Some labels tell very little about the product or they try to hype something that is already required by law. Food companies use these labels to convince consumers to spend more for products that are essentially the same as their competition.
“Raised without added Hormones” in PORK or POULTRY. Federal law prohibits the use of hormones for hogs and poultry, so the use of hormone-free labels on pork and poultry products intentionally misleads consumers by claiming that the product is different and therefore worthy of a higher price.
According to USDA, “Natural” meat and poultry products cannot contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives or other artificial ingredients, and they should be minimally processed. However, “Natural” does not tell us how the animals were raised, what they were fed, if antibiotics or hormones were used, or other aspects of production that consumers might logically expect from something labeled “natural.”
Another variation that is also misleading is “Naturally Raised.” As of early 2008, the USDA was finishing up standards for this claim that were so weak that the label could allow consumers to be mislead. The USDA proposal for naturally raised requires three things: that the animal be given no growth promoters, no antibiotics, and no food containing animal by-products. Missing from the requirements is any mention of animal welfare–whether animals are confined in factory farms, whether gestation crates or other cruel practices are used, and whether any environmental or conservation issues are addressed on the farm.
The label “Fresh” is used on poultry to indicate that the meat was not cooled below 26 degrees Fahrenheit (six degrees below freezing). Poultry does not have to be labeled as “frozen” until it reaches zero degrees. USDA meat inspectors monitor the use of this label to ensure the standards are met. But this can be misleading to customers who presume that “fresh” implies that meat has not been frozen, processed or preserved in any way. The USDA does not define or regulate the use of this label on any other type of meat or dairy products.
“Free Range” is a label regulated by USDA only for poultry produced for meat (not eggs). The label can be used if the animal had some access to the outdoors each day for some unspecified period of time (it could be just a few minutes). It does not assure that the animal ever actually went outdoors to roam freely. “Free range” is not regulated for pigs, cattle or egg-producing chickens.
Food & Water Watch is an organization dedicated to the belief that the public should be able to count on our government to oversee and protect the quality and safety of food and water. For more information, go to www.foodandwaterwatch.org.