Food Labels Unwrapped: The Truth Behind the Marketing Buzzwords

We are thrown a lot of marketing terms in the course of a day for every product under the sun. Some of the most controversial are on food labels.

“Organic food” became all the rage in mainstream USA society when the USDA changed their standards in 2002. The irony of “Organic Produce” was that it used to be considered conventional produce on small family farms and in backyard gardens.

Then, after the invention of chemicals that could protect against weeds and pests, you became the odd man out if you didn’t have the next best chemical. True to evolutionary form, pests and weeds adapted to the new chemicals making them even stronger and even harder to eradicate without the latest and greatest. GMO’s were created to help farmers use less chemicals.

Unfortunately with the popularity of social media and the rise of the 24 hour news cycle came disinformation and fear mongering around the agricultural community and food itself. Suddenly you were morally wrong for eating conventional produce and not watching out for the “Dirty Dozen.”

In this article we break down the most popular food marketing terms so you can become more knowledgeable on what food labels mean and if & how that applies to your values.

Certified Organic

Organic produce is often more expensive in store because they tend to see more crop loss than conventionally grown products due to the methods and products used. All farmers face the same opportunity for plant virus, pests and disease and need options to protect their livelihood. Many believe that Organic means chemical, herbicide, or pesticide free! That is not the case. While they use substances that are considered better for us (humans), they don’t necessarily use substances that are better for the planet and our pollinators.

For example Neem oil. Used across the globe as a pesticide but some claim that is suffocates bees, so while it isn’t necessarily toxic to ingest, it still has harmful to our pollinators and therefore the earth.

Visit this link to read the complete list of Allowed and Prohibited Substances on Organic Production from the Code of Federal Regulations.

Everything in the world has pros and cons.

  • 100% Organic – any product that contains organic ingredients
  • Organic – any product that contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients
  • Made with Organic ____ – product must contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients with other constraints regarding the remaining ingredients.
  • Specific Organic Ingredient Listings – specific organic ingredients may be listed in the ingredient list EX: Ingredients: corn, organic peas, carrots

All Natural

Nothing else was added.

This egg, is an egg only. It is all natural.

Plant Based

Not meant as a morality or health claim, just that it is derived from plants like fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes and grains with minimal ingredients from animals. It does not mean it is guaranteed vegetarian or vegan!

Chipotle is my favorite example of this happening most recently. In July of 2020 Chipotle released their new “Plant Based” Cauliflower Rice and people loved it. The only problem is, regular old rice, is already from a plant.

Now you’ll notice, they have ditched the plant based lingo on the rice and switched it to plant powered and identified the different diets plans it could fit.

How many millions of dollars were spent on that marketing campaign before someone said, hold up guys! Rice is already a plant!


Did you know that Genetically Modified Organism or “GMO” crops were created to help farmers with crop loss? Their main attributes are to be naturally virus, pest and weed resistant which allows farmers to spray less chemicals.

GMO’s have been weaponized in the media as unnatural or unsafe. (They are neither) In response, food companies have taken to labelling their food items as Non-GMO. Next time you are walking through the grocery store, pay attention to how many food packages proudly proclaim they are Non-GMO. It is astounding. Especially because there are only 11 GMO Crops in the US:

  • Corn
  • Soybeans
  • Cotton
  • Potato
  • Apple
  • Canola
  • Alfalfa
  • Papaya
  • Pink Pineapple
  • Summer Squash
  • Sugar Beets

If you are interested in learning more about how GMO crops are made this article from the FDA is very informative.

Meat and Eggs

Free Range

On small farms around the world, chickens roam the property freely during the day, often being lured back to the roost in the evening and sometimes, even roosting in the trees.

At its current scale, true free ranging would be near impossible in the commercial space. Each commercial barn on average can house approximately 40,000-60,000 chickens and each property has 10-20 barns on it at one time.

Can you imagine having to count each chicken every morning and night to account for predator loss?

Unfortunately, companies use loopholes in the ambiguous USDA stipulation (some outdoor space) to get the most bang for their buck. Which usually means ~1 sq ft per bird in the barn with limited access to a gravel yard or simply a large open door at one end of the barn.

Far from the romantic image we had conjured up of hens wading through tall grasses and wildflowers.

Pasture Raised

Though a USDA standard does not exist companies like Vital Farms have set their own standard at 108 sq ft/ bird.

Hens are raised on family farms and have access to fresh grass every 21 days to promote natural behaviors such as foraging and to support regenerative agriculture.

Fed a ___________ Diet

Usually we see it on an egg carton or raw chicken

“Fed a vegetarian diet!”

Except, chickens aren’t vegetarians, they are omnivores! Left to their own devices they will scratch up worms, chase grasshoppers, and swallow mice whole then wash it all down it off with a sunflower seed dessert. (There is ALWAYS room for dessert!)

It is simply marketing fluff to reinforce that chicken and their eggs are a healthy and lower fat or cholesterol protein to buy. In a society as gripped with diet culture as we are chicken flies off the shelves!

Meanwhile cows, sheep, and pigs ACTUALLY eat a vegetarian diet but that isn’t on their packaging. Rather the focus is on what kind of plant they eat the most (grass fed, grain finished etc).

Anti-biotic & Hormone Free

Most people don’t understand that all medications including antibiotics have a specified withdrawal period. Meaning that during and for a specific number of days after treatment, any products (milk or eggs) would be thrown away. If the animal is raised for meat, the animal would be slaughtered after this period.

You would never tell a breast feeding mother that her milk would be toxic forever because she needed a course of antibiotics. Instead she might pump and dump through her treatment to maintain her supply then when her body has metabolized the remaining medications, she would go back to safely feeding her baby from the breast.

In other words, meat, milk & eggs are always anti-biotic free, even if the animal has been treated with anti-biotics.

For the record, if you are not on board with ANY antibiotics EVER lets get one thing clear: A sick animal, untreated, suffers.

On the other hand, hormone free is a misnomer as meat will never be hormone free because the animals that grow them are not hormone free. Just like you and me, livestock have naturally occuring hormones.

Instead it should read “no added hormones”

Fed is Best!

You’ll never hear us disparaging the food you eat or where you buy it from. We know first hand what it is like to live in a food desert, to see bare shelves in the midst of national emergencies and the financial burden that food can be. Remember that no matter how you choose to feed your family, that fed is best, and we are rooting for you.

We love to see and hear about your adventures on your property, big or small! Please leave a comment or tag me on Instagram with @TheFryFarmette and #TheFryFarmette so we can cheer you on!

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