What Are These Labels Anyway?

Hereis some great info shared from Daisy at CrossFit Park City.  Daisy runs Copper Moose Farms and knows her stuff when it comes to growing food.  Ever wonder what all those labels really mean anyway?  Well here you have it.  Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand this, Daisy!  (thanks, Chris Spealler, for sharing this with us!)

Common Food Related Terms and Labels


USDA requirements for Organic Certification are the following:
•    Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for 3 years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.
•    Prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation.
•    Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management and crop rotation practices.
•    Provide outdoor access and pasture for livestock.
•    Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.
•    Sustain animals on 100% organic feed.
•    Avoid contamination during the processing of organic products.
•    Keep records of all operations.

USDA Definition (from the USDA National Agriculture Online Library):
"Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. ‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people." Final Minutes of the National Organic Standards Board, Orlando, Florida, April 24-28, 1995

The Biodynamic label is certified and regulated by the Demeter Association.

The following definition comes from the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association Website:
Essentially, biodynamic farming and gardening looks upon the soil and the farm as living organisms. It regards maintenance and furtherance of soil life as a basic necessity if the soil is to be preserved for generations, and it regards the farm as being true to its essential nature if it can be conceived of as a kind of individual entity in itself — a self-contained individuality. It begins with the ideal concept of the necessary self-containedness of the farm and works with furthering the life of the soil as a primary means by which a farm can become a kind of individuality that progresses and evolves.
Soil improvement is obtained by proper humus management — e.g., by the application of sufficient organic manure and compost in the best possible state of fermentation; by proper crop rotation; by proper working of the soil; by protective measures such as wind protection; cover crops, green manure, and diversified crops rather than monocultures; and by mixed cropping so that plants can aid and support each other.  The spraying of biodynamic herbal and mineral preparations also plays a large role.
Biodynamic agriculture is a way of living, working and relating to nature and the vocations of agriculture based on good common-sense practices, a consciousness of the uniqueness of each landscape, and the inner development of each and every practitioner.
Common-sense practices include striving to be self-sufficient in energy, fertilizers, plants, and animals; structuring our activities based on working with nature's rhythms; using diversity in plant, fertilizers, and animals as building blocks of a healthy operation; being professional in our approach to reliability, cleanliness, order, focus on observation, and attention to detail; and being prompt and up-to-date in doing one's job.

GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)

Wikipedia Definition:
A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.  These techniques are generally know as recombinant DNA technology.  With this technology, DNA molecules from different sources are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes.  This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes.

The USDA Definition (from the USDA National Agriculture Online Library):
Although farmers have been practicing biotechnology in the broadest sense (i.e. plant and animal breeding to achieve certain traits) for thousands of years, it is the recent breaking of the genetic code that has pushed this science into a new era altogether. Genetic engineering differs significantly from traditional biotechnological techniques in that DNA from different species can be combined to create completely new organisms (Genetically Modified Organisms - GMOs). [Burkhard Mausberg and Maureen Press-Merkur, The Citizen's Guide to Biotechnology (Toronto: Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, 1995), p. 65. NAL Call # TP248.215 M38 1995]
Whether this technology is compatible with sustainable agriculture, and if so, in what ways, provokes much controversy among sustainable agriculture advocates. Products such as plants engineered for herbicide tolerance or insect resistance, and bacteria engineered to produce drugs for livestock may point to reduced chemical use and other sustainable applications. But what are the risks?
The Union of Concerned Scientists' list of potential risks related to GMOs include those to human health--new allergens in the food supply, antibiotic resistance, production of new toxins, concentration of toxic metals, enhancement of the environment for toxic fungi; and those to the environment--gene transfer to wild or weedy relatives and increased weediness, change in herbicide use patterns, squandering of valuable pest susceptibility genes, poisoned wildlife, creation of new or worse viruses, and other, so far, unknown harms. [Shaping an Agriculture for the Twenty-First Century: Biotechnology, (Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)). Available at UCS Website: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/genetic_engineering/
risks-of-genetic-engineering.html (8/23/07)]
In addition, "The issue of who will be served by this technology and who will set the research agenda of the experts becomes intensely important when so few people control the tools and language of the trade." [Chuck Hassebrook and Gabriel Hegyes, Choices for the Heartland: Alternative Directions in Biotechnology and Implications for Farming (Rural Communities and the Environment; Ames IA: Iowa State University, 1989), p. 3. NAL Call # S494.5 B563H37]

USDA Definition (from the USDA National Agriculture Online Library):
"Sustainable agriculture" was addressed by Congress in the 1990 "Farm Bill" [Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (FACTA), Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1603 (Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1990) NAL Call # KF1692.A31 1990]. Under that law, "the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
•    satisfy human food and fiber needs;
•    enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
•    make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
•    sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
•    Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.



