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Tip Tuesday: How to Read Food Labels (Part 2)

Last week, in How to Read Food Labels (Part 1), we talked about how to read the ingredients list on packaged foods. Today we are going to talk a little bit about eco-labels.

Labels try to tell us where and how our food was grown, raised, or caught. Labels also try to tell us what our food ate and what environmental impacts its raising or harvesting had. Remember, companies WANT you to think their food is healthy, so here is how to tell the difference between which labels matter for your health and which do not. Labels can be easily differentiated by certified and non-certified. Choose certified labels as often as possible.


  • Grass-fed – Implies that the animals spend their lives on pasture eating what nature intended; they are not treated with hormones or antibiotics and are not fed unnatural grain.

  • Organic – In order or animal meat and dairy to be labeled “organic”, the animal must never have been given antibiotics, hormones, or GMO grasses.

  • GMO-Free/Non-GMO/Non-GMO Project Certified – Produced without the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

  • Naturally Grown – Reserved for food produced on small farms that abide by the USDA Certified Organic methods of growing and selling locally.


  • No Hormones Administered/No Hormones/Hormone-Free – The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in the raising of hogs or poultry in the United States. Beef may have this label.

  • Free-Range or Free-Roaming - Birds raised in this manner can go outdoors to engage in natural behaviors. However, birds only must be allowed 5 minutes of open-air access a day to meet USDA requirements.

  • Pasture-Fed/Pasture-Raised - Indicates that animals were raised with humane treatment and have higher levels of micronutrients. For beef, labels must also read “organic” and “grass-fed” to make sure the animals were not fed GMO grains, grasses, corn, or soy.

  • Natural – Supposed to not contain any artificial flavorings, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients although this is sometimes a misnomer.

  • Minimally processed - A process that does not fundamentally alter the raw product.

  • Antibiotic-Free or Raised Without Antibiotics - Meat and poultry carrying these labels must not have had any antibiotics administered during the animal's lifetime.

  • Cage-Free - Implies that hens laying eggs are uncaged inside barns or warehouses. It does not mean the hens have access to the outdoors, but that they may be able to walk, nest or spread their wings.

  • Certified Humane Raised and Handled - Indicates that animals raised for dairy, lamb, poultry, and beef products are treated in a humane manner and without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics.

  • Farmed Seafood or Fish Farming - Involves raising fish commercially in tanks or other enclosures and means that these fish are artificially raised and are not wild caught in their natural habitat.

  • Wild-Caught Seafood - Applies to seafood caught in their natural habitats by fisheries.

  • No Additives - Implies a product (or packaging) has not been enhanced with the addition of natural or artificial ingredients.

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