Labels May Not Lie, but They Do Skirt the Truth

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If you’re interested in purchasing organic foods, and green clothing, and dealing with green businesses, it’s important to do research into the providers of these items to ensure you’re getting the environmentally friendly products that you think you are.

It is the business of advertisers to sell the consumers product, and they do it in a variety of ways, including deceiving the consumer – entirely legally.  It all comes down to words.

Advertisers have their best success with the organic food market. Did you know that the phrase “all natural ingredients” has no legal meaning?

When you check the labels on your food packages, therefore, be aware of what they mean.

•    “100 percent organic” means the products are completely organic, or made of all organic ingredients.
•    “Organic” means the products that are at least 95 percent organic.
•    “Made with organic ingredients” means these are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.  The organic seal can’t be used on these packages.
•    “All natural” has no legal meaning.

What about labels on poultry?

•    “100% organic” means the chicken was raised without antibiotics and hormones, or fed arsenic, which for some reason is fed to conventional chickens.
•    “Pasture-raised” does not guarantee that a farmer does not use chemicals, it merely means the chickens ate what they found in their pastures, grain, grass, grubs and so on.
•    “Free range/cage free” means next to nothing.  Unless you’re able to visit a farm and see that the chickens do have such freedom, regard these labels with caution.  The USDA has a loophole in their law which allows farmers to “temporarily confine” poultry, meaning that even chicken labeled as free range may have only see the light of day from inside a cage.
•    “All natural” means no added colorings, artificial flavorings or preservatives are used once the chicken has been harvested, but says nothing about what they were fed prior to that.

Labels for beef are similar.

•    “USDA Organic Beef” can be fed grass or grain, but they cannot be given growth hormones or antibiotics. Nor can they be fed genetically modified soy or corn.
•     “Grass Fed Beef” may eat grass or hay, but no corn or grains.  However, they can be given antibiotics and hormones.
•    Natural Beef – Has no added colorings, artificial flavorings, or preservatives.  However, the cow could have fed on a diet of growth hormone, and antibiotics.

Let’s move from food to things like cosmetics.

As with any other advertising matter, phrases such as “botanical” or “natural” or “plant-derived” mean next to nothing.  It is only if you see a label that actually says USDA Organic that you know for sure that your cosmetics are organic.  The labels follow the same rule as those for food.  100% organic means what it says, Organic means only 95% of the product has to be organic, and made from organic ingredients – only 70%.

Photo by: Angela Jones –

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  1. EF says:

    Thanks for this. It clears quite a bit up in a simple outline.

  2. Labels are extremely deceptive and we have to be careful as consumers. The way to circumvent labels on produce or meat is to buy locally so you can see the actual farm in which they are coming from.

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