The USDA regulates the organic label on eggs, but does not regulate any other claims made on egg packages.  The organic certification means that neither the hens nor their feed can be subjected to antibiotics, hormones, pesticides or herbicides.
No USDA regulation.  It is up to the consumer to find out what that really means with to a farm using “Natural” as an advertising label.
Cage Free
The debate on what this means can get pretty nuanced.  Again, you have to know what each farm means when they use this as a label.  No official regulating agency on this one.  Cage-free does not mean the birds were raised outdoors.  They are typically raised on the floor of a poultry house.
The USDA requires that chickens raised for their meat and labeled as free range have access to the outdoors in order to receive free-range certification.  Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States.  Nor do free-range egg producers have common standards on what the term means.  There is no regulation on how much range must be available to the hens.
Monitored by the American Humane Association; this label ensures that the chickens are “free from any unnecessary fear and distress, free from unnecessary pain, injury and disease; free from hunger and thirst; and free from unnecessary discomfort.”
Pasture-Fed Eggs
Hens are fed grains and also forage outside for wild plant and insects.
Pasture rearing of chickens is a modification of the free-range system. The birds remain on pasture all the time, but are confined within a portable pen. The pen is moved daily to give the birds access to fresh pasture. The portable pen usually has a portion covered to protect the hens from the elements. University of Florida IFAS Extension; “Designer Eggs”, Jacob and Miles

Beef and Pork

The USDA has no specific definition for free-range beef, pork, and other non-poultry products.  No criteria exist for the size of the range or the amount of space given to each animal.  Claims and labeling using free-range are unregulated.  The USDA relies “upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims.”
Certified Humane Raised
Definition from the Human Farm Animal Care website:
The Certified Humane Raised and Handled® label assures consumers:
•    That the producer meets our standards and applies them to animals from birth through slaughter.
•    Animals have ample space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress.
•    Ample fresh water and a healthy diet of quality feed, without added antibiotics or hormones.
•    Cages, crates and tie stalls are among the forbidden practices, and animals must be free to do what comes naturally.  For example, chickens are ale to flap their wings and dust bathe, and pigs have the space to move around and root.
Producers must comply with food safety and environmental regulations. Processors must comply with the American Meat Institute Standards (AMI), a higher standard for slaughtering farm animals than the federal Humane Slaughter Act.
Grass Fed and Grass Finished
USDA Definition (from the USDA National Agriculture Online Library):
Grass-based production relies on pasture or rangeland to supply the protein and energy requirements of livestock. Grazing and forage feeding replace high grain diets, close confinement and feedlot-finishing during most or all of an animal’s lifetime. The producer focuses on pasture plant and soil management, and proper stocking density and rotational grazing. "An acceptable level of production can be attained as the ecological connections between ruminants, the soil, and the pasture plants are naturally maintained… Pasture-based animal agriculture promotes environmental stewardship and community development owing to the following management practices:
•    Use of off-farm inputs, such as diesel, fertilizer, and purchased feed, are minimized.
•    Use of toxic substances, such as herbicides and soluble fertilizers, is minimized or sometimes eliminated.
•    Limited tillage and use of perennial pastures, which store carbon in the soil while building soil organic matter, conserves soil.
•    Water and energy resources are conserved through monitoring and appropriate technologies, such as irrigation monitoring, solar and wind technologies, and biofuel development and use, where applicable.
•    Proper plant and animal genetics, such as locally-adapted pasture grasses and low-maintenance animals, are selected.
•    Planned grazing systems that favor grass growth contribute to biological diversity.
•    Marketing food to local communities, reducing the distance food travels from farm to plate, provisions the community with better, fresher food.
•    The development of local processing plants is fostered, which adds value to local animal products while providing employment and economic development.
•    A management philosophy is developed that values health in people, animals, plants, and soil." Lee Rinehart, Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management. ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2006. Available at ATTRA Website: http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/past_range_graze.html#final (8/23/07)]
"What is the difference between grass fed and grass finished? Grass fed means the animal was fed solely on grass and hay. Grass finished is a term used to indicate that a beef animal has grown fast enough on the pasture to create inter-muscular marbling. This marbling makes the meat more juicy and flavorful but not more tender. Grass finished animals will typically grade High Select or Low Choice under the USDA Grading System. This finish can be determined with an ultra-sound scan while the animal is still alive." [FAQ, Stockman Grass Farmer. Available at Stockman Grass Farmer Website: http://www.stockmangrassfarmer.net/cgi-bin/page.cgi?id=367 (8/23/07)]

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