Decode Green Eating Lingo

A grocery-friendly primer for decoding green lingo.

Organic: A USDA-regulated label that says no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, or growth hormones were used. Produce, meats, and dairy with a USDA Organic seal are 100% organic, while other foods may use the designation if 95% of their ingredients are organic.

Natural: This label, regulated only for meat and poultry, signals that no artificial ingredients have been added. Don't confuse the term with nutritious when, say, reaching for the Cheetos Natural Cheese Puffs.

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No hormones administered: An unverified certification that a cow was never given hormones in its lifetime. A "no hormones" stamp on pork and poultry is entirely irrelevant since, by federal law, chickens and pigs may not be given hormone injections.

No antibiotics administered: Another unverified term that purports to tell you that meat or poultry has not been given any antibiotics. Don't bank on it.

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Cage-free: This egg carton label means nothing nutritionally and not much ethically. Cage-free hens can still be packed wing-to-wing in a windowless indoor space.

Free-range: This USDA- defined, but unregulated, term means that a bird has outdoor access for more than half its life. Still, many free-range chickens live in crowded barns, with access only to a cramped yard.

Grass-fed: Indicates only that a cow ate grass at some point in its life—always true, even of animals raised on big commercial farms. Look for "grass-finished" beef (the animal ate only grass in its final weeks) or "100% grass-fed."

Pastured or pasture-raised: Though unregulated, this term usually means that an animal has roamed grassy fields throughout its life. Visit eatwild.com for farms that sell pastured products.

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