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The Hood Magazine

Interpreting Food Labels

Jan 28, 2015 06:36AM ● By Hood Magazine

Photo courtesy of CommonGround

Organic? Free Range? Natural? With all the different labels on food, a trip to the grocery store can sometimes be intimidating and confusing. As a farmer, I raise food by USDA standards every day, and I feel fortunate to have the background and understanding of those food labels that I do.


I think it’s important to remember that a lot of the labels you see on food packages describe how food was raised, not the product’s nutritional value. For example, an organic tomato has the same nutrients and vitamins as a conventional tomato. They were just grown with different farming practices. 


I thought it would be helpful to share some of the common labels you might see at the grocery store and what they really mean.


•       Cage Free – Poultry products labeled cage free are sourced from poultry raised in an open building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water throughout their life.

•       Free Range – Food products that are labeled free range are sourced from animals raised with continuous access to the outdoors throughout their life, in addition to shelter with unlimited access to food and fresh water.

•       Grass Fed – Animals that are grass fed receive the majority of their nutrients from grass. Their diet may be supplemented with grain.

•       Humane – No USDA federal definition exists for humane labeling.

•       Natural – This label indicates how the food was processed, not how it was raised. Foods labeled as natural must contain no artificial ingredients and be minimally processed.

•       No Added Hormones – Animals that are raised with no added hormones were not given hormones throughout their lives. Federal regulations have never permitted hormones in poultry, pork or goats.

•       Non-GMO – Food labeled non-GMO comes from non-biotech crops. Non-GMO labels are voluntary and not required by USDA.

•       Organic – These foods are grown, or raised according to federal organic guidelines, which set stipulations for soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives in processing. Most foods need to be raised on organic soils for at least three years before they can be certified organic.

•       Pasture raised – No USDA definition exists for pasture-raised labeling.


As a farmer, I feel 100% comfortable about the safety of food I purchase at the grocery store, because I know that somewhere there is a family like mine raising it.

All foods – no matter the label- must meet certain health and safety regulations before being sold. Several U.S. government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), monitor the food production chain through regulations and inspections from farm to fork to ensure that all food is safe.


I’m sharing some of my favorite soup recipes with you. I hope you and your family will cozy up and enjoy some of them this winter. They are also crock-pot recipes for when you and your family are on the go!


Dawn Scheier is a wife, mother, farmer, and South Dakota CommonGround volunteer from Salem, South Dakota. To read more about her life on the farm, visit her at Scheier Farms on Facebook.