Interesting Read: The Truth Behind Food Labels

Cage-free chickens party down.

Every once in a while, usually in a doctor’s office, I come across a magazine article that compels me to tear it out and save for future reference. Thankfully, this piece titled “The Truth Behind Food Labels” is not only in print, you can read it online. In the May-June issue of Audubon magazine, Gretel H. Schueller writes a straightforward guide, for lack of a better word, to the labels on food items that promote an array of feel-good, environment-friendly assertions. You see “cage free,” “hormone free,” “all natural,” “organic,” “fair trade,” and “biodynamic” in stores everywhere. Which designations are authentic? Schueller details the good, bad, and the ugly truths behind the label and the greenwashing of food items. Bullet points:

Free Range: When it comes to “free range” and “free roaming,” all a poultry farmer needs to show is “that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside,”… The animals may get only short periods outside in a cramped area—the USDA considers five minutes adequate to approve use of the claim. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed.

American Humane Certified: A program of the American Humane Association, this label permits both caged and cage-free options for egg-laying hens. A caged hen can be crammed into a space the size of a sheet of paper. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed.

Dolphin Safe: This is a partially certified claim because the National Marine Fisheries Service verifies only tuna caught from a specific region—the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean—and not all tuna. Tuna from this designated area might bear a label that includes the additional phrase “US Department of Commerce.” Tuna caught outside this area and labeled “dolphin safe” has not been independently substantiated. To muddy the waters further, the dolphin-safe label is not licensed by any single organization, so there are no universal standards in place and most companies have developed their own logos.

The bottom line: If you see Cruelty Free, Cage free, Environmentally Friendly, Nature’s Friend, No Chemicals, Vegetarian Fed on a package, disregard it. The vague labels mean nothing and have no standards to back them. Anybody can say any of those things about anything. Trust is gone. (This post was written in a certified caged and toxic environment.) READ THIS NOW.


  • Scott–DFW

    One more reason why, if you really, truly, deeply care about the welfare of animals, you probably shouldn’t eat them.

  • brad (no, not the brad)

    One more reason to buy local and get to know the folks who raise your beef, pork, poultry, and dairy.

  • bc

    The one animal I’ll never eat again is chicken. When people ask me about vegetarian or vegan stuff, they’ll often follow it up with something like “I really cut out red meat and I’m down to just chicken and fish.” While I’m not big on eating beef or pork or fish either, the chicken comment gets me every time. They’re simply the most abused food animal on so many fronts (for both meat and egg production).

  • Thank you for writing about this Nancy.

    Most people have no idea where their food comes from and food labels are cryptic and confusing. I have no problem eating meat, but I do care about the food source and the quality of the ingredients I put in my body. For example, I will not purchase mass produced meat or most anything from a normal grocery store. This started the second I understood how a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts comes to market.

    Since educating myself on these things, I’ve dramatically changed what I eat and where I shop. I find it liberating to spend my hard earned cash on businesses I want support. Hopefully, more people will start to learn about these things so they can make better choices.

  • cb_foodie

    After reading your post and the underlying article, I did a quick search on the “cage free” eggs I buy. It seems like the eggs I buy are truly from chickens that are never kept in cages. . Guess we have to research most things now before buying.

  • Valerie

    From reading the Egg Lands Best page I gather the chickens are in an environment simular to the picture in this article. Most chickens are ‘cage free’ but that doesn’t really mean much.

  • Kgun

    Bottom line it’s all step in the right direction. We need to talk about this more within our food industry. In the same context, “all natural” labeling only means minimally processed. If you really care about what you eat you’re forced to buy “certified organic”