If you see the word “natural” on a package of chicken in a supermarket, what comes to mind? Chickens that matured while roaming around outside, eating their natural diets?
If so, you’d be mistaken. The USDA permits the word “natural” or “all natural” on food products as long as they don’t contain any artificial ingredients or artificial colors. In other words it can be “natural” chicken, according to the USDA, yet be as naturally unnatural in origin as you can imagine.
And as I’ve frequently mentioned in the past, the USDA allows chicken and eggs to be labelled “free range” or “free roaming,” as long as the chickens had “access to the outside.” Typically food with this label comes from chickens that have never seen sunlight or breathed natural air, although theoretically they had “access” to it.
This is just one of many examples of why the claims that appear on the packaging of industrial food products are so often worthless.
Consider this impressive list of completely meaningless claims on a carton of “Nature’s Harmony” eggs (“Nature’s Harmony” is a Walmart brand):
- “100% All Natural”–absolutely meaningless. This is true of all eggs, no matter how unnaturally they were produced, as long a they aren’t artificially colored.
- “Specially Selected”–what the heck is that supposed to mean? I’d wager these eggs just rolled off the conveyor belt and into the cartons like the eggs from every other egg factory.
- “Farmer’s Market Fresh”–more meaningless baloney. This one is designed to mislead buyers into thinking these eggs are comparable to those at farmers’ markets, which is nonsense unless someone at a farmers’ market is selling eggs from a grocery store.
- “No added hormones*”–I love the asterisk and the small print: “see inside lid.” Inside the lid are the words “No hormones are used in the production of shell eggs.” The inference is that “hormones” may be used in the production of other “shell eggs” (but not “Nature’s Harmony”). In fact, industrial egg producers have never found any use for hormones in their operations and the USDA requires the inside-the-lid fine print. This claim is purely nonsense designed to mislead.
- “No antibiotics”–I’m not sure what they mean by this one. If they mean the chickens that laid the eggs weren’t given antibiotics, then color me skeptical, but that would be a good thing. My guess, however, is that they are merely claiming that the eggs themselves have no antibiotics in them, which is a worthless claim since the USDA doesn’t permit the sale of eggs containing antibiotics.
- “100 mg of omega 3” Industrial egg companies make claims about Omega 3s that are all over the map. Some boost omega 3s by adding fish oil or flax seed to chicken feed. In a study from a couple of years ago Mother Earth News reported that eggs from free-range pastured hens average 660 mg of omega 3s. So 100 mg is nothing to boast about, particularly since eggs (even the most nutritious) are not significant sources of omega 3s.
Don’t be fooled by labels intended to mislead you into believing your food was raised naturally. If at all possible, try to get your food from real farmers and take the time to ask them how it was raised. Better yet, schedule a visit to the farm and see it for yourself. That’s the best label of all.