Deciphering Labels: Just What Does “Organic,” “Farm-Raised” and “Local” Really Mean?

Deciphering Labels: Just What Does "Organic," "Farm-Raised" and "Local" Really Mean?    When you walk in the grocery store, all of the labels can be quite confusing! Just what does “organic,” “farm-raised,” and “local” mean and how can you make smart purchasing decisions?

In a recent New York Times article, fish was labelled “local” when it really came from Vietman because it had come from a ‘local’ distributor! And, the label “made with organic ingredients” means it only contains 74-94% organic but what about the other 25%? So, what are you as a consumer to do?

Learning to read labels and understand what they mean is an important part of shopping for your self, your family and for the environment! Once you learn how to decipher labels and to be a discerning customer, you will find it surprisingly easy to make these healthy, life-affirming choices!

Labeling can be confusing but here it is in a nutshell:

* USDA Organic Seal

– produce was grown, raised, handled without pesticides and herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, genetic engineering or irradiation and produced with an emphasis on water and soil conservation.

* 100% Organic label-

product contains only organic ingredients

* Organic label-

product contains 95-99% organic ingredients

* Made with Organic Ingredients label-

product has 74-94% organic ingredients

* Organic listing on the side panel-

product has less than 73% organic ingredients. Just a bit deceiving, no?!?

* Natural or all-natural-

even more deceiving and just means that there are just some natural ingredients and does not mean that the product is free of unnatural additives and hormones!

What should I care about buying products with organic ingredients?

Buying organic is important! The unbelievable, staggering truth is that organic produce has an average of 83% more nutrients, according to a Rutgers University study. Also conventional fruits and vegetables are sprayed with chemicals.

While there have been no long-term formal studies on the link between pestisides and disease, it is my belief that our bodies were not created to handle such a staggering amount of man-made chemicals and it is no wonder that we are having a proliferation in our society of immune diseases, ADHD, cancer and infertility. Is this really what we want to put into our children (and our own) bodies when we have easier, more readily available choices?

Do you have to go all organic tomorrow?

No! But take baby steps you are comfortable with. There is a group of produce called the Dirty Dozen (no, it’s not a rock band) that are fruits and vegetables containing the highest level of pesticides and it is imperative that you buy all of these organically!

The Dirty Dozen (MUST buy organic) are:
1) Peaches
2) Apples
3) Sweet bell peppers
4) Celery
5) Nectarines
6) Strawberries
7) Cherries
8) Lettuce
9) Grapes
10) Pears
11) Spinach
12) Potatoes

The Cleanest 12 is the produce lowest in pestisides and which are the least important to buy organically. They are onions, avocados, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, frozen sweet peas, asparagus, kiwis, bananas, cabbage, broccoli and eggplant. If you are interested, you can go to Food News to download a shopper’s chart. We have ours laminated and up on the fridge for a nice reminder!

Does organic mean local?

No! Take the time to consider where your produce or other items are coming from and buy local instead. Consider the “environment cost” and how much the food item has traveled to get to you. We are using so much fuel and creating so much carbon dioxide, which has been cited as a cause of global warming.

Additionally, often fresh produce such as apples have to be picked before they are ripe and placed in an oxygen-free environment until they reach their destination to avoid spoiling? Not only is this not-natural but it results in apples that don’t taste as good as fresh ones. Do we really need apples shipped from South America when we have delicious locally produced ones?

Do we really need bottled water from Fuji when filtered water in a take away bottle will do? (Furthermore, do we really need to consume bottle after bottle of water to only have each bottle take 100 years to decompose? Not to mention the dangerous chemicals from the plastic leaking into our water!!!) Is it normal that we can have tomatoes, avocados and other seasonal fruits and vegetables year-round?

How do I know ‘local’ is really local?

Be a discerning customer. Ask questions and buy from a trusted source! I love to go down to the Union Square Farmers Market and buy my produce there when I can. If you go to your local farmer’s market or participate in a local GSA, not only will you get superior fruits and vegetables that you know are grown locally, but you will quickly learn what produce grows in your area and when! Click here to get a New York State Harvest Calendar.

The other very important set of labels that deserves an article in and of itself are Free-Range and Hormone-Free. It is essential that you buy all of your meats, dairy and eggs with these labels. Not only do you want to make sure that the food you are eating was handled in a humane way but you also do not want all of the hormones and antibiotics entering your body.

Natural does not mean free-range or hormone-free, and these meats are not held up to the USDA Standards and may or may not have been given antibiotics and hormones or treated in as humane way. The meats from cows that have grazed on the land and not been shoved into feed lots are much more nutritious- and much better tasting, more nutritious and better for our bodies! Whole Foods has a fairy extensive selection of free-range and hormone-free meats but if you want to go the extra step, it is also possible to buy from local farmers. I would be happy to put you in contact with some local suppliers if you are interested.

Hopefully, this has helped you to decipher all the confusing terminology out there! Don’t get intimidated- take baby steps and gradually make more informed choices for yourselves, your families and the environment!

1 Comment

  • alvin
    July 30th, 2014 at 8:45 pm


    tnx for info!!…

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