The August 2013 issue of Consumer Reports features an article that looks at food label claims. It provides readers with information to help make sense of what certain labels really mean. Consumers want more information about how their food is grown and raised – and this information can take many shapes. USFRA agrees reviewing labels can be cause for confusion, and we want to help provide even more clarity around what Consumer Reports provided in their article.

Here are the labels they outlined with some additional information that can help everyone make more informed food purchasing decisions:

USDA Organic

Consumer Reports summed this up nicely. The main difference between organic and non-organically grown foods is the production method – those who raise organically-grown food must follow a strict set of guidelines outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA organic label indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.  Like many other value-added products, organic food can be more expensive because, in some cases, it costs more to produce.  For example, organically-raised pigs must be fed only organic feed produced without synthetic pesticides, and may not be given antibiotics. A common misconception is that the increased cost of organic food relates directly to superior nutritional value, which is unproven.

Another common misconception about organic food production involves pesticide and fertilizer use. Organic farmers can choose from organic certified pesticides and fungicides, which are outlined by the USDA Certified Organic program.  They can also use organic matter (livestock manure) for fertilizer.

Grass-fed

Consumer Reports noted that there are multiple examples of grass-fed labels and certifications. All cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass in pastures. However, grass-finished beef, or grass-fed beef, comes from cattle that have been raised on pasture their entire lives. Grass-fed beef can be difficult to produce year-round in North America due to changing seasons and weather conditions.  People often say grass-fed beef has a distinctly different taste, but if this particular type of beef doesn’t satisfy your palate, there are many other beef choices that are excellent or good sources of 10 essential nutrients. 

No Antibiotics

In its description of labels that claim meat was raised without antibiotics, Consumer Reports states that some consumers are concerned that antibiotic use in animals has contributed to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a concern for both animal and human health, and antibiotics are crucial to all of us. Consumer Reports does not mention that to-date, there has been no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotic use in animals raised for consumption.

Healthy animals are the basis of a healthy, humane and safe food system. That is why it is so important to prevent and control diseases in farm animals and to treat animals when they are sick. Farmers and ranchers use antibiotics judiciously to keep the potential risk extremely low of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria that is harmful to people. 

Further, a common misperception is the antibiotics used on animals will be present in the meat purchased at the store. All animals treated with antibiotics go through a withdrawal period and must meet federal standards for antibiotic residue before the meat enters the food supply. Antibiotics are used to ensure animal safety, food safety, and public health.

Animal Welfare Approved

Consumer Reports outlined two labels that denote animal welfare standards. They mention that one is limited to family farms and the other goes beyond family farming. But, many consumers don’t know that 95 percent of farms in the U.S. are family farms. Farmers and ranchers put into action the best management practices for their animals and often go above and beyond to care for their animals – whether that’s helping a mother through a difficult birth, bringing a newborn calf indoors during cold winter weather or providing medical attention when an animal is sick. While opinions regarding management techniques for animal safety and health greatly differ, it’s important that all farmers and ranchers have many tools to ensure the welfare of animals, and that includes antibiotics.

USFRA has many additional resources that can help consumers learn more about food production practices and how food is grown and raised. Visit Food Source for more information and answers to many of the common questions people have about modern agricultural practices. Also, Celebrity chef Danny Boome from Food Network’s “Rescue Chef” and farm mom Katie Pratt of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance help clarify other food terms in this video.