Food Labels: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Maybe it’s just me, but today it seems as though there’s a label for everything.  Want grass fed beef?  We’ve got that.  Want “All Natural”?  We’ve got that too.  Want products from only “Happy Cows”?  We can get you that (well, maybe only from California).  My point is that today’s consumers have a vast array of food preferences, and their inquiries about their food is ever-growing.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when marketing tools such as labels start to sway consumers opinions and thoughts about the agricultural community, things can start to get murky.

What’s in a label?

If you’ve ever walked into a grocery store, scrolled through Facebook, or turned on your TV, you’ve probably been bombarded with food labels.  At every turn, there’s someone trying to sell you the latest and greatest product, usually having something to do with “take your pick” free or anything along those lines.  The problem with this is, as more and more labels come about, it gets harder and harder to determine which labels are for real and which are there simply to scare you into buying a product.  To give you an idea of some labels that are more fear based than fact based, here’s a list:

  • Antibiotic Free: NO meat that is available to consumers has antibiotics present.  If a farmer has to use antibiotics to treat an animal, that animal cannot be harvested for a certain amount of time (withdrawal time) in order to ensure that any residue of the antibiotic is gone.  These regulations are very strict and must be followed if the farmer plans on having a successful operation.
  • Hormone Free: Livestock naturally have hormones (just like you and me).  If there’s a label that claims “Hormone Free”, think twice.  If you’re going for the “No Hormones Added”, just remember, a 3 oz. serving of beef with hormone supplements still has less hormones present than a 3 oz. serving of peas or cabbage.  (For an illustration on this, visit
  • Natural: This term has become pretty popular, but the problem is that it is very broad and can sometimes be misleading.  Many people often confuse the term “Natural” with “Organic”, but Organic products are actually much more strictly regulated than any Natural product.

The latest label…

If you haven’t already heard, there’s a new label in our midst, known as “Certified Humane Beef”.  When I heard of this, I just had to sigh and shake my head.  A company known as Earls Restaurant is now sourcing their beef from only “Certified Humane” producers, which I see as purely a marketing move, and a sly one at that.  The “Certified Humane” label creates a problem for me; it is indicating that producers not labeled as such are in some way less humane, and that is simply not true.  The program standards dictate that livestock should, in short, have access to food and water, have clean living areas, receive antibiotics therapeutically (to treat illness), and many other necessities that any farmer already provides.  These standards are nothing new or ground-breaking.  If a farmer wants to raise live, healthy animals, clean food and water is kind of a no-brainer.  But, with this label, it gives consumers the idea that farmers who are “Certified Humane” are doing something new and different than any other farmer, when in reality, they are doing the same thing that any farmer and livestock producer does every day.

Don’t be fooled

When deciding what food to buy, decide responsibly.  Don’t be fooled by labels sporting the latest fad.  Research labels if you’re not sure what they mean, and when you research, use non-biased sites.  Better yet, talk to a farmer, they usually have a better understanding about the food they produce than the internet does.




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