4 tricks for reading organic & natural food labels

October 9, 2015

When it comes to organic, many people don't realize how labelling works and buy not-quite-organic products as a result. Here's a few tips for reading the labels and getting what you paid for.

4 tricks for reading organic & natural food labels

1. Learn how produce is deemed "organic"

  • Organic fruits and vegetables in Canada must be grown without any of these things: genetically modified seeds, fertilizers made from chemicals or sewage, chemical pesticides, chemical herbicides and irradiation.
  • Growers are also required to keep records and present them upon demand by accredited inspectors.
  • Foods may also be labelled "100 percent organic," "organic" (95 to 99 percent organic) or "made with organic ingredients" (74 to 94 percent organic).
  • For organic content of lesser amount, the specific organic ingredients may be listed.

2. Get familiar with organic meat

  • On meat, the organic seal means the animals have been exclusively fed certified organic feed and no by-products of other animals.
  • The animals can't be given hormones or antibiotics.
  • They must be allowed access to the outdoors and treated humanely.

3. Be suspicious of “natural” labels

  • The food labels "natural" and "organic" aren't interchangeable. That's just what food companies want you to think.
  • The use of "natural" on labels is a much less regulated affair than use of the term "organic."
  • There's no single set of requirements for products claiming to be natural, but such labels are supposed to be accurate.
  • If, for example, meat is claimed to be natural because the animal was not fed antibiotics or hormones, the label should say that and it should be true.
  • Farmers or food companies that use the "natural" label are not subject to inspections as a condition of using the label. You just have to take their word for it.

4. Vote with your food choices

  • The food industry would have you believe that buying food is all about price and convenience. To some degree, it is. But buying food should be about the health of you and your family.
  • It's also about agriculture, the environment and your local economy, to name just some issues that are involved every time you buy food.
  • Think of your purchases as votes. Every time you buy something, or pass it by, you're making a statement, whether it's about pesticides, local produce or the humane treatment of animals.

There's considerable confusion about the use of the word "organic" on food labels. The organic label is earned through a certification process, and it means the producer adhered to a strict set of rules and procedures. Be vigilant in your label reading so that you get what you pay for.

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