Shopping for groceries can be overwhelming. Trying to balance a budget and nutrition while deciphering food labels can challenge even the most experienced supermarket veteran. Most of the terms found in big, bright letters on packages in the supermarket have one thing in common: marketing. Companies are being pressured to change their formulations and their labels by consumers who may or may not know the truth behind the claims made by pseudo-experts and – even worse – celebrities. Fear-based marketing is alive and well, and the supermarket is a true feeding frenzy of misinformation, half-truths and fearmongering.
To help you sort through all the jargon, here are some clues for solving the mystery of buying nutritious, affordable food for your family.
- Poultry and pork products labeled “raised without added hormones,” aren’t any different from other poultry and pork. In fact, growth hormones of any kind are not approved for use (I mean their use is illegal) when raising chickens or pigs, so ALL poultry and pork is free from added hormones. Labeling pork and poultry as “raised without added hormones” is about the same as labeling water as “wet.” True, but unnecessary.
- “Antibiotic free” is another tricky one. If an animal gets sick, farmers must provide care for that animal. This isn’t an isolated case – if you or children are sick, you visit a doctor and seek medically appropriate treatment. Farmers work closely with veterinarians to determine the best care plan for their livestock and administer antibiotics judiciously. If an animal is treated with antibiotics, a strict withdrawal period must be followed to allow ample time for the medicine to pass through the animal’s system. Antibiotics used in meat animals don’t enter our food system.
- “All natural,” doesn’t even actually have a definition. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) don’t have rules about what constitutes an “all natural” food, so beware of products boasting this label and charging a premium price.
- GMOs or genetically modified organisms aren’t new to the farm/food scene and they’re not scary. Farmers have been improving plants for more than 10,000 years; biotechnology is just a more precise, efficient way of identifying and selecting traits that improve a plant’s ability to grow and thrive in difficult conditions, all while requiring fewer natural resources and chemicals. GMOs are the safest, most tested foods on the planet and more than 2,000 independent scientific studies agree that GMOs are safe for us to eat. Genetic modification isn’t an ingredient, it’s a plant-breeding method, and that’s why it hasn’t been listed on food packages.
- “Organic” doesn’t necessarily mean the food was grown on a small farm or that it was raised without chemicals. Farmers of all sizes choose to grow both conventional and organic crops, and all food, regardless of how it was raised, must meet strict safety regulations before you can purchase it in the grocery store. Organic growers use pesticides, some of them are just different than the ones used by #ModernAg. Further, there is no nutritional difference between organically grown food and that raised using conventional methods. Choose organic if you wish – just don’t be fooled by the propaganda and misinformation.
- “Cage Free” poultry is another marketing term that can give consumers fits. Broilers, the name for chickens raised for meat, are not kept in cages. Again, it’s like marketing water as “wet.”
Choices are important to all of us, and there’s room in farming for a wide range of production methods to provide us with in-demand food choices. We are fortunate to live in the United States, where we have the most abundant, affordable and safe food supply in the world. Make good choices, and don’t fear your food!