As a part of my class at Temple Israel's Waxman High School and Youth House about making good contemporary food choices based on Jewish values, we took photos of ourselves with food products. Some of these products are labeled with positive terms regarding sustainability and reasonable treatment of employees and animals; some of the labels are, at best, misleading.
Most of the label definitions below come from http://www.sustainabletable.org/intro/dictionary/.
"All Natural" - Currently, no standards exist for this label except when used on meat and poultry products. USDA guidelines state that “Natural” meat and poultry products can only undergo minimal processing and cannot contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or other artificial ingredients. However, “natural” foods are not necessarily sustainable, organic, humanely raised, or free of hormones and antibiotics. The label “natural” is virtually meaningless.
"Organic" - In order to be labeled “organic,” a product, its producer, and the farmer must meet the USDA’s organic standards and must be certified by a USDA-approved food-certifying agency. Organic foods cannot be grown using synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, or sewage sludge, cannot be genetically modified, and cannot be irradiated. Organic meat and poultry must be fed only organically-grown feed (without any animal byproducts) and cannot be treated with hormones or antibiotics. Furthermore, the animals must have access to the outdoors, and ruminants must have access to pasture (which doesn’t mean they actually have to go outdoors and graze on pasture to be considered organic).
"Whole grain" - The first ingredient of this product is listed as "Corn (Whole Grain Corn, Flour, Meal)." This suggests that at least the larger portion of the corn contains the bran and germ. Can't say much regarding the nutritional value of this product, however.
"Organic" yogurt - see above.
"Organic" cream cheese.
"No antibiotics ever administered" - No antibiotics were administered to the animal during its lifetime. If an animal becomes sick, it will be taken out of the herd and treated but it will not be sold with this label.
"Vegetarian fed" - Unless the label says “100 Percent Vegetarian Diet,” there is no guarantee that the animal’s feed was not supplemented with animal byproducts or is organic.
"Barn roaming" - This is not a legally-defined term. This chicken was probably stuck in a barn for all of its 49 days.
"Complete traceability to farm" - This might be useful in the event of an outbreak of disease.
"No growth hormones" - Raised without added growth hormones. By law, hogs and poultry cannot be given any hormones - so the use of the label on these meats is unnecessary, or perhaps misleading.
"Kosher, soaked, salted, and rinsed" - The chicken was slaughtered according to Jewish dietary laws, including that the slaughtering knife was checked for nicks beforehand to minimize suffering ("tza'ar ba'alei hayyim" - the mitzvah of avoiding cruelty to animals). The soaking / salting / rinsing process is to remove all blood from the meat, in accordance with the verse from the Torah (Leviticus 17:13-14): "If any Israelite or any stranger who resides among them hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of all flesh - its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood."
"Cage-Free Eggs" - Birds are raised without cages. What this doesn’t explain is if the birds were raised outdoors on pasture, if they had access to outside, or if they were raised indoors in overcrowded conditions. If you are looking to buy eggs, poultry or meat that was raised outdoors, look for a label that says “Pastured” or “Pasture-raised”.
Here are the ingredients for this product:
Water, Soybean Oil, Vinegar, Whole Eggs and Egg Yolks, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Lemon Juice, Sorbic Acid, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Xanthan Gum, Phosphoric Acid, Citric Acid, Dl Alpha Tocopherol Acetate (Vitamin E), Natural and Artificial Flavors (Contain Soy Lecithin), Beta-carotene (For Color), Phytonadione (Vitamin K), Paprika, Oleoresin.
Eggs being only the fourth ingredient, the egg content can be no more than 1/4 of the total, and probably considerably less.
"Organic" milk. See above.
"No GMOs / No bioengineered ingredients" - The product was produced without the use of genetically-modified organisms.
"Made with organic spinach and flour" - Great, but what about the rest of it?
"Not treated with rBST / rBGH" - Milk from growth hormone-free cows.
"All-Natural" - see above.
"Handmade" - I have no idea what this means.
Thanks to all who participated! To learn more, visit: