So, you want to eat better, make sure that your family is getting the most nutrients out of what they are eating, and that your food is coming from a healthy source. Where do you start? You’re starting to see more and more that people are saying “be sure to read the labels,” “make sure your meat is grass-fed,” “if you’re eating organic, that means it’s good.”
All of this can be terribly confusing and likely pretty stressful when you sit down to plan out the menu for your family’s upcoming dinner spread. Believe me, you are not alone. And the worst part is that there are some really sneaky ways for people to get around these labels. One great example is grass-fed meat. While you have been told that grass-fed meat is the best kind to buy – you may actually be buying meat from a source that did indeed include a grass-fed diet, but may also have included other things as a part of their diet.
One of the biggest offenders is the term “natural.” It’s almost comical how little that word means! “Natural” has nothing to do with where animals are raised, how they are treated or even what they’re fed.
“Cage-free” is another tricky label. The cage-free claim on eggs does mean that the hens who laid them did not spend their entire lives in inhumane wire cages, and that is a good thing. But it doesn’t mean they had any access to the outdoors, or even adequate space or enrichments in that indoor environment. To further complicate things, the term “cage-free” on a package of chicken or turkey meat adds no value because meat birds are never raised in cages. Learn more about other tricky claims on food packages in the ASPCA’s label guide.
Some of the most commonly misunderstood “labels”
- Natural: Does not impact animal welfare in any way.
- Free-Range: No legal definition for use on eggs, pork, beef or dairy.
- Humanely Raised/Humanely Handled: Undefined and subjective terms without codified standards.
- Hormone-Free/No Hormones Added: Hormones are not approved by law for use on pigs or poultry, so the term is meaningless on those products.
- Cage-Free: On eggs, this label indicates that hens were not raised in battery cages. However, it is an empty claim on poultry meat as meat birds are very rarely raised in cages, and are instead crowded into large, open sheds.
It’s important to understand the true meanings of food labels so you can make informed decisions and help animals by buying products that match your values. Learn more in this comprehensive guide from the ASPCA Meat, Eggs and Dairy Label Guide.
Here are more resources to help you get started:
- Shop with Your Heart Brand List – Plant-based and welfare-certified brands available at supermarkets across the country.
- Meat, Eggs and Dairy Label Guide – Download or print this handy guide to make the most informed decisions every time you shop.
- Certified Farms by State – Locate a nearby farm that’s certified by Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), Certified Humane (CH), or Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Steps 2 and above.
- How to Shop at the Farmer’s Market – Check out this video and list of questions to ask farmers so you can make the most humane choices at your local farmers market.
- Welfare Conscious Dining – Learn about REAL Certified, which integrates comprehensive farm animal welfare standards into its restaurant and foodservice certification program.
- Good Grocery Resources – Farm animal cruelty, foodborne illness, worker abuse and pollution are interconnected problems, but you can help make our food supply healthier for people, animals and the planet.
As consumers, we have the power to change how food companies treat farm animals. Take the first step today: Take the pledge to #ShopWithYourHeart at the ASCPA Shop With Your Heart website!
And don’t forget to enter to win some fun items from the ASPCA to show off your dedication for humane and healthy food choices!