural” or “organic”. Read and keep these United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines ­ – so you can clear the air about what you’re putting into your body. 

1. Free-range
This label means 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. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material.

2. Cage-free
The flock was able to freely roam in a building, room or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water.

3. Natural
Meat, poultry, and egg products labelled “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the label doesn’t cover what the animals are fed, and also only applies to meat, poultry and egg products for now.   

4. Grass-fed
Animals that are grass-fed get most of their nutrients from grass. They are still considered grass-fed if their diets are supplemented with grain. If the meat from such animals is to be considered organic, the grain supplementing their diet must be produced without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers or genetically engineered materials.

5. USDA Organic
Consists of at least 95 per cent organically produced ingredients, produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, or artificial ingredients. If the item comprises multi-ingredient products like bread or soup, it is made from ingredients that have been certified organic.

6. Made With Organic Ingredients
Processed products that contain at least 70 per cent organic ingredients. May list up to three of its organic ingredients or food groups on the front of the package.

Labelling information provided by The Organic Trade Association, whose Organic Export Program is funded through the Market Access Program of the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA.