A complete guide to what food labels like ‘organic’ and ‘free range’ really mean

Food labels can be very confusing especially when you are trying to make a health conscious decision. Chances are good that you will find yourself standing in a store with two different labels for the same product in your hands. Making the choice could be difficult until you really know what all the organic-related labels mean. You will usually see labels such as ‘organic’, ‘free range’, and ‘all-natural’. They all might seem like ‘organic’ but have different meaning.

groceries woman shopping reuters

“All natural”

What the label implies: According to a recent survey conducted in 2014, nearly two-third of the participants believed foods with ‘all natural’ label mean they are free from chemicals, pesticides and other artificial ingredients. They also believe that ‘all natural’ foods are non-GMO.

natural health

The low-down: That’s not what the ‘all natural’ label means. According to FDA, there is no definition of ‘natural’ or it’s other derivatives. That means this word is actually meaningless in terms of food marketing and food companies can put it on products without having to meet any requirements as such.


What the label implies: According to the USDA, products that are “certified organic” can’t contain GMOs and should minimize pesticides and anything synthetic (ie: made in a lab). “100% organic” products contain strictly organics (minus the synthetics the USDA deems safe); “Organic” products contain at least 95% organics by weight.

organic diet

The low-down: A recent review of the past 50 years of scientific articles stacking organic foods up against non-organics concluded that they were “not significantly different.”

  • Pesticides: Organic fruits and veggies typically have far fewer pesticide residues than conventional produce. But keep in mind that all residue levels — organic or not — are kept in check by government safety standards.
  • The environment: Organic farming is tailored to help the environment by cutting pollution, protecting soil, and conserving water.

“Free range”

What the label implies: Freedom for chickens everywhere.

chicken walks in farms

The low-down: Not so fast. Unlike cage-free chickens, free-range animals do get access to the outdoors (yay!), but still, most free-range hens are subject to some pretty inhumane practices. These include having parts of their beaks removed and being starved to force molting (loss of feathers) to manipulate their natural egg-laying cycle, according to the Humane Society.

LEARN what non-GMO and Grass-fed means on the  next page…

